February 2, 2023

Cauz: Top free agent acquisitions of the last 10 years

Kevin Sousa/CFL.ca

Anyone who says sequels can’t be as good as the original never saw Godfather: Part II, Empire Strikes Back or Toy Story 3.

A year ago, I did a list of some of the greatest free agent acquisitions of the past 10-15 years and there were so many names I missed out on, including some real no-brainers.

Market Ready: The 2023 CFL Free Agent Tracker
» CFL.ca’s top 30 pending free agents
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» Cauz: Impactful pending FAs you may not think of

So, to make amends (cue movie trailer voice): “From the creators of Matt’s Favourite CFL Free Agent List comes the sequel that no one knew they needed until they see the final two names. Coming soon to a CFL.ca page near you, it’s Matt’s Favourite CFL Free Agent List: The Reckoning!”

2022: Kenny Lawler to the Edmonton Elks
Let’s kick this list off with someone from this past free agency period. I was debating between Lawler and the Toronto Argonauts Ja’Gared Davis but decided on going with the receiver, who was in second place in both receptions and yards when he was sidelined with an ankle injury near the end of August. In his 11 games, Kenny finished with 80 or more yards six times and had two games with over 140 yards despite inconsistency at the quarterback position.

2021: Henoc Muamba to the Toronto Argonauts

Henoc Muamba was a staple in the Argos defence in 2022 as he and his team captured the 109th Grey Cup (Kevin Sousa/CFL.ca)

Ultra-productive in his two years as a part of the Argonauts defence (over 120 tackles, five sacks and three interceptions) Muamba may not have made an All-Star team so far with the Argonauts, but he did finish 2022 in style winning both Grey Cup Most Valuable Player and Most Valuable Canadian. Muamba may have won the award for the most enduring image of the 2022 season in tears lifting his Grey Cup awards.

2018: Joel Figueroa to the BC Lions
The Lions left tackle has been a steadying force on the Lions offensive line since Day 1. Figueroa has won the Lions’ Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman award multiple times and has missed only four games in his four years on the West Coast. Joel has faced some of the league’s best pass rushers over the past four years and has held up quite well.

2018: Nic Demski to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers
(Spoiler: This will NOT be the last time you hear me mention the Bombers)
Consider Nic the Joel Figueroa of wide receivers. Yes, I know it’s a cliché, it’s often been said. Demski is certainly not a star, but he is a dependable plug and play receiver who is durable (nine games missed in Winnipeg) and has gotten better each year. Last season he finished with a career-high in receptions and yards, and was third in the league in touchdown grabs with 10.

Every time Derek Dennis signed with the Calgary Stampeders
Technically he was not a free agent in 2015 so really, I should correct the title, but I wanted to highlight that every time Derek was not in Calgary things just did not work out. It’s not that his one year in Saskatchewan was a bust and I don’t know why it never worked out in Edmonton, but I do know that Dennis in Calgary is one of the game’s finest blockers. Every year as a full-time member of the Stamps, Dennis walks away with at least a West Division All-Star nod. Some players just look better in specific team colours and for the future Hall of Famer that colour is “Stamps Red.”

2013: Geoff Tisdale to the Montreal Alouettes
The former Alouettes defensive back will be the oldest selection for this list. Tisdale only spent two seasons with Montreal but it sure was a productive two years. In 2013, Tisdale led the league with seven interceptions and the following year he added five more quarterback takeaways, good for second in the league. That thievery earned Geoff a CFL All-Star nod in 2013 and back-to-back East All-Star nods in 2013 and 2014.

2016: Trevor Harris to the Ottawa REDBLACKS

Trevor Harris spent three years in Ottawa as a member of the REDBLACKS before moving on to Edmonton and Montreal, respectively (Adam Gagnon/CFL.ca)

Yes, I know Harris never led a team to a Grey Cup with him as the starter, but that is an unfairly high bar to set for judging free agent success for a quarterback. Only one team can win the Grey Cup every year. In his three seasons in Ottawa, Harris threw for over 13,000 yards finishing with a solid 68 TD vs. 30 INT ratio. His first season would see him begin the year as the starter with Henry Burris as the backup. That plan was working out with Harris kicking off 2016 by going 3-0-1, the tie was a wild double OT 26-26 draw against a stacked Stampeders team. However, injuries and Burris’ play would end his chances of being the starter by playoff time. Trevor would have plenty of big moments playing for Rick Campbell including a 5,116-yard season in 2018 highlighted by Harris’ masterful six touchdown game in a 46-27 playoff win over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

2019: Willie Jefferson to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers
There are a number of reasons why the Winnipeg Blue Bombers have had the best defence these past three seasons and Willie Jefferson is right at the top of that list. The man never misses a game, he forces more fumbles than anyone else, and his 26 regular season sacks do not come even remotely close to telling the story about how destructive he is as a pass rusher. If there is an All-Star team, he is on it, and when a quarterback has a nightmare about getting hit you can bet Jefferson is in that as well.

2015: Stanley Bryant to (yeah you know the answer) the Winnipeg Blue Bombers
How did I not include the best offensive linemen of this generation from my last list? The man has accomplished everything there is to be done by a professional football player. Actually, for a lineman from Winnipeg, there is one last thing; he could eventually replace Chris Walby as the greatest lineman ever. That is still a long way away but even daring to use the word “Walby” to discuss another offensive lineman is about the highest compliment I can give.

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