February 8, 2023

Ferguson: What recent free agent extensions mean

Kevin Sousa/CFL.ca

There is a certain comfort that comes with the rhythm of a CFL off-season, specifically the free agency cycle.

Extensions casually appear on your timeline for a few months after the Grey Cup is awarded before all of a sudden, it’s a firestorm of movement.

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» Costabile: A few thoughts a week from Free Agency

So, what does it all mean?

With plenty of time to discuss the intrigue of players potentially on the move to new scenery, let’s take a look at my top five notable and recent extensions in hopes of adding context as to why teams prioritized these players and how they’ll make your team better.

Linebacker Larry Dean
Saskatchewan Roughriders

Larry Dean signed an extension with the Roughriders on Tuesday (Kevin Sousa/CFL.ca)

Dean crashed the CFL scene in Hamilton for three years, working his way up my personal list of eye-catching defenders who appear to be involved in nearly every play.

Pandemic. Torn Achilles. Doom.

I can’t be the only person who thought his career could be in peril after two years without game reps and recovering from a crippling injury that often removes the explosive ability from even the most elite athletes who receive elite rehabilitation and care.

All Dean did in his first season with pads back on at the age of 34 was rack up 108 tackles, three sacks and two interceptions in 18 games. Those 108 tackles were good for 13.6% of Saskatchewan’s available defensive takedowns. That was a mark that ranked Dean third in the entire CFL behind only Hamilton’s Jovan Santos-Knox and fellow Rider Darnell Sankey.

If Sankey is one-and-done in Regina, expect Dean’s influence on the Riders front, especially the run, to only keep expanding.

Linebacker Wynton McManis
Toronto Argonauts


Wynton McManis was the least discussed ‘great’ story of 2022 for me until he ended the year with a pair of injuries. Those injuries prevented meaningful playoff participation as the Argos conquered the CFL’s biggest stage despite the loss of their star linebacker.

McManis is a dynamic weak side linebacker who plays a major role in the double blue defence. He flies out to the flats covering receivers, blitzes off the edge, and stuffs the run with physicality while also earning CFL respect on special teams.

In 2022 McManis accounted for 4.9% of Toronto’s special teams tackles while adding 11.4% of Argos defensive tackles to his resume. Both numbers would have been even higher if he was healthy all year.

Only Saskatchewan’s Larry Dean and BC Lions’ middle linebacker Jordan Williams had a higher level of combined percentages. Long story short: McManis is elite and Toronto knew he was central to their 2023 repeat hopes.

Receiver Nic Demski
Winnipeg Blue Bombers


The Bombers mini-dynasty has seen pass-catching pieces come and go from Kenny Lawler to Greg Ellingson and Darvin Adams to Brendan O’Leary-Orange. But one of the true consistent pieces through the run has been hometown hero Nic Demski, who continues to raise his game with each passing opportunity.

With Demski back, the Bombers avoid searching for a Canadian pass-catcher by having to chase names from outside the building and allowed for one of the key veterans from this blue and gold run to stabilize the huddle under any circumstance.

Quarterback Nick Arbuckle


When Bo Levi Mitchell signed in Hamilton, Dane Evans likely became a moveable piece for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. One landing spot I thought was feasible was Ottawa with Jeremiah Masoli and Evans pairing back together again after a year away from each other. With Caleb Evans and Nick Arbuckle both pending free agents in Ottawa, the potential was there, but the REDBLACKS signed Arbuckle to an extension this week as the presumptive backup to Masoli, who will return from a broken leg and the multiple surgeries that followed.

What does it mean? Ottawa either wasn’t interested in the Ticats asking price for Dane Evans OR believe deeply in Arbuckle’s potential, years after a different front office regime paid a first round pick to secure his rights pre-pandemic. Both, of course, can be true. Regardless, the pen-to-paper move gives Arbuckle and his family much overdue stability.

Running Back Sean Thomas Erlington
Hamilton Tiger-Cats

Sean Thomas Erlington signed an extension with the Ticats before hitting free agency and will get set to play his sixth season in Hamilton (Thomas Skrlj/CFL.ca)

With Don Jackson being released from a largely transient Ticats running back group, a collection of talent where no player ever claims the job unquestionably and leads the team by a wide margin in carries, Sean Thomas Erlington was signed to an extension.

Then came the news Ottawa is interested in Ticats playoff ball carrier Wes Hills. Adding STE back to the fold means Hamilton has ratio flexibility and brings back a player they know and trust with the ball under any circumstances.

Don’t be surprised if Hamilton goes searching for a big name American back like Walter Fletcher or James Butler to lead the way with Thomas Erlington playing, rightfully so, a more prominent role than in past seasons.

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