February 10, 2023

O’Leary: Free Agency storylines to follow


Four days out from the free agent market opening, it feels like we’re on the precipice of some significant change in the CFL.

It’s been reported that Trevor Harris will head to the Saskatchewan Roughriders when Free Agency kicks off at noon ET on Feb. 14.

Should that move come to fruition, it sets a few other quarterbacking dominoes in motion. Harris’ landing in Saskatchewan (we’ll get into the direction of the Riders as a whole shortly here) would cement Cody Fajardo‘s departure; a move that will disappoint but probably not surprise even the affable QB’s most diehard fans. Montreal seems like the obvious option for both team and player here (and that much has been reported), but it’s not a clear-cut result.

The most interesting factor in this free agency equation involves a player that’s not a free agent. Dane Evans is heading into the second year of the contract he’d signed with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the 2022 off-season. With the Ticats trading for and eventually extending Bo Levi Mitchell on Jan. 24 and the team’s Feb. 7 announcement of extending backup Matthew Shiltz, Evans stands to be on the move.

If McLeod Bethel-Thompson returns to the Toronto Argonauts, we’ll have an odd-man-out situation where one of Evans or Fajardo won’t walk onto their new team as a starter. Sure, anything can happen in the course of a season — both players were backups that took advantage of opportunity in the last few years — but who would have predicted this dynamic a year ago?

Quarterback movement is almost always my top free agency interest every year, but there are plenty of other good, important storylines to follow as we head into the opening of the market next week. Here are a few more I’m watching.

Market Ready: The 2023 CFL Free Agent Tracker
» CFL.ca’s top 30 pending free agents
» Ferguson: What recent free agency extensions mean
Nye: Surveying a quickly changing QB landscape
» Costabile: A few thoughts a week from Free Agency


Say hello to the All-In Tiger-Cats 

Perhaps you’ve heard where the Grey Cup will be played this year. The planning is well underway in Hamilton, with the 110th Grey Cup to be handed out on Nov. 19 at Tim Hortons Field. The planning isn’t just happening in the league office and with the Ticats’ execs. Their front office seems to be buying in on the idea of loading this team up to the brink with talent.

A run through Twitter paints a picture of a number of big name players potentially wearing Black and Gold in less than a week’s time. Among them: Kwaku Boateng, James Butler (both reported by TSN’s Farhan Lalji) Casey Sayles, and Jameer Thurman (both reported by 3DownNation’s Justin Dunk). Those deals are reported at this point and not yet official, but it would mark some significant offensive and defensive additions, should they all be signed.

Consider that the Ticats already have Bo Levi Mitchell in the fold and that they’re steadily signing players, after a quiet start to the off-season. This looks like a team that’s dedicating itself to taking a run at lifting the Grey Cup at home this year and winning its first championship of the century.

A rebuild is afoot in Riderville

The Saskatchewan Roughriders limped across the finish line in 2022 and it was clear that change was coming. With the negotiation window open, GM Jeremy O’Day wasted no time in getting to work. Reports of Trevor Harris coming to Riderville marks instant change at the most important position on the field.

The Riders have been active with securing some pending free agents on the defensive side of the ball, getting Larry Dean, Anthony Lanier II, Pete Robertson and Nick Marshall, to name a few extended.

Assuming Harris’ deal goes into place next week, the next most important part of the Riders’ off-season will be keeping him upright. The offensive line will need a jolt or two added to it, after the Riders allowed a league-worst 77 sacks last year. Improving on last year’s six-win season starts with the biggest bodies on the field.


Fajardo meets Maas again?

It didn’t end the way that everyone in Saskatchewan had hoped for Cody Fajardo and Jason Maas. Could it have a different outcome in the East Division?

Should Fajardo land in Montreal, he’d reunite with Maas as the Alouettes’ freshly-hired head coach. So what makes it different this time around? I still think the bulk of the blame for the Riders’ shortcomings last year are tied to the sacks that the team allowed. On a different team with a new offensive line in front of him, Fajardo should be more productive. Henry Burris, Michael Reilly and Trevor Harris have all put up big numbers in Maas’ offences. Could Fajardo do the same this year under new circumstances?

The Argos are coming into form

After a flurry of activity last weekend, the Argos’ 2023 roster started to take shape.

The report of Andrew Harris signing a one-year extension points the team more in the direction of it going into run-it-back mode. When you’re the defending Grey Cup champs — and in the case of Harris, riding the wave of a Grey Cup three-peat — that’s certainly not a bad thing.

The most important piece of that puzzle, though, remains open at the moment. Despite a report that surfaced last week about McLeod Bethel-Thompson‘s intentions, we haven’t heard anything further on the Argos’ starting quarterback. Whoever takes the field for the Argos when the season kicks off — whether it’s Bethel-Thompson, Chad Kelly, Fajardo or even Dane Evans — will have a plethora of weapons around them and a good shot at defending that Grey Cup they won almost three months ago.

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