February 15, 2023

Landry’s 5 takeaways from Day 1 of Free Agency

Kevin Sousa/CFL.ca

Hello, ‘return’ key on my laptop. Tremendous work, my friend. You just kept taking a pounding – a literal pounding – and kept bouncing back asking “please, sir, may I have another” as I repeatedly bashed you down, hoping with every strike that a new contract announcement would come across my screen.

Sometimes, I’d just sit there all sad like Jesse Eisenberg at the end of “The Social Network,” with nothing new popping up. On and and on it went, ‘return’ key. And you never refused the command. You’re a rock star, ‘return’ key and you have my undying admiration. See you again on training camp cutdown day.

Here are some early free agency takeaways.


Who won free agency? I like to say – and so I will again right now – that you can ask me that question in November. We have the beautiful, twisty journey of the regular season and playoffs to go through before we can really assess. Hot takes, I often argue, are like pizza straight from the oven. As great as pizza is, if it goes right from the oven and into your pie hole, you’re gonna burn the roof of your mouth. Let your pizza and your takes cool is what I say, whenever possible.

Market Open: The 2023 CFL Free Agent Tracker
» CFL.ca’s top 30 free agents
» A team-by-team look at Free Agency
O’Leary: Enjoying the ride of Day 1 of Free Agency
» East To West: Lewis touches down in Edmonton

But so far? I’m impressed with the work of the Ticats, the Elks, the Roughriders and the REDBLACKS. Go figure. Those just happened to be the teams in most need of change and they delivered.

The Ticats took the nickname ‘The Hammer’ pretty darned seriously in renovating their team this off-season. Once the Bo Levi Mitchell contract was in place and they knew what numbers they were working with, Orlondo Steinauer and his associates really got to work. A good team that went sideways in 2022 was in for change. At last count, six starters were gone, not all of Hamilton’s choosing, of course. At the close of Day One of free agency, though, the ‘Cats had signed or reportedly signed the likes of James Butler, Duke Williams, Jameer Thurman, Chris Edwards, Ja’Gared Davis, Casey Sayles, Kwaku Boateng and Joel Figueroa.

The Elks made all that noise in signing Eugene Lewis and a bunch more receivers in a bid to quick-charge an offence that was in desperate need of the jolt.

The REDBLACKS had already done a nice job of retaining some of their on-board star material before going out and boosting some big-time defensive help in Jovan Santos-Knox, Cariel Brooks and in Michael Wakefield, before landing receiver Shaq Evans to bolster the receiving corps.

Saskatchewan got the shot of caffeine that was necessary on offence, and added Stefan Banks and Micah Johnson to a D-line mix that will be formidable.

And I’ll toss the Montreal Alouettes into the batch as well. It stings to lose Trevor Harris and Eugene Lewis, as well as Jake Wieneke. A lot. But considering the backdrop of ownership uncertainty that played havoc with Montreal’s off-season planning, the team comes out okay in signing quarterback Cody Fajardo and reported signing of veteran receiver (and leadership touchstone) Greg Ellingson, as well as offensive lineman Justin Lawrence and shutdown corner Jumal Rolle.


The Edmonton Elks’ general manager and head coach had said that he didn’t expect his team to be terribly aggressive in free agency. But then he went out and, reportedly, threw 300K a season over two years at superstar receiver Eugene Lewis’ feet and if that ain’t what the coach thinks is aggressive, I’d like to know just what he thinks is. Mind you, my idea of “aggressive” is opting for the medium salsa, so perhaps I’m not one to question another man’s definition of the word.

Steven Dunbar is now a member of the Elks after signing a deal with Edmonton on Tuesday (Kevin Sousa/CFL.ca)

The Edmonton offence has been re-shaped in free agency. With Lewis as the linchpin of it all, and with the likes of Steven Dunbar Jr. and Kyran Moore joining the corps, I think I know who the happiest man in the CFL is right now and that’s Edmonton quarterback Taylor Cornelius. With those targets causing havoc downfield and with what appears to be a stud running back in Kevin Brown in the backfield, Cornelius has the cast on hand to write some pretty amazing scripts in 2023.


The howls of derision whipped fiercely across the wind-swept Saskatchewan prairie this off-season, gusts of dismay adding a different kind of bitter to the chill, the scorn piling up like so many waist-high drifts against the fences in every backyard from Estevan to Athabasca Sand Dunes National Park. (Note: I took an online course in creative writing this off-season, you like?)

The Saskatchewan Roughriders were in need of big big change, every gust of criticism insisted. Change you have received.

A new quarterback in Trevor Harris. He brings his buddy, Touchdown Jake Wieneke along with him from Montreal. The very very speedy Shawn Bane is lured over from Calgary. Juwan Brescacin from Toronto. Up front, fortifications in the pass protection game, with the likes of Peter Godber and ageless tough guy Philip Blake (he broke both his hands last season and played through those injuries) added.

There is more to do in Saskatchewan but ‘Riders GM Jeremy O’Day has do far delivered big changes that have – for the time being at least – abated the frozen howls as an optimistic breeze whispers of warm sunshine and a bumper crop of wins in 2023 (seriously, that course is the best 20 bucks I’ve ever spent, worth every penny, you’ll see).


It’s a bit of a gamble to include a takeaway like this in a column as one never knows how quickly one of the names mentioned here might be scrawled on a new deal, ink drying as I hit ‘send’ on the email that brings this column to head office.

McLeod Bethel-Thompson is still a pending free agent after hitting the open market on Tuesday (Kevin Sousa/CFL.ca)

Veteran Ticats linebacker Simoni Lawrence comes to mind and so do Toronto quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson and linebacker Henoc Muamba. And defensive back Shaq Richardson. Winnipeg receiver Rasheed Bailey. Calgary quarterback tracker Shawn Lemon, too. And last but certainly not least (in fact he’d be most) is destructive linebacker Darnell Sankey, who has already penned a farewell note to the fans of Saskatchewan. One of the most active and feared linebackers in the CFL has yet to land; Where will he end up?

Micah Awe, Walter Fletcher, Sherrod Baltimore, Ciante Evans, Kameron Kelly, Branden Dozier, Derel Walker. All out there, at the time of writing. Who’ll pull on those threads?


With running back James Butler reportedly on the move East to the Ticats, the BC Lions have lost a major stud from their offence, a back who can run, catch and pick up the blitz as well as anyone these days. That hurts, but head coach and co-general manager Rick Campbell looks forward to uncovering another gem this spring.

“He was new a couple of years ago. When I was new here, no one knew who James Butler was and he had to fight his way to become a CFL guy,” said Campbell. “And he did it. And good for him.”

“Part of the recipe for being good in this league is to find your own American players. As many as you can.”

“We’re gonna have a whole group of guys coming in and that’ll be a focal point in training camp. That’ll be a wide open competition and I look forward to it,” said Campbell.

Right now, the Lions’ roster page lists these men at the running back position: Nate Chavious, Tavien Feaster, Gregory Howell Jr., and Antonio Williams. Is one of them the next James Butler?

AND FINALLY… Ticats’ Public Enemy Number One Chris Edwards reportedly now in black and gold? Now there’s a delicious and dramatic turn of events.

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