If there’s a lesson to be taken away from the about-to-begin 2024 Free Agency period, it’s this: it’s the communication window’s world and we’re all just living in it.
In the seven days that the window was open, we saw a flurry of activity that led to several of the biggest names in the CFL’s pending free agents list either get a contract in place or officially come off of the market. Tuesday, Feb. 6 was the peak of the movement madness, where players like Brady Oliveira, Dalton Schoen, AJ Ouellette, Adarius Pickett, Boris Bede, Javon Leake, William Stanback and Ben Hladik all figured out where they’d be for 2024 and beyond.
That doesn’t mean that the market has been emptied out before it’s even opened. This has been tepidly written, knowing that transactions have been happening at lightning speed lately. As it stands with the clock ticking down to noon ET Tuesday, defensive lineman Mathieu Betts and receiver Tim White — the No. 2 and 3 players, respectively, in CFL.ca’s top 30 pending free agents list — remain available and carry fortune-changing abilities for the teams that will sign them.
While unconfirmed, Betts’ status went somewhat into the air over the weekend, as TSN’s Farhan Lalji reported that Betts could sign a futures contract with the Detroit Lions. It would be the 28-year-old’s second shot at the NFL, after he spent time with the Chicago Bears in 2019, having signed as an undrafted free agent before the Edmonton Elks took him second overall in the CFL Draft. Should this latest opportunity not pan out, Betts will have a bevy of CFL options at his disposal as he comes off of an 18-sack season in 2023 that saw him named the league’s Most Outstanding Defensive Player.
Given how quickly things can happen for individual players, let’s take a look at the market opening from some team perspectives and who we might expect to make some noise.
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What will the Argos do?
Once the communication window opened, the Argos saw their roster outlook change in a matter of days. Bede, Leake, Ouellette, Jamal Peters and Pickett have all either officially signed with new teams or reportedly have deals in place, with their moves set to become official on Tuesday. We’ve discussed that while these are high-end, award-winning and All-Star calibre players leaving, it’s not as bad for the Argos as it may have felt when the wave of news hit this past week.
While some of the new leaks in last year’s mighty Argo ship (not to be confused with Leake) can be filled internally — we see you, Jonathan Jones — the Argos may need to be more active in free agency than they anticipated as they headed in to the off-season.
Their top priority might be at running back. Ouellette’s departure to Saskatchewan dovetails with Andrew Harris‘ retirement. Sure, National RB Daniel Adeboboye heads into his third season this year and can contribute, but the Argos will likely look to someone with some more experience at the spot. Ka’Deem Carey and Jamal Morrow appear set to hit the market. Carey had a 1,000-yard rushing season in Calgary in 2022 and posted 869 yards in the shortened 2021 season. He was limited to nine games in 2023. If healthy, he could provide something like that dual-threat, physical presence that Ouellette so masterfully provided last year for the Double Blue. Similarly, Morrow flirted with a 1,000-yard campaign last year, turning 202 carries into 907 yards, while pulling in 36 catches for 349 yards and a touchdown.
What will the Ticats look like?
After an off-season front office realignment, the Ticats head into free agency with Orlondo Steinauer serving as president of football operations and Ed Hervey in the general manager’s chair, with Scott Milanovich going into his first season as the team’s head coach.
To this point, the organization has been relatively quiet. Their biggest contract extension splashes have come from extending the contracts of rising star DB Stavros Katsantonis and offensive lineman Brandon Revenberg.
The biggest name on their free agency list, Tim White, has to be a top priority for them, especially with the team committed to Bo Levi Mitchell at quarterback. If they want to see Mitchell get back to his gunslinging form from his days in Calgary, he’ll need to have a receiver like White as a target, as well as some highly skilled players around him. To that end, the Ticats are rumoured to have a deal in place with pending free agent receiver Terry Godwin II, according to 3DownNation’s Justin Dunk.
On the defensive side of the ball, Tunde Adeleke and Dylan Wynn appear set to hit the market. Both have been staples of the Ticats’ defence the last four years, though both dealt with injuries in 2023. The team announced on Monday afternoon that it has extended All-Star d-lineman Casey Sayles through 2025, which cements a big presence in the trenches for the next two seasons.
Hervey had said a few weeks back he wanted to let the market dictate the pricing on free agents. After a very busy week with the communication window, we could see a front office that’s been one of the more quiet ones thus far start to roar to life this week.
Do the Elks have some more moves hiding in their antlers?
Elks’ general manager and head coach Chris Jones has been very busy this off-season, as he’s worked to re-tool his roster in an effort to end the Elks’ three-season playoff drought. His biggest move thus far has been getting McLeod Bethel-Thompson back to the CFL, where he’ll work with the upstart Tre Ford, giving the Elks arguably one of the best quarterback duos in the league.
While the Elks have the lowest amount of pending free agents in the league, Jones has spent the last few months extending a number of key players. That includes offensive linemen Brett Boyko, Tomas Jack-Kurdyla, wide receiver Kyran Moore and defensive back Louchiez Purifoy.
Jones also traded for National receiver Kurleigh Gittens Jr., sending longtime defensive lineman Jake Ceresna to the Argos to add some Natinal depth behind Eugene Lewis and Dillon Mitchell. Clearly an admirer of what the Argos put together last year, Jones managed to pull a pair of pending-FA Argos away. Leake, the 2023 Most Outstanding Special Teams award winner, is reportedly set to sign with the Elks and and veteran kicker Boris Bede got an early release from Toronto to sign in Edmonton.
Ceresna and A.C. Leonard tied for the team sack lead last year, with 12 each. Leonard appears to be headed to free agency and while he could still be in Elks colours when camp opens, watch for the team to explore the d-line when the market opens on Tuesday.
Check back with CFL.ca throughout what promises to be a busy Tuesday to keep up with all of the coming signings. We’ll have a detailed breakdown of moves made across the league all through this week.