February 14, 2024

O’Leary: Which team made the biggest Free Agency splash?

Peter Power/CFL.ca

If you’re looking for an outright winner in Free Agency, consider first the words of Donnovan Bennett.

The co-host of The Waggle reflected on the last few day-after Free Agency podcasts he’s worked on. His takeaway?

“When we’d look at it at the end of the year, these teams “won” free agency. They didn’t win any games,” he told his co-host, Henoc Muamba. “Free agency can be a bit of a liar.”

It’s hard not to think of that dynamic when we’re just a couple of days into Free Agency and basically smack dab in the middle of the off-season. The last few years in particular, the teams that have stolen the show in February have had a lot of football to watch from home in November.

Market Ready: The 2024 CFL Free Agent Tracker
» Playmakers Available: Who are the top 5 unsigned FAs?
A team by team look at Free Agency
» Cauz: 5 perfect Free Agency matches after Day 1
More Free Agency news, notes and analysis

So when we look at what’s transpired in the last two days of the open market, and what we expect to still happen thanks to a productive past week with the league’s communication window, what does a free agency winner look like?

People’s answers to that question will vary. The Saskatchewan Roughriders were very busy on Tuesday, announcing seven signings that helped continue their winter overhaul (we went into specifics on that yesterday). The Toronto Argonauts were busy late on Tuesday and into Wednesday, getting to work on filling some of the voids that they had with some key players jumping to other markets.

A common thought I’ve seen on X/Twitter this week and one that I heard over the phone today when I was talking with Allan Mitchell on The Lowdown on Sports 1440 in Edmonton was that the teams that won were the ones that did the bulk of their work before the market opened yesterday.

Mitchell was specifically talking about the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, arguing that they’d managed to keep their most important players, with Brady Oliveira and Dalton Schoen at the top of that list under contract. Signing two of the league’s top players wasn’t cheap, as Walters went into when he met with reporters on Wednesday, but he did what he had to do. Of course, the organization did the same earlier this winter when it extended Walters and his staff, allowing one of the top GMs in the league to carry on with the juggernaut he’s built up in Winnipeg.

In the same vein, while at the opposite end of last year’s standings, I think of the work that Shawn Burke and the Ottawa REDBLACKS have done this winter. They’ve added quarterback depth in trading for and extending Dru Brown, creating an interesting possible 1-2 punch with Jeremiah Masoli (order the punches however you’d like). Burke beefed up his defence with the addition of Adarius Pickett and he negotiated a slew of important contract extensions — Bralon Addison, Bryce Carter, Brandin Dandridge, Justin Hardy, Money Hunter, Richie Leonie, Lorenzo Mauldin IV and Devonte Williams, just to name a few — while head coach Bob Dyce added a new offensive coordinator to the team, in Tommy Condell.


If you look at the REDBLACKS in our team-by-team tracker, you’ll only see a pair of moves thus far. They’re just the tip of the iceberg for the team, though, who has a ton of work put in over the last few months with the intention of finally ending the club’s four-year playoff drought.

As Mitchell and I discussed on his show on Wednesday, the Elks are in that boat as well. GM and head coach Chris Jones brought quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson back to the CFL and while Tre Ford may have had visions of recording 18 starts this year, he’s now a part of one of the strongest QB duos in the league. Both quarterbacks will see a plethora of talent around them. They’ll have a solid offensive line in front of them and improved receiver depth, with Kurleigh Gittens Jr. coming over from the Argos in the trade for d-lineman Jake Ceresna. Pair that ratio-friendly spot with Eugene Lewis, Kyran Moore and Dillon Mitchell and remember that while Kevin Brown broke the 1,000-yard rushing mark last year, he’s capable of catching the ball and making plays that way.

Jones also put some balance into his roster with the signing of the 2023 Most Outstanding Special Teams Player, Javon Leake. The Elks have a serious return threat this year and while he won’t get a touchdown every time he touches the ball, Leake is capable of giving the Elks’ offence much better field position than they had a year ago. The kicking game got a boost as well, with the signing of former Argo Boris Bede.

The defending Grey Cup champs fall into this category too. Danny Maciocia basically hoisted the Grey Cup in Hamilton in November, passed it to the person next to him and started working on his 2024 roster. The Als’ defensive line seems like it has gotten stronger with the additions of Derek Wiggan and Dylan Wynn over the last two days. Pair them with Shawn Lemon, Mustafa Johnson and Avery Ellis and keep in mind that Tyrice Beverette had seven sacks last year and the Als look ready to hit the ground running come spring.

How you choose a winner in free agency will fall to your fandom and how you feel about your team’s overall body of work this winter. Of course, expectations will vary here, too. If the Elks, Riders or REDBLACKS are able to get into the playoffs this year, that’s a success. In Winnipeg, Toronto, Montreal and BC — another team that’s made tweaks on top of work done earlier in the winter — the expectations will be higher than that.

The comment system on this website is now powered by the CFL.ca Forums. We'd love for you to be part of the conversation; click the Start Discussion button below to register an account and join the community!