February 18, 2024

Free Agency brings West Division shakeup

The Canadian Press

TORONTO — Free agency can be a complicated process for everyone involved.

Teams have to navigate the salary cap and find a way to add as many good players as they can in positions of need within their budget. Players, on the other hand, have to deal with multiple offers by different teams while still finding the best fit for themselves.

Linebacker Henoc Muamba (who is a free agent himself) is a veteran who has been there done that and can give valuable advice to players going through that process.

“Sometimes it seems like the grass is greener on the other side, but it isn’t,” said Muamba in a conversation with Donnovan Bennett in this week’s edition of The Waggle Podcast. “You want to make sure that you want to leave the situation that you’re in.

“You want to have comfort and you want to be compensated appropriately. You want to be in a situation that you’re going to flourish. You want to be in a situation with people you’re familiar with. It could mean teammates but it also means the coaching staff.”

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The West Division had plenty of players leaving the situation they were in to pursue other chances. One of them was 2023 Most Outstanding Defensive Player Mathieu Betts, who reportedly agreed to a deal with the NFL’s Detroit Lions on Tuesday.

Some players were able to move teams before free agency even began. It was the case of running back William Stanback, who was released by the Montreal Alouettes so he could pursue other opportunities and ended up finding a home in BC with the Lions.

“I talked about familiarity and this is one of those instances where it played a huge role,” said Muamba about Stanback reuniting with quarterback Vernon Adams Jr., who was traded from the Alouettes to the Lions in 2022.

A couple of players that are also going to be wearing new colours in 2024 are defensive back Demerio Houston and quarterback Matthew Shiltz, who agreed to deals with the Calgary Stampeders and will be taking their talents to Alberta.

“Shiltz is a huge acquisition,” said Muamba. “He’s a guy that automatically changes the dynamics of your offence. Whether he’s starting for you or coming in for a few plays here and there.”

The Stamps have a established starter at pivot in Jake Maier, but Muamba believes the addition of Shiltz can be beneficial for everyone.

“It’ll challenge Maier and force him to really reach his potential and a new level.”

Calgary is not the only city in Alberta that has welcomed new names this off-season. A couple hundred miles north, the Edmonton Elks have added big names of their own in quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson, wide receiver Kurleigh Gittens Jr., kicker Boris Bede and 2023 Most Outstanding Special Teams Player Javon Leake.


The first three came before free agency, but Leake was a big signing for Edmonton on Tuesday that can help take their special teams play to another level.

“I will say that they will make the playoffs next year,” said Muamba about the moves made by the Double E. “What (head coach and general manager) Chris Jones and (assistant general manager) Geroy Simon just did is solidify that locker room.”

All four of the Elks acquisitions are former Argonauts who played important roles in winning the 109th Grey Cup for the Double Blue. “(Jones) brought in guys who have won, guys who are proven and guys that have experience.”

The West Division is set to feature a fierce competition for a playoff spot with the Saskatchewan Roughriders also making big moves of their own. Running back AJ Ouellette, offensive lineman Jermarcus Hardrick, defensive lineman Malik Carney, defensive back Jalon Edwards-Cooper, those are just some of the names the Riders have signed to transform their roster for their first season under Mace.

“There’s a new sheriff in town. Mace is a man of character himself and he was looking for guys with a lot of character in free agency. It makes sense to see Ouellette. Two guys on opposite sides of the ball but they were always close in Toronto.

“All of the guys (the Riders have signed) are guys who are proven, guys who work hard, guys who will always continue to do the work.

“It’s going to be an exciting time in Saskatchewan,” said Muamba about the new faces in Regina.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers, meanwhile, worked hard to retain some of their talent while trying to deal with the departures of players like Hardrick and Houston.

General manager Kyle Walters found a way to extend the contracts of running back Brady Oliveira and wide receiver Dalton Schoen, two key pieces of the league’s top offence in 2023.

“When you play on a team that continues to win as the Blue Bombers have over the last four, five years you become more appealing. But keeping Oliveira, that had to have been their No. 1 priority. All of their fans in Winnipeg would have been extremely mad and furious if he left.

“For him to stay there is a huge win for the Bombers.”

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