Wed Dec 15 09:42pm EST
As I discussed last week, the CFL has had an annoying habit in the past of not releasing lists of impending free agents until shortly before the actual free agency deadline. That's made life quite difficult for media members covering the league, has contributed to a slow offseason and hasn't given fans much to talk about from December through January. Fortunately, that's changed, with the league officially releasing a complete and comprehensive list of impending free agents Wednesday.
This is a smart move on the league's part on several fronts. For one thing, it levels the playing field for all teams. When Mark Masters covered the topic last week, two of the CFL's eight teams disclosed their list of impending free agents but the other six refused. It was a good public relations move for the teams that did opt to reveal that information (Edmonton and Hamilton), but it meant that more information about their roster was out there about their potential free agents than those from other teams.
That might or might not have had any actual impact (as the free agency period doesn't actually start until February and the full list would have been revealed before then), but there was at least a perception by the general managers of the non-disclosing teams that it was to their advantage not to release that information. With the league stepping in and releasing everyone's information, teams no longer have to make a decision based on a smart PR move versus a perceived competitive advantage, and that's the way it should be.
For another thing, this move favours fans instead of general managers, which is usually a good policy. It's created plenty of discussion and has allowed fans to start thinking about who their team might target. Meanwhile, all GMs are impacted equally by the move, so it's hardly unfair to them. Finally, it's not like this was highly secret information anyway; Ed Tait of The Winnipeg Free Press and Lowell Ullrich of The Province already led a coordinated media effort to get the names out there on an unofficial list, and they got most of them right. The league releasing an official list removes potential sources of error though, and it makes the CFL appear more professional. That's a good thing in my books.
On the actual names released, there are a couple of interesting notes. For one thing, the B.C. Lions only have two free agents, safety Tad Crawford and quarterback Jarious Jackson. Crawford appears likely to test the free agency waters, but it looks like they're going to try and bring Jackson back, so their existing roster should be almost completely intact. They may still release or trade players or add free agents, but such moves can be made at their discretion, which gives them a pretty good advantage going into the offseason.
At the other end of the spectrum, there are two teams that competed in this year's Grey Cup and one that fell just short. The Montreal Alouettes have a league-high 13 potential free agents, including quarterback Anthony Calvillo, receiver S.J. Green (pictured above), linebacker Chip Cox and running back Avon Cobourne. Calvillo probably isn't a threat to go elsewhere (if he does elect to come back after surgery to remove a potentially cancerous throat lesion), but the others certainly could if they were made the right offer.
Meanwhile, the Roughriders have 12 potential free agents of their own, including safety Lance Frazier and linebacker Kitwana Jones; they also might lose star receiver Andy Fantuz to the NFL. The Calgary Stampeders, who put up a league-best 13-5 record this year before falling to Saskatchewan in the West Final, aren't far behind on the free agent front in number either with 11, and their losses might be the most significant; they have three league all-stars on the list in cornerbacks Brandon Browner and Dwight Anderson and tackle Ben Archibald, the offensive lineman of the year. They also have a couple of other marquee names on the list, including receiver Romby Bryant and defensive end DeVone Claybrooks. The Stampeders may be able to bring back some of that talent, but you can bet other teams (and their fans) will be eyeing that lineup eagerly. At least they know who to target now, though.