February 16, 2011
The CFL's free agency period may have gotten off to a somewhat slow start after the window officially opened at 12:01 Wednesday morning, but teams are fast making up for that today. As of 4 p.m. Eastern, one of the most notable moves saw the Montreal Alouettes continue their stellar offseason, landing one of this year's most coveted prizes in former Calgary cornerback Dwight Anderson, a 2010 league all-star.
Last year, the secondary was one of the Alouettes' biggest issues, and Anderson (pictured above bringing down Montreal RB Avon Cobourne in an Oct. 11 game) should go a long way towards shoring that up; he established himself as a cornerback to be feared last season, picking off five passes and forcing quarterbacks to throw away from his man much of the time. We'll see how his on-field antics translate to Montreal, but Anderson can play. From this standpoint, his signing looks like yet another great move by Alouettes' general manager Jim Popp, who's done an incredible job to keep the core of his championship team together despite huge numbers of potential free agents. The Alouettes also signed former NFL wide receiver Jerry Porter and may be close to a deal with B.C. safety Tad Crawford, who could provide extra help in the secondary.
Anderson's exit meant the Stampeders had lost both their all-star corners from last season (thanks to Brandon Browner's departure for the NFL), but they quickly made their own move to sign defensive back Geoff Tisdale from Hamilton. It looks like Calgary had to pay Tisdale a significant amount of cash, and his performance last year (58 tackles, four interceptions) was very solid but not on par with Anderson's. However, he is significantly younger (23 versus 29) and has almost as much CFL experience (three seasons versus four), so he could be a key part of the Stampeders' plans for years to come. The team also added linebacker/long-snapper/special-teams man Tim St. Pierre from Edmonton.
Calgary's other key departing free agent may not be as easy to replace, though. Left tackle Ben Archibald hasn't officially left yet, but his exit looks more and more imminent all the time. Much of the talk is focusing around the B.C. Lions, who could definitely use Archibald's presence to anchor their line and would also provide him with a job close to his offseason home in Spokane, Washington. Archibald was deservingly named the league's top offensive lineman last year (he's pictured at right receiving that award), and has proven very capable at both pass protection and run-blocking. He's 32, but that doesn't mean his career will end any time soon; this league does tend to favour veterans, and many offensive linemen in particular are able to play at a high level into their late 30s.
Meanwhile, Hamilton may have lost Tisdale, but they made their own free-agency splashes. Perhaps the biggest came with the signing of Cobourne, the 2009 Grey Cup MVP , which reportedly carried a $125,000 price tag. That price was apparently too rich for the Alouettes' blood. Montreal does have a few backup options in place, though, including former Green Bay Packer Ahman Green, non-imports Dahrran Diedrick and Mike Giffin and imports Remene Alston and Emmanuel Marc.
For Hamilton, Cobourne could be a nice acquisition. He offered similar ground production to DeAndra Cobb last season (both averaged 5.2 yards per carry, Cobb finished with 1,173 yards and eight rushing touchdowns against Cobourne's 956 and six), but Cobourne was a more effective pass-catching threat (64 catches for 556 yards versus Cobb's 38 for 334). The team could look to trade Cobb, but it seems likely that they might try and form a backfield tandem of the kind that worked so well for Calgary last year; the running-back-by-committee idea doesn't help either player's individual stats, but it can produce results for the team if done effectively.
The Tiger-Cats also signed Saskatchewan defensive back Daniel Francis. He could perhaps be a replacement for Tisdale; Francis is a little older at 26, but still should be on the upswing of his career. He has NFL experience, but has only played two CFL seasons and really only saw significant defensive duty in 2010; he was pretty effective when called upon, though, recording 53 defensive tackles, 10 special-teams tackles, a quarterback sack, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. Francis was endorsed by Tiger-Cats assistant general manager Joe Womack (who was with Saskatchewan last season) for his versatility and ability to play multiple positions, which bodes well for him. We'll see how he fits into Corey Chamblin's plans.
Another move of note came from the West Coast, where B.C. has apparently signed Toronto defensive tackle Eric Taylor to a three-year deal. Taylor recorded three sacks and 17 tackles in limited playing time last season. He's 29, so he should have plenty of good seasons left, and the Lions were looking to add depth on their defensive line; Taylor likely wasn't their first choice, but with Kevin Huntley staying in Toronto and Jermaine Reid heading to Edmonton, he might have been the best option left.
Most of the big-name free agents are off the board, but a few interesting ones still remain, including former Saskatchewan linebacker Rey Williams, B.C. quarterback Jarious Jackson and Calgary safety Wes Lysack. We'll have more free agency coverage here and at the Yahoo! CFL home page over the next few days; you can also follow me on Twitter for quick thoughts on free-agent signings as they happen.