Let’s break down a team by team free agent primer for the off-season.
Some teams like Edmonton have an extremely difficult job ahead of them with 37 potential free agents, while others like Hamilton are sitting okay with 17 free agents.
When I look at the toughest of tasks, I look at the team with the most national free agents, as keeping a core base of Canadian talent is paramount to success in the Canadian Football League. If you’re scrambling to fill national spots on a week to week basis, you’re going to be in big trouble.
With such a deep crop of free agents, let’s break it down by division. Here’s a look at the East (click here to look at the West):
17 total free agents, 8 national free agents
|ATKINSON, Michael||N||DL||Boise State|
|BANKS, Brandon||I||WR||Kansas State|
|CAPICCIOTTI, Justin||N||DL||Simon Fraser|
|COLLINS, Jasper||I||WR||Mount Union College|
|DEAN, Larry||I||LB||Valdosta State|
|ELLIS, Dominique||I||DB||South Carolina State|
|GOLSON, Everett||I||QB||Florida State|
|LANGA, Jonathan||N||DB||Saint Mary’s|
|PRIME, Carl-Olivier||N||FB||Wagner College|
|WASHINGTON, Tony||I||OL||Abilene Christian|
The Hamilton Tiger-cats have the shortest list of potential free agents, which will help the team keep a core group that started to gel at the end of the season.
When I look across the board for the Tiger-Cats, you don’t see huge positional concerns. The one spot I’d keep an eye on is Canadian defensive linemen. When you see Ted Laurent and Justin Capicciotti on the list, along with depth players Evan Gill and Michael Atkinson, there is some work to be done here. Unless the Tiger-Cats feel they can re-arrange their ratio, I’m thinking this may be the highest priority.
Staying on the defensive side, Larry Dean should be on the high priority list for General Manager Eric Tillman as he was the top defensive player in Hamilton this season.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Tiger-Cats will be trying to lock up Brandon Banks and Luke Tasker, who were 1A and 1B in terms of top targets in the final half of the season. They both complement each other with the speed of Banks and the smooth route running of Tasker. Hearing that talks with Banks may not be going well has to be a concern because Banks looked to be on the rise to a premiere receiver in the CFL
Getting Brandon Banks under contract should be a priority for the Ticats this off-season (The Canadian Press)
Then you get to the quarterbacks as Jeremiah Masoli and Everett Golson are pending free agents. The team saw Masoli jump into a leadership role and win a lot of ball games as the starting quarterback for Zach Collaros. Masoli should get another shot at the starting job, while it’ll be interesting to see if the team is as high on Golson as they were when they originally brought him in.
They could soon have Johnny Manziel on the depth chart, which may impact Golson more than it should Masoli
Overall, the Tiger-Cats appear to be in decent shape.
22 total free agents, 6 national free agents
|BASS, Khalil||I||LB||Portland State|
|BISHOP, Ken||I||DL||Northern Illinois|
|BLACK, Matt||N||DB||Saginaw Valley State|
|EDWARDS, Armanti||I||WR||Appalachian State|
|FULLER, Jeff||I||WR||Texas A&M|
|GREEN, S.J.||I||WR||South Florida|
|HAJRULLAHU, Lirim||N||K||Western University|
|LAING, Cleyon||N||DL||Iowa State|
|MURRAY, Derico||I||LB||Kent State|
|OWUSU-ANSAH, Akwasi||I||DB||Indiana of PA|
|POSEY, DeVier||I||WR||Ohio State|
|RAY, Ricky||I||QB||Sacramento State|
|SEARS JR., Johnny||I||DB||Michigan|
|WAUD, Daryl||N||DL||Western University|
|WHITE, Mitchell||I||DB||Michigan State|
Rick Ray is a free agent, so you know how much his decision to play or not will impact how the Argonauts attack free agency.
The Argos have the second-fewest national free agents. That should allow Jim Popp to re-sign and strengthen his national talent. Of the six, you can see three impact players with defensive back Jermaine Gabriel, defensive tackle Cleyon Laing and kicker Lirim Hajrullahu. Matt Black is another pending free agent after finishing the Grey Cup with a game-clinching interception.
They need to lock up these players or you’ll see a team with some massive holes that will be too hard to fill in free agency or the CFL Draft.
The Argonauts are in a similar spot as the Stampeders with four of their five starting defensive backs on the pending free agent list. Gabriel, Cassius Vaughn, Akwasi Owusu-Ansah and Mitchell White all made an impact this season and we saw Vaughn turn the Grey Cup game. It’s going to be interesting how Popp handles a few players that could be asking for a touch more money this season.
Mitchell White’s status is one of several questions on the Argos’ defence this off-season (Johany Jutras/CFL.ca)
Bear Woods is another impact defensive player that the Argos have to be smart about. While he’s not getting any younger, he’s not slowing down either.
The other position that is threatened in free agency is receiver. S.J. Green, Armanti Edwards, DeVier Posey and Jeff Fuller are on the Argos’ list. The trio of Green, Edwards and Posey could all be asking for more money and Popp will have to be careful where he spends his cash.
The other notable from this list is there is not one offensive linemen listed as a potential free agent. That’s the stability you’ll want going into year two of this regime.
A stable offensive line may be appealing to some pending free agent quarterbacks if Ray decides to hang up the cleats.
26 total free agents, 12 national free agents
|ALBRIGHT, Matthew||N||OL||Saint Mary’s|
|BERGER, Adam||N||DB||Simon Fraser|
|EVANS, Zach||N||DL||Regina Thunder Jrs|
|GAVINS, Jerrell||I||DB||Boise State|
|JOHNSON, Keelan||I||DB||Arizona State|
|JONES, Greg||I||LB||Michigan State|
|POWELL, William||I||RB||Kansas State|
|REED, Taylor||I||LB||Southern Methodist|
|SPENCER, Diontae||I||WR||McNeese State|
|TAYLOR, Nicholas||I||DB||Florida International|
Like in Toronto with Ray, Trevor Harris is a free agent. The two sides need to come to a quick resolution or the writing will be on the wall for Harris that he’s not the QB we all thought he was coming out of Toronto.
The other big problem in Ottawa is who will run the ball with William Powell and Mossis Madu both pending free agents? It’ll be hard for Ottawa not to re-sign Powell as he was a monster for much of the season.
The offensive line is another spot the REDBLACKS need to lock up, with free agents like Nolan McMillan and Alex Mateas. Those are two starters for an offensive line that had a lot of mixing and matching going on because of injury. Depth Canadian Matthew Albright is another player that doesn’t get a lot of headlines but his depth along the offensive line is a benefit.
William Powell rebounded from an Achilles injury to log a productive 2017 for the REDBLACKS (Jimmy Jeong/CFL.ca)
The big holes Ottawa will have to fill are on defence with starters Zack Evans, Arnaud Gascon-Nadon, Serderius Bryant, Taylor Reed, Jerrell Gavins and Jonathan Rose all pending free agents. While all the players are decent, Marcel Desjardins needs to upgrade a defence that has been picked apart in free agency the last two years.
They also have a lot of depth Canadians that need to get new deals. Although these players are not big name free agents, they are just as important to fill out a roster as they do have the ability to fill in when need be.
28 total free agents, 15 national free agents
|ACKIE, Chris||N||DB||Wilfrid Laurier|
|BROWN, Vincent||I||OL||Pittsburg State|
|GREAVES, Christopher||N||OL||Western University|
|HAIDARA, Seydou Junior||N||WR||Laval|
|MCLENNAN, Ivan||I||DL||Washington State|
|NORTHRUP, Reggie||I||LB||Florida State|
|STEWART, Brandon||I||DB||Eastern Arizona JC|
Kavis Reed has his work cut out for him with the hiring of a head coach to start and then to the second-longest free agent list. The Alouettes are also tied for second for who has the most national players heading for free agency.
I don’t even know where to start for the Alouettes so let’s go piece by piece.
Quarterback depth behind Darian Durant is pretty thin as both Jacory Harris and Drew Willy are pending. The good news is Reed stockpiled some QBs last year so Matthew Shiltz and Antonio Pipkin are still under contract.
Running back Tyrell Sutton is a pending free agent and with his ability to do it all, it would be hard to waive Sutton even though they do have some depth at international running back.
The receivers heading to free agency are all national receivers (Alex Carroll, Stephen Adekolu, Seydou Junior Haidara and Alex Pierzchalski). These are strictly depth moves for the team as no one on that list should be considered as a starting receiver. I would put this as a high priority for the Alouettes to upgrade in 2017.
Drew Willy’s expiring contract leaves questions on the Alouettes’ depth chart going into 2018 (Johany Jutras/CFL.ca)
In the final game of the season, the Alouettes started four american offensive linemen. That is not going to be sustainable in the CFL. Three of those starters are pending free agents but I’m not sure if the team is desperate to re-sign them. One of the other starters, Chris Greaves, is also on the free agent list. The Alouettes’ offensive line allowed the second most sacks in the league and needs to be upgraded.
These are the type of moves that makes Reed’s job so difficult.
On defence, there are some bigger name players like Jonathon Mincy, who was released on Monday to pursue opportunities south of the border. There is also some younger defensive linemen, linebackers and DBs on the list but there aren’t a lot of players that made a huge impact for the team.
There are no defensive linemen on the list that will make a big contribution in 2018. Again, some depth players, but a pending retirement of John Bowman makes it imperative the Alouettes build their depth at pass rusher as well as up the middle.
The list of defensive backs is a lengthy one, especially on the national side. Chris Ackie, Tevaughn Campbell and Michael Carter started games as national DBs. The list also includes national DBs that played mostly on special teams. While they may need to upgrade at some spots, it shouldn’t be too hard to lock up some of these free agents.
Brandon Stewart is another priority. He started this year opposite Mincy, but with the Alouettes’ play this season, they need to get better everywhere so I don’t think anybody is safe.
It’s a lot of work for Reed to get done this off-season, unless rumours are true that he’s getting some help on the management side. He may need it!