Veteran defensive lineman Lemon surprised to still be a CFL free agent

The Canadian Press

TORONTO — Shawn Lemon never figured to be in this position.

After registering a 20 combined sacks the past two seasons with Toronto and B.C., the veteran defensive lineman was expected to generate much interest when he became a free agent Feb. 11. But after more than a month on the open market, the 31-year-old native of Charleston, S.C., still hasn't found a home.

In fact, Lemon said he hasn't received an offer since free agency started.

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"I don't know what's going on but sometimes you just have to let everything clear over, keep your faith in God and just keep chopping wood," Lemon said during a telephone interview. "One thing I've learned is to believe in yourself when no one else does.

"It is what it is. No matter what the situation is, I feel like my production and play over the past few years has been very good. It doesn't matter what the situation is, I should have a job right now but I don't."

And that's surprising given the six-foot, 248-pound Lemon has been a productive player during his nine CFL campaigns. He has registered 70 career sacks, three times registering 10 or more in a season, and twice played for Grey Cup-winning teams (Calgary in '14, Toronto in '17).

And in each of the past two years, the Lions acquired Lemon from the Argos. Lemon responded with 10 sacks in 13 games with B.C. in 2018 and eight in 10 contests last year.

Since 2014, Lemon has registered 61 sacks in 88 regular-season games. That's more than Willie Jefferson (43 sacks in 94 games since '14) and Ja'Gared Davis (36 sacks in four CFL seasons), who both signed free-agent deals last month to remain with Winnipeg and Hamilton, respectively.

Then again, timing is everything in free agency. Jefferson had 12 sacks last year and was named the CFL's top defensive player before leading Winnipeg to a Grey Cup victory while Davis registered a career-high 13 sacks with Hamilton.

"Everything happens for a reason," Lemon said. "The numbers are there . . . my numbers speak for themselves.

"I know I can still pass-rush at a very very high level. I'm just waiting for the opportunity to come."

Lemon isn't the only proven veteran still without a free-agent deal. Also on the open market are receivers Derel Walker (65 catches, 1,040 yards, six TDs with Toronto last year) and Manny Arceneaux (Saskatchewan), defensive back Jonathan Rose (Ottawa), defensive linemen Davon Coleman (Toronto),  Junior Turner (Calgary), Odell Willis (B.C.) and Canadian Jamaal Westerman (Hamilton), offensive linemen Thaddeus Coleman (Saskatchewan), Travis Bond (Edmonton) and Canadian Ryan Bomben (Toronto), linebackers Marcus Ball and Canadian Cory Greenwood (both Calgary) and running backs C.J. Gable and Canadian Calvin McCarty (both Edmonton).

Receivers Armanti Edwards and S.J. Green and offensive lineman Derek Dennis were also CFL free agents before signing XFL deals. They all could return to the CFL following the XFL campaign.

"I was joking with someone that if you made a team out of the guys still left over in the CFL right now, it would be a pretty good team," Lemon said.

But there are also factors working against Lemon and the other free agents. The CFL's minimum salary increases from $54,000 to $65,000 this season while the teams' salary cap is going up by just $50,000.

"I don't know what's going on but sometimes you just have to let everything clear over, keep your faith in God and just keep working," Lemon said. "One thing I've learned is to believe in yourself when no one else does.

"I'm learning patience. I know something will come. I think a few teams still need pass rushers, it's just a matter of what they're going to do with it."

When opportunity knocks, Lemon said he'll be more than ready.

"I still plan to lead the CFL in sacks (in 2020)," he said. "If you look at my career, I've produced in every uniform I've put on so it doesn't matter what uniform I have on.

"I always have a chip on my shoulder. I was told in high school I wasn't good enough to get a Division 1 scholarship, then in college (Akron) I was told I wasn't good enough to make it to the NFL (signed with San Francisco and Pittsburgh in 2015).

"Well, nine years after graduating I'm still playing pro football. This is nothing new to me, I've been beating the odds my whole life. I just keep going out and training hard and when the opportunity comes — which I know it will — I'll be more than ready."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 13, 2020.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press

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