Monday, December 18, 2017
OUT OF THE TUNNEL: EXAMINING OFFENSE AND SPECIAL TEAMS FREE AGENTS
By: RodPedersen.com Staff
Last week we took a look at some of the top defensive free agents and this time around, it’s time for the offence. When it comes to offence, quarterbacking comes first, and in just one week the free agent quarterback landscape took a drastic change.
With Edmonton trading the rights to James Franklin to the Toronto Argos and Ottawa re-signing Trevor Harris, the opening salvos of the free agent market were fired.
Like we said last week, teams can re-sign their players at any time, but potential free agents will have to wait to really test the waters until noon EST on February 13th, 2018 (or keep things under wraps…which is illegal, but done).
Most publications and websites will give you the top 10 overall free agents, but that is tough because one team’s top player isn’t a need for another. So, to make it easy. here is an early look at the top three free agents at each position.
Please note: this will not take into account players trying out for NFL teams or possibly signing with NFL squads, retiring players and players that have been rumoured to be signed but not confirmed.
You will also see a trend of hedging towards players 30-years-old and under.
James Franklin (Toronto)
Toronto fired the opening salvo last Monday when they acquired the rights to James Franklin and now have until February 13th to ink the young pivot. With Ricky Ray pondering retirement, this may be the perfect situation for Franklin. It’s the defending Grey Cup champs, with a great team around him and one of the top offensive minds in head coach Marc Trestman. Franklin only has three career CFL starts with the last coming on November 5th, 2016 in a victory over Toronto.
Jeremiah Massoli (Hamilton)
He took over the quarterbacking duties from Zach Collaros for a winless Ti-Cat club in week nine and went 6-5 the rest of the season. The question in Steeltown remains will Collaros be the starter in week one of the 2018 season, or does he get traded? Newly minted head coach June Jones seems to be a big fan of Massoli, so this will be interesting as things play out in Hamilton.
Brandon Bridge (Saskatchewan)
Bridge is not your prototypical quarterback. An incredibly strong-armed athlete that just makes plays when allies upon. He finally got his chance to shine in 2017 with the Roughriders and he played well. His 10-4 touchdown to interception ratio and ability to elude the rush is a welcomed asset. He is still young and just has a handful of starts. The Canadian may find himself in the midst of a bidding war if the CFL changes the ratio rule to include quarterbacks.
*The rest of the bunch is thin and full of question marks. Ricky Ray and Travis Lulay are considering retirement while Dan LeFevour and Drew Willy are well travelled backups.
Jerome Messam (Calgary)
For the third straight season, the big Canadian ran for over 1,000 yards. The robust runner is one of the few backs that has been able to stay relatively heathy during his career, but he has a lot of miles on his 32-year-old body and will be entering his tenth season in the CFL. With his passport and size, Messam would be a big asset to any team.
William Powel (Ottawa)
The oft-injured (which is a trend with many CFL backs) Powell missed six games this season and still was able to finish second in the CFL in rushing and led the league with 100 yard games with four. He will be 30-years-old when the season begins.
*There are a lot of question marks with the rest of the group. You can take a risk on aging players like Tyrell Sutton and Brandon Whitaker and the biggest risk/reward potential signee in the Eskimos, John White. There are also a handful of Canadians available in Calgary’s Rob Cote and the Riders Greg Morris.
Alex Mateas (Ottawa)
The former first overall pick in 2015 was named an East Division all-star for the first time in 2017. The hometown hero from Ottawa is the top available offensive lineman free agent in a thin list of players.
Kirby Fabien (B.C.)
Fabian has been penciled in as the starting right guard on the B.C. offensive line the past few seasons. He was originally a first round pick by the Lions in 2013.
Travis Bond (Winnipeg)
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers have re-signed almost everyone off a very good offensive line except for 2016 West Division all-star Travis Bond. He started all 28 games he has played with the Bombers including 16 straight before falling to injury.
*There are a few Canadians available at center: Dan Clark (Saskatchewan), Cody Husband (B.C.), Hunter Steward (B.C.), as well as the injured Simeon Rottier (Edmonton). A few American linemen of note dot the list like Thaddeus Coleman (Saskatchewan), Randy Richards (Calgary) and Joel Figuroa (Edmonton).
In an incredibly stacked group, Duron Carter may be the head of the class. He was named a CFL all-star for a second time to go along with his second 1,000 yard season. It would have been more, but he dabbled in being a defensive back, where he also shined with an interception for a touchdown. He will entertain any and all NFL offers and try-outs
6’2” 188 lbs
After returning from NFL training camp, Walker quickly regained his CFL all-star form. In eight games, he collected 48 passes for 634 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He will more than likely seek out NFL employment.
Concordia College (Minnesota)
From out of nowhere came one of the best stories in the CFL; attending one of the many CFL mini-camps to leading the CFL in receiving in 2017. Zylstra had 10, 100 yard receiving games that helped him pick up 1,687 yards for the season. He will more than likely receive NFL offers.
This is an incredible group of dynamic pass catchers that includes current and former all-stars: S.J. Green (Toronto), Brandon Banks (Hamilton), Luke Tasker (Hamilton), Weston Dressler (Winnipeg), Nick Moore (B.C) and Clarence Denmark (Winnipeg). The batch of Canadian receivers is a thin one with Nic Demski (Saskatchewan), Lemar Durant (Calgary), and Anthony Parker (Calgary).
Hajrullahu is one of the top dual role kickers in the CFL. The 2016 CFL East Division all-star was only one of two kickers to hit all of his converts this season. His Canadian status gives him the nod over Boris Bede and Brett Maher.
Banks is one of the most dangerous returners in the CFL and had a tremendous season as a receiver as well. He had a career high 1,011 receiving yards, the majority came in the final third of the season when June Jones took over as head coach. Banks also had a punt return touchdown, the seventh of his CFL career. Roy Finch (Calgary) and Diontae Spencer (Ottawa) are also great returners who can contribute to a team’s offence.
- The CFL released their most recent 2018 CFL Draft rankings. The top four of the top five players are offensive linemen (David Knevel, Trey Rutherford, Ryan Hunter, Peter Godber) with the fifth ranked Julien Laurent is a defensive lineman out of Georgia State. Of note, all five are from NCAA schools and if you want more information on all five, they were the focus of the Canadians to Watch in the NCAA portion of past editions of Out of the Tunnel.
- Congrats to former Hamilton Tiger Cat defensive coordinator Orlando Steinhauer. He is in his first year as a defensive coordinator with the Fresno State Bulldogs, and helped lead them to a 9-4 record. It’s an incredible turnaround from a season ago where they went 1-11 and were winless in conference play. He was hired by former B.C. Lions head coach (and former Saskatchewan Roughrider quarterback) and current Fresno State head coach Jeff Tedford.
- Speaking of former Rider quarterbacks ... Graham Harrell, who had a cup of coffee with the Green and White in 2009 is currently the offensive coordinator with another team clad in green and white, the North Texas Mean Green. His Mean Green lost to the Troy Trojans in Saturday’s New Orleans Bowl.