The annual rite of passage - the CFL free agency period - begins Tuesday at noon (EST), but it almost feels like it began in December.
With trades: Charleston Hughes and Zach Collaros landing in Saskatchewan ... James Franklin to Toronto ... Brandon Rutley, Odell Willis and Gabe Knapton off to the Lions ... Vernon Adams to Hamilton ... and players being released and quickly signing elsewhere: Darian Durant and Adarius Bowman to Winnipeg and Kevin Glenn to Edmonton ... it’s already been a busy off-season.
Teams have also been busy re-signing and keeping players in their fold.
Even with all of the pre-free agency movement, there are still many needs left on the table for each team. Here is a big picture look at a few holes on each squad.
Join in the comments below on what your favourite team's need is and what player would best fill that need:
Let’s starts close to home. Chris Jones the general manager has already had a big off-season, re-signing their offensive and defensive MVP’s Duron Carter and Willie Jefferson, as well as defensive back Crezdon Butler and the acquisition of Hughes and Collaros. The Riders turned into a veteran club almost overnight and will want to add a couple more pieces to make a run for a first home playoff game at the new building.
Canadians….at any position. The almost sure-thing Canadians we know right now are Brendon LaBatte, Peter Dyakowski, Rob Bagg, Henoc Muamba and Mike Edem at safety. Other than that, there are a lot of gaps in the lineup. With the early release of running back Kienan LaFrance, and with Ese Mrabure, Dan Clark, Nic Demski and Eddie Steele all hitting the free-agency market, this leaves a lot of holes. The Green & White do have a glut of young Canadian offensive linemen on the roster (including Dariusz Bladek) so it looks like receiver and interior defensive lineman look to be the spots most in need.
Defensive back – When you have a record-setting season by Ed Gainey, one would think this isn’t a position of need. Gainey had more than half of the team’s interceptions in 2017 and after that, the rest of the defensive backfield only had a small handful combined. They even needed Duron Carter to fill in at DB. Add to it an aging Jovon Johnson and Kacy Rodgers off to the NFL, there is a big need here.
Winnipeg Blue Bombers
This is another team that has been busy loading up with veteran players. They added Adarius Bowman and Darian Durant. They re-signed Weston Dressler and Stanley Bryant (all over 30) on offence as well as re-upped Chris Randle and Ian Wild on defence. This looks like a team gearing up for a big run.
Defensive line – Canadians Jamaal Westerman and Jake Thomas are set to become free agents on Tuesday from a line allowing a 3rd-worst 96.7 yards per game on the ground, and a league-high 321 yards through the air. They lived and died by the interception even though they didn’t get much of a pass rush in 2017.
Running back – Let's take the opportunity to stir the pot a little, but wouldn’t Jerome Messam be a perfect fit here? Think about it: the Blue Bombers already have one of the all-time best Canadian running backs in Andrew Harris, so why not add Messam for depth? Messam is now in his mid-30’s and would be a perfect change-of pace back and a Canadian to boot, that sounds like a winning combination.
They made big headlines by releasing Adarius Bowman and trading Odell Willis. Both were fan favourites and big producers for the Eskimos over the last five seasons. This is a team that shed some big salaries and are looking to get younger in the process.
Receiving depth – They may have a great duo in Derel Walker and Vidal Hazleton but after that there isn’t much. The CFL’s top receiver from last season, Brandon Zylstra, is off to the NFL. Bowman is now a Winnipeg Blue Bomber and Canadian pass catcher Cory Watson will become a free agent. An import and Canadian is needed to help out Mike Reilly and their dynamic duo of receivers.
Re-sign their own – Edmonton has to find a way to re-sign Adam Konar. The 24-year-old out of the University of Calgary is a difference maker at linebacker both on the field and with the ratio. His breakout season in 2017 was incredible and consistent even with a leg injury that saw Konar miss six games last year, he still had 59 regular season defensive tackles and 12 more in the playoffs.
In the wake of missing the 2017 playoffs, the B.C. Lions have already had a busy off-season acquiring Gabe Knapton and Odell Willis to help out a beleaguered defensive line. Many of their woes came in the trenches on both sides of the football, especially along the offensive line.
Offensive Line – They return the bulk of their starters from 2017 except for Canadian guard Kirby Fabien. Sure, they re-signed Canadians Hunter Steward and Cody Husband, but when you allowed a CFL-high 49 sacks and 141 pressures while only being mid-pack running the ball, this is definitely a place of need.
Defensive line – The addition of Knapton and Willis will help as will the re-signing of David Menard and having Craig Roh in the mix. With defensive end Alex Bazzie hitting the market (who’s three sacks in six games put him 3rd on the team) and nothing else remaining after that, a younger American defensive end to rotate with Willis and Roh would be a solid addition.
Even back-to-back Grey Cup losses isn’t stopping general manager John Hufnagel from making significant changes by shedding salary and getting younger in the process (though the two usually go hand-in-hand). He released receiver Marquay McDaniel and traded Charleston Hughes and Jerome Messam will not be re-signed by Calgary and will hit the market.
Running back – As mentioned above, without Messam and with Rob Cote retiring, the Stampeders will not have a Canadian at running back in 2018. It will be interesting to see which way they go: sign a veteran CFL running back, pick off a NFL cast-off or find a fresh face right out of college.
Defensive back – With Josh Bell joining the Stampeder coaching staff, Joe Burnett and Tommie Campbell hitting the market and Shaq Richardson off to the NFL, there will be some holes to fill in what has been an impressive defensive backfield, the last five seasons.
They seemed to come out of nowhere to become the 2017 Grey Cup Champions. This doesn’t mean general manager Jim Popp and head coach Marc Trestman are standing pat. They are pretty much set at quarterback now - and into the future - with the acquisition of James Franklin and re-signing future CFL Hall of Famer Ricky Ray. The entire offensive line is back and they have re-signed many of their key receivers. Defence is a different story.
Defensive backfield – There will be some gaps when defensive backs Jermaine Gabriel, Mitchell White and Cassius Vaughn and linebackers Rico Murray and Bear Woods hit free agency.
Kicker – Lirim Hajrullahu is set to become a free agent. Having a Canadian handle both punting and kicking duties is a huge luxury and losing it would be a large hole to fill. Hajrullahu wasn’t at the top of the CFL’s punting or kicking categories, but he's good enough at both to warrant a look back in Toronto, or will be a hot commodity on the market.
A busy off-season for Kent Austin and the Tabbies, which included making Jeremiah Massoli their number one quarterback after trading Zach Collaros to the Riders. He then added Vernon Adams Jr. in the trade for Charleston Hughes thus pretty much nullifying any hope (or want) of having Johnny Manziel in the mix.
Receiver – They may have their current future plans set at quarterback, but who will be catching the ball is still up in the air. Hamilton did re-sign Brandon Banks and have Jalen Saunders in the mix, but with Luke Tasker ready to become a free agent, the health of Terrence Tolliver in doubt and Andy Fantuz pretty much out of the picture, there are some missing pieces with this group.
Re-sign Ted Laurent – Find a way…any way to do this. Without him, there is a massive gaping hole in an already weak defensive line.
Just a year removed from winning the Grey Cup, the very young Ottawa Redblacks were knocked off by the Saskatchewan Roughriders (the Riders had considerably more experience - over 2,000 more regular season and playoff games combined) in the East Division semi-final and are looking to reload and take another kick at the can. Offensively, having re-signed most of their key free agents, they are pretty much set.
Defensive Canadian – With Zack Evans, and Arnaud Gascon-Nadon looking to test the waters they will have just one Canadian starter on the defensive side of the football (Antoine Pruneau). But with Brad Sinopoli coming back from injury, they will have six Canadian starters on offence, so there is a little room to play here.
Edge rushing – The Redblacks were in the bottom half of the CFL with just 31 sacks, and it was done by committee with Avery Ellis leading the way with just six. A premium pass rusher may be the final piece of the puzzle needed for the Redblacks to get back to the Grey Cup.
Oh boy, where to start here. The new coaching staff led by Mike Sherman doesn’t have much in the cupboard. Help is needed pretty much everywhere on a team that won just three games in 2017.
Quarterback – This may be a futile point, because the list of those remaining potential free agent quarterbacks is thin at best. When free agency hits, the Alouettes have a murderer’s row of quarterbacks: Josh Freeman, Garrett Fugate, Antonio Pipkin, Nick Shafnisky and Matthew Shiltz on their roster.
Patience – This may sound weird, but the worst thing Montreal can do is go crazy signing veteran players to fill every position. This is a grade-A rebuild and needs to be done from the ground up. Sign a couple of key vets to teach the youngsters the right way to do things and go from there.
Enjoy the chaos beginning Tuesday, because after that comes the CFL Draft and then training camp is just around the corner!!!