The official start of the CFL off-season is the release of the full list of free agents available come February. The CFL made this list available last week.
This year will be incredibly interesting with the expiring CBA before the beginning of training camp and the CFL saying that they have told teams to withhold off-season bonuses until a new CBA is signed.
Saying all of that, let’s have some fun and build an all-star free agent team. To make things a little easier:
- Let’s keep it to players who are 30 and under at the start of training camp.
- Have seven Canadian starters.
- We cannot be held hostage by rumours of who and who won’t receive NFL contracts or try-out offers (hello Alex Singleton and Bo Levi Mitchell)
So, if there was no salary cap (because this starting roster would hit more than 2/3 of the $4.2-million of the cap) here’s what the Out of the Tunnel free agent all-stars would look like:
*indicates a Canadian
Quarterback – Bo Levi Mitchell (Calgary)
Pretty easy to pick the three-time West all-star and the current Most Outstanding Player and Grey Cup MVP. The next level of QB’s available are Zach Collaros, Brandon Bridge and Jonathan Jennings
Running back – Alex Green (Hamilton)
Woof. This is an incredibly thin list. William Powell of the Ottawa Redblacks is a free agent but is 31 in March. The rest of the top-10 rushers are either signed, over 30 or a quarterback (Mike Reilly). This leaves Hamilton Tiger-Cat running back Alex Green who was ninth in the CFL in rushing with a paltry 604-yards. There are a few others like John White and Cam Marshall.
Receivers – Dionte Spencer (Ottawa), Greg Ellingson (Ottawa), Derel Walker (Edmonton), D’haquille ‘Duke’ Williams (Edmonton), Juwan Brescacin (Calgary)*.
If the running back group is paper thin, there are so many names available any team could replenish their receiving core. The top four come from Edmonton and Ottawa and are all 2018 all-stars. Derel Walker came back from the NFL and had 875-yards in just 11 games while his teammate Duke Williams led the CFL in receiving with 1,579-yards. Dionte Spencer is a deep threat for the Redblacks and is a lethal return man and Greg Ellingson has put together four-straight 1,000-yard seasons. There are other high-end receivers available like Kamar Jorden (Calgary), Bryan Burnham (B.C.), Eric Rogers (Calgary), Duron Carter (Toronto), Jalen Saunders (Hamilton) and Mike Jones (Hamilton).
It was a toss-up on who would be the Canadian receiver but Juwan Brescacin edges teammate Lemar Durant and Nic Demski of the Blue Bombers.
Offensive Line – Jermarcus Hardrick (T) (Winnipeg), Shane Bergman (G) (Calgary)*, Matthias Goosen (C) (Winnipeg)*, Sukh Chungh (G) (Winnipeg)*, Jason Lauzon-Seguin (T) (Ottawa)*
We went with four Canadian offensive linemen because Canadians on defence are pretty thin. The Blue Bombers basically have their whole offensive line on the free agent list with two of them coming off divisional all-star nods (Chungh and Goosen) or a former all-star (Hardrick in 2017). Lauzon-Seguin was an all-star at tackle in 2017 while Shane Bergman is a robust two-time Grey Cup winner that has started 76 games for the Stampeders. Others available are Americans Travis Bond (Edmonton), Joel Figueroa (B.C.) and Colin Kelly (Edmonton) and Canadians Mike Filer (Hamilton), Ryker Matthews (Toronto), Hunter Steward (B.C.) and Brad Erdos (Calgary).
Defensive End – A.C. Leonard (Ottawa) and Willie Jefferson (Saskatchewan).
The former teammates (Leonard was in Saskatchewan in 2017) were both divisional all-stars in 2018. Leonard picked up his first all-star with his six sacks for the Redblacks and will get the nod over Canadian Kwaku Boateng of the Edmonton Eskimos who had a breakout season with nine sacks and another Eskimo in Jake Ceresna who came out of nowhere with his eight-sack season. Other names in the running are a couple 3-4 joker/rush linebackers that would probably be 40-front defensive ends in Calgary’s Ja’Gared Davis and Winnipeg’s Jovan Santos-Knox. As for Jefferson, he is the best defensive end in the CFL, period. And he is in the running for the top player in the CFL.
Defensive tackle – Dylan Wynn (Toronto) and Michah Johnson (Calgary).
If Willie Jefferson is Mr. Outside on the defensive line, Michah Johnson is Mr. Inside. The multiple all-star Johnson just barely makes the list as he turns 31 in late-June. He is the leader of that stout Stampeder defence and has collected a pair of Grey Cups to go with his 41-sacks from the interior in his CFL career. Dylan Wynn had a tough 2018 with just 11 games played because of injury and suspension but had an all-star 2017 season with six sacks and 30-tackles as a defensive tackle. Others include Canadians Zack Evans (Saskatchewan), Jake Thomas (Winnipeg) and Mike Klassen (Montreal) as well as Americans Gabe Knapton (Montreal), Drake Nevis (Winnipeg) and Mic’hael Brooks (Saskatchewan).
Linebacker – Alex Singleton (Calgary)*, Adam Bighill (Winnipeg), Don Unamba (Hamilton).
The choice of Singleton is another easy choice with both his play and his passport. Bighill gets the nod over Sam Eguavoen (Saskatchewan) and Jameer Thurmon (Calgary) while Don Unamba (Hamilton) is the weakside linebacker over fellow all-star Otha Foster (B.C.). It’s a pretty deep pool of talent that includes: Bo Lokombo (B.C.), Larry Dean (Hamilton) and Jeff Knox Jr. (Toronto)
Defensive back – Ciante Evans (CB) (Calgary), Jonathan Rose (CB) (Ottawa), T.J. Lee (HB) (B.C.), Cariel Brooks (HB) (Hamilton) and Anthony Thompson (S) (B.C.)*.
Let’s begin with Thompson at safety. We went with a Canadian there because there are Canadians at that position across the CFL and others are either over 30 or not free agents. The other two Canadians available at safety would be Mike Edem (Saskatchewan) and Mike Daly (Hamilton).
At corner, Evans and Rose helped their teams to the Grey Cup and are multiple time divisional all-stars while at half, Lee and Brooks were named divisional all-stars for the first time in 2018 and they got the nod over former two-time all-star Abdul Kanneh (Toronto) who missed seven games this season with an injury. Lots of names to choose from if you need a defensive back like Kevin Fogg and Brandon Alexander from Winnipeg, Aaron Grymes from Edmonton and Louchiez Purifoy from Saskatchewan.