By Staff Writer – Jason Langvee
A week has passed since 2015 free agency officially opened, and several rosters have changed dramatically in that short time. With the elimination of the option year for veterans coming by way of the 2014 renegotiation of the CFL-CFLPA collective bargaining agreement, the talent pool was deep for teams looking to address certain needs. Here’s a quick look at what each team has been up to.
The Lions look to be going through a sort of rebuild with the actions they have been exhibited in free-agency. That’s not the case with all personnel though, as BC was able to re-sign both Adam Bighill and Solomon Elimimian to contract extensions prior to the Feb. 10 free agency deadline. The Lions also added national defensive back Chris Rwabukamba to their roster at the start of #CFLFA15.
The most interesting thing done by the Lions thus far however, was nothing to do with their acquisitions, but rather the players whose options were not exercised. Dante Marsh, Khalif Mitchell, Jamall Johnson, and Ricky Schmitt were all left without contract offers as the Lions look to change the landscape of their defence. Expect most (if not all) of the aforementioned players to find a new CFL home by June.
Calgary has remained quiet so far in free agency, which can be attributed to a couple of factors. First, 2014 CFL coach of the year; John Hufnagel, has done a great job at securing long-term deals with several of his stars. Second, with a championship in hand, the trend for Calgary early on in free agency will be an outward trend rather than inward. What that means is players that contributed to last year’s successes will likely get very real looks from other teams. Case and point: Brett Jones (acquired by the NY Giants), Stanley Bryant (WPG), Keenan MacDougall (SSK), Brad Sinopoli (OTT), and Maurice Price (OTT).
Fear not Stamps fans, Huf has a plan and it doesn’t look like a Grey Cup hangover is part of it.
The Eskimos went through a rebuild of sorts prior to the 2014 season, and as such, locked up several key components for multi-year terms. Notable signings this free agency came by way of extending special teams dynamo: Kendial Lawrence, as well as picking up 2 REDBLACKS in Wallace Miles, and former Esk: Alexander Krausnick-Groh.
Chris Jones changed a lot for the Eskimos in 2014, but this season looks to be one of continuity as he will move forward with a large balance of what made Edmonton so potent last season.
By the end of the 2014 season, Hamilton saw several new players break out as they made their way to the Grey Cup championship. None saw their profile rise as high as Brandon ‘Speedy B’ Banks. Prior to the commencement of free agency, Kent Austin and Banks agreed to a new deal which meant that Banks and his offensive/special teams talents would stay in Steeltown. With that said, the Tiger-Cats weren’t as quiet as some might have expected during free agency.
4 Ticats (Marc Dile, Greg Ellingson, Sam Giguere, and Greg Wojt) have been claimed by other squads thus far. Interestingly, all 4 names come from the offensive side of the ball, which is where you’ll find Hamilton’s free agent acquisitions in Spencer Watt and Anthony Woodson (both former-Argonauts). As Zach Collaros looks to continue his development as Hamilton’s QB, 2 former Toronto teammates could mean even more chemistry on the field.
After a disappointing start to 2014, many fans wouldn’t have guessed that Montreal would be the quietest team in 2015 free agency. Following a stellar close to the season though, fans should be ecstatic at the rate of return players for the Alouettes. At the start of free agency, the Al’s had only 3 players on their roster without contract offers.
Montreal was not stale in the process of team-building though, as they have since added 3 offensive players to the fold after losing WR Duron Carter to the Indianapolis Colts. Veteran slotback: Fred Stamps will join Montreal, along with nationals Sam Giguere and Carl Volny. With consistency behind centre looking to be a question already answered, the Alouettes’ talent pool heading into 2015 is looking very deep indeed. In the process of writing this article, it has been announced that Khalif Mitchell has also been acquired by the Alouettes (check 1 off the list for my prediction in the BC section of this article).
With a new start there are bound to be a few hiccups, and for the REDBLACKS, those hiccups came in the way of offence. Veteran strong-arm: Henry Burris looked out of sorts in 2014 as he was often rushed to make ill-advised passes to rookie receivers. The answer? Improve the offensive line and the receiving corps.
Ottawa was not shy about how they planned to approach free agency. They were going after the best that they could get. Even before the CFLFA15 bell went off, Grey Cup Champ; Maurice Price was on his way to the capital. Ottawa continued to deal as they picked up 4 more high-profile athletes. SirVincent Rogers (TOR), Greg Ellingson (HAM), Ernest Jackson (BC), and Brad Sinopoli (CGY) will all be REDBLACKS for the 2015 season, and will only serve to improve their new team.
The Roughriders were a tough team to peg coming into free agency. Although the Riders ended the 2014 season short of where they had wished to, the roster was not that far off from the squad that ultimately won the 2013 championship. Prior to free agency the Riders dealt Ricky Foley to Toronto in exchange for Shea Emry. Initially, a lot of fans noted a big departure from the Roughriders’ notoriously aggressive defensive line. Taman clearly had his crystal ball out though, as shortly after the national linebacker Emry was signed, former CFL All-Star Alex Hall announced his return to the CFL. Fans should expect Saskatchewan’s defence to be as voracious as ever.
Offensively, the Riders lost Dominic Picard to Winnipeg and Ben Heenan to the NFL, but managed to re-sign free agent Dan Clark who will undoubtedly have a bigger role to play in 2015. Other notable signings include: Keenan MacDougall (CGY), Joash Gesse (EDM), and Gord Hinse (WPG).
Much like the Montreal Alouettes, Jim Barker and Scott Milanovich solemnly swore that they would not be “over-spending in free agency”. Which essentially meant that they were not willing to enter aggressive bidding wars, as they felt their core of talent as strong as any in the CFL. It’s hard to argue that with names like Ricky Ray, Chad Owens, and Andre Durie remaining under contract for 2015 at the very least. The Argo’s also saw the return of Ricky Foley, who will come in as a veteran to guide the development of Toronto’s young defensive linemen including breakout rookie: Tristan Okpalaugo. A loss worth noting for Toronto will be Jalil Carter (CB) who was picked up by the Minnesota Vikings.
When free agency hit, Toronto reacted by re-signing Curtis Steele and Herve Tonye-Tonye. In total 5 Argos were acquired by other CFL squads.
Winnipeg Blue Bombers
With the Grey Cup being hosted by Winnipeg, it was clear that their plan was to hit free agency as aggressively as possible. Prior to that date, Kyle Walters stated that the offensive line was one of their biggest areas for improvement. Walters addressed that need immediately last week as the Bombers signed 2 highly-touted offensive linemen: Marc Dile (HAM), and Stanley Bryant (CGY) to add to their earlier acquisition of Dominic Picard. On top of that, Winnipeg signed an additional 3 players in wide receiver Darvin Adams (TOR), defensive lineman Ivan Brown (TOR), and linebacker Sam Hurl (SSK).
Despite the aggressive moves by Winnipeg in free agency, expect further roster changes to occur. Linebacker and special teams player – extraordinaire: Ian Wild was signed by the Pittsburgh Steelers, which leaves a big hole to fill in the defensive mid-field before June is upon us.
With regards to the remaining free agents heading into 2015, the following are names to watch your twitter feeds for:
- Dante Marsh (BC)
- Jamall Johnson (BC)
- Ricky Schmitt (BC)
- Kevin Glenn (BC) – Signed with Saskatchewan
- JR LaRose (BC)
- Moton Hopkins (OTT) – Re-signed with Ottawa
- Jason Barnes (TOR)
- Marcellus Bowman (HAM)
- Nic Grigsby (HAM) – Re-signed with Hamilton
- Dan LeFevour (HAM) – Signed with Montreal
- Bakari Grant (HAM)
- Rennie Curran (EDM)
- Nik Lewis (CGY) – Signed with Montreal
- Glenn January (WPG)
- Aaron Kelly (WPG)
- Johnny Sears (WPG)
*Please note this is not a comprehensive list of all free agents.