The CFL wanted free agency to keep fans engaged and intrigued in the off-season, giving fans optimism and encouragement to reserve season seats and purchase merchandise, while the players wanted to control their destiny a little bit more. With one-year contracts introduced in the latest CBA agreement back in 2014, both parties got what they wanted.
As a result, there’s a ridiculous amount of free agents available in 2017, as with an extremely hard-pressed salary cap, teams simply cannot afford the dollars many players are demanding after supposedly increasing their value following a one-year contract. But, as has been the motto for free agents this off-season, the grass ain’t always greener on the other side; the sheer over-saturation of free agents pushes down the dollar value of everyone.
Here’s a quick run-down of my 2017 free agent predictions.
–The Saskatchewan Roughriders land a franchise cornerstone in Derek Dennis… Similarly to Stanley Bryant Jr. a couple off-seasons ago, this stout Calgary left tackle chases the money. Expect an intense bidding war between Saskatchewan, Montreal and Calgary for the services of a top-two offensive tackle, who was named the CFL’s Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman in 2016.
-The Montreal Alouettes shock the league and sign Ernest Jackson… There’ll be a bidding war for the best available receiver available, likely consisting of Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal. But the Alouettes don’t see newly-acquired QB Darian Durant as a bridge to next guy; Kavis Reed and co. wants to win now while the 34-year-old can still play at a high level.
-The Riders finally get their every-down Canadian nose tackle in Cleyon Laing… One year after missing out on Ted Laurent, Chris Jones makes no mistake signing a versatile interior defender in Laing. Laing’s passport is incredibly valuable in this situation because the Riders, who, along with a defensive lineman, still must find a Canadian free safety to start, will be struggling to field seven quality starting Canadians come June.
–Abdul Kanneh cashes in with the talent-starving Toronto Argonauts… A top-two defensive back in the league, the Redblacks, Tiger-Cats and Eskimos simply cannot afford to offer Kanneh the type of coin the Argos can. The Argos’ secondary has been a huge weakness on the team for years now, and Kanneh offers elite potential at both halfback or cornerback, with the ability to cover the league’s best and stop the run like a nickel linebacker.
–Als figure one former Bomber defensive tackle isn’t enough, sign Euclid Cummings… Cummings’ price-tag will be driven down simply by the sheer overload of interior defensive lineman available on the market. Although he’s coming off a three-sack season, Cummings remains one of best pass-rushing three-techniques in the league.
–Terrell Sinkfield returns to the Hammer… After re-signing Terrence Toliver, the Ti-Cats aren’t in the running to bring in a high-profile star such as Ernest Jackson, and while Sinkfield is not only the second or third best import pass-catcher available, he has familiarity with the Ti-Cats, amassing a 1,000-season in 2015 before spending training camp last season with Minnesota.
–Khalil Bass re-ups with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers… As great as Bass is, there simply isn’t a big need for American starting linebackers in free agency. Wally Buono typically shies away from spending egregious amounts of money on top-tier free agents, while the Alouettes are best to continue to invest in a player they’re familiar with in pending free-agent Winston Venable.
–Esks’ re-sign a rising star (John Ojo), add a seasoned veteran (Jovon Johnson) to their secondary… Jovon Johnson has proven in the last two seasons that, while surprising after his final two years in Winnipeg, he can still play at a high level, and would offer a veteran presence at field corner, as Pat Watkins’ tenure in Edmonton is done. Ojo, meanwhile, will come for fairly cheap after missing the 2016 season with a torn achilles.
–Kenny Shaw and Diontae Spencer return to the Double Blue… The Argos can offer Shaw what no other team can: a no. 1 receiver role. Considering the Argos are absolutely starved for talent at receiver – Devon Wylie is seriously their best pass-catcher currently under contract – it’d be an eye-opening move to not retain Diontae Spencer for what will be fairly cheap.
-TiCats pick up AJ Jefferson from Southern Ontario rivals… Kent Austin and Co. dip into the second-tier of defensive backs available and come to terms with Jefferson, an experienced cornerback that brings needed competition to a secondary that really struggled in 2016.
-Wally Buono’s BC Lions make a sneaky-good signing in Tony Burnett… Burnett is ready to compete for a starting job, and can be used in a very similar way as Adam Bighill was. For reference, Bighill and Burnett were the only two weak-side LBs in the league tasked with occasionally rotating back to safety pre-snap to cover a deep half in 2-man under defense (cover-2 man-coverage). Burnett’s an incredibly athlete with tremendous potential.
–Bombers bring Kienan LaFrance to home to establish a mind-blowing All-Winnipeg backfield… Two words: public relations.
–Argos shore up the trenches, re-upping Greg Van Roten and bringing in J’Michael Deane… Although an international, Van Roten can play all three interior offensive line positions and has even shown well at tackle. Deane, meanwhile, has been serviceable for Ottawa, and would immediately replace 37-year-old guard Wayne Smith and former 1st-round pick Corey Watman, both of which would compete to start at right guard if the season started today.
-The Boatmen continue shoring up the trenches, bringing in Alan-Michael Cash on the defensive side of the ball… Bryan Hall, an effective player in Hamilton’s 4-3 even alignment, wasn’t a schematic fit for the Argos as a defensive tackle in a nose tackles body. A staple as the 0-tech in Montreal’s 4-3 over, Cash is one of the league’s most underrated players, and one of the few that can truly eat blocks to free up the linebackers.
–Hamilton brings back Andy Fantuz despite knee injury… The 33-year-old national was having his best season in the Black and Gold before tearing up his knee late in the season. Expect a two-year deal heavy on play-time incentives in year one.
–Mike Klassen stays in La Belle Province… Montreal, who’ll have zero Canadian defensive linemen under contract once free agency opens, will need Canadian defensive tackle depth to roll with Keith Shologan at nose tackle in 2017.
–Jabar Westerman joins his older brother in Winnipeg… While I’d love to see Drake Nevis in Blue & Gold, the Bombers need Westerman’s passport. Assuming their Canadian starters consist of RB-WR-C-RG-DE-FS, they’ll need to replace Keith Shologan with another Canadian. The Bombers already have good Canadian depth for Westerman at 3-tech with Jake Thomas.
-Drake Nevis instead sports Black & Gold once again in 2017… A criminally underrated interior defender, Nevis would be a huge re-signing for the Cats. He’s a perfect schematic fit, as like Ted Laurent, he’s a true nose tackle with unprecedented pass-rushing capabilities – very rare in the CFL. He’ll again form the best defensive tackle duo with Laurent in 2017.
–Shakir Bell reunites with Chris Jones in Riderville… This is a slam-dunk, right?
–Chris Williams returns to the Nation’s capital for another ride… There’s no other receiver in the league that can separate like Chris Williams, let alone one that poses a bigger threat to go deep. He won’t be ready for week one, but considering the extremely strong rapport Williams developed with QB Trevor Harris early in 2016, he needs to be re-signed.
–Philip Hunt stays put in Green & Gold… BC may be interested in the veteran pass-rusher, but the Eskimos really need an established rotational pass-rusher with Odell Willis and Markus Howard on the wrong side of 30.