Top CFL Free Agents – West Division

*Editors note: for some reason I forgot the year and did not include the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in my preview. They are now added below.

Now that the Grey Cup has slowly faded from our minds and the long dark of the CFL offseason has begun I figured it was time for me to work on some more material. The CFL Free Agent list was released a little while ago (you can find it here http://www.cfl.ca/2015/12/07/fa16/) and it got me thinking who the top Free Agents for each team were. So for this week I am going to pick the top 3 Free Agents for each team in the West as well as 2 Bonus players who could be real bargains for prospective teams.

BC LIONS

  • Emmanuel Arceneaux (76 Rec-1151 Yds -9 Tds): The Lions top receiver had the best season of his career and showed some explosive chemistry with Jonathan Jennings down the stretch. Arceneaux is a tall and speedy receiver who wins contested catches and excels at making big plays when his team needs them the most. I don’t see him leaving the Lions but if he did he would have at least 6 teams calling for his services.
  • Andrew Harris (1039 Yds-4.7 Avg-7 Tds): Despite seeing a dip in carries and having several games of very low production Harris finished 2015 in style and fell just short of the rushing title. A true dual threat (Harris has averaged 53 catches a season over his career) Harris is one of the most dangerous play makers in the CFL and can be simply unstoppable when he gets rolling. With Jon Cornish retiring and Jerome Messam turning 30 Harris should be seen as the top National running back and should command top dollar this offseason.
  • Travis Lulay (1953 Yds-12 Tds-10 Int): Its been quite a fall from grace for Lulay, going from Most Outstanding player in 2011 to likely being replaced by a younger and more promising QB going into next year. Lulay showed flashes through his few healthy starts this year and I believe he can still be a quality starter if he lands int he right spot. That said, I can see Lulay taking the path of Kevin Glenn over the next few years as a journeyman backup (ie good enough to start and win, never seen as the long term answer).

Bargains -Rennie Curran and Cord Parks: Curran looked like the successor to JC Sherritt in Edmonton before he left for the NFL. He is a solid tackler but can be had in coverage, best part is that he is just 27. Parks finished second in INTs with 6 in 2013 but has had his production plummet since then. I still think he can be a possible starter on a lot of rosters.

Edmonton Eskimos

  • Adarius Bowman (93 Rec-1304 Yds-7 Tds): The best receiver in the CFL over the past two years Bowman is the complete package. Tall, powerful, and able to make any (difficult) catch Bowman’s only flaw is his inexcusable tendency to drop the easiest catches. That said when Bowman gets rolling he is uncoverable and being pared with Derel Walker made the Eskimos passing attack deadly. Bowman wont last long on the open market, that is if the Eskimos even let him get close to testing it.
  • JC Sherritt (71 Tkl-3 Sck-2 Int): A tackling terror, Sherritt is the backbone of a Grey Cup winning defense and has shown himself to be one of the best Linebackers in the CFL. Sherritt excels at stopping the run and making plays behind the line of scrimmage but has also become very good in coverage as well. Any team that picks him up, if he leaves, is instantly upgraded on defense.
  • Aaron Grymes (43 Tkl-4 Int-1 Sck): Grymes has always struck me as a Linebacker trapped in a Defensive Backs body with the physical way he tackles and how willing he is to help in run support. Grymes has steadily improved in coverage since his entry to the CFL three years ago and can run with just about any receiver out there. A versatile threat and just 24 Grymes is a rising star about to get paid.

Bargains – Don Oramasionwu and Otha Foster: Donny O is a rock in the middle and a National to boot. Capable of swallowing up running backs and putting heat up the middle on QBs Ormasionwu needs to stay healthy for whatever team picks him up. Foster makes my list of “solid” players. He doesn’t blow you away on the stat sheet but he gives you solid production at Linebacker and Defensive Back and every team wants more of those guys.

Calgary Stampeders

  • Eric Rogers (87 Rec-1448 Yds-10 Tds): I was intrigued when I saw Rogers at the tail end of 2014 when he lit up the last two games season, but I had no idea just how good he was going to be. Leading the CFL in receiving and receiving touchdowns (tied with Todd Gurley for that honor) and making catch after catch no matter who covered him Rogers WAS the Stamps Offense. Given that this is only his second year Rogers has a legit shot to smash all kinds of records, but his talent also means we will likely lose him to the NFL. However, If Rogers doesn’t latch on with a team down south he will start an all out bidding war when he return.
  • Junior Turner (32 Tkl-3 Sck -4 PD): A valuable run stuffer Turner also made his mark as a pass defender with 4 swatted passes this year. Capable of beating blocks and providing pressure up the middle Turner is also a National and will be a high priority for Calgary to resign, especially with Corey Mace likely going into coaching.
  • Freddie Bishop III (44 Tkl-11 Sck-1 FF): Another candidate to lose to the NFL Bishop was a force off the edge for Calgary. There were several games this year where Bishop was seemingly in the backfield before the snap to take down the QB or Running Back, that kind of disruption is priceless. At 25 Bishop has a legit shot to make a mark down south but will have a place on any team should he return.

Bargains – Anthony Parker and Jerome Messam: Parker came on strong down the stretch for the Stamps with his best statistical season. A high Canadian draft pick who just seems to be hitting his stride Parker could easily take off in the right system. Messam might seem like a strange pick for the bargain category (he came in third in rushing with 1006 Yds) but the bruising National is turning 30 and has taken a lot of hits over his career. I don’t see teams rushing to sign him to big money deals when so many young backs are popping up around the league.

Saskatchewan Roughriders

  • Ryan Smith (59 rec-991 Yds-7 Tds): Small in stature but not in spirit Smith was one of the few bright spots for the Riders this year. Coming in just 9 yards shy of a thousand despite missing multiple games in his second season Smith was a dangerous deep threat and showed he was never afraid of taking hits over the middle. While his fearless style of play lends itself to injury Smith will be south after as a top tier receiving option on several teams
  • Tyron Brackenridge (58 Tkl-2 Sck-1 Int): A down year for T-Brack as he seemed frustrated in Brian Quicks defensive scheme. Still the DB/LB hybrid is an earth shattering hitter who can time up his blitzes better than any DB I have seen. In the right system and with the right surrounding pieces Brackenridge will make plays (and noise) for whoever pick him up.
  • Alex Hall (43 Tkl-7 Sck-2 FF): Hall came in with much fanfare as the replacement to Rickey Foley across from Jon Chick in what should have been a dominant Rider Defensive line. While that didn’t work out like the Riders wanted Hall held up his end and would have had much higher numbers if Saskatchewan could have kept games closer. Hall may leave Riderville and if he does will get several offers for his services.

Bargains –Rob Bagg and Xavier Fulton: One of the easiest people to cheer for in the league Bagg (in my opinion) shines best in a complementary role and can  seem to struggle against top corners. Still, as a National receiver who can turn in some very good performances Bagg will find a home if the Riders let him walk. I cant figure out Fulton who was arguably the Riders best O-Lineman three years ago and has seemed to lose steam ever since . At the very least he is still quality depth material and you need that in the CFL.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers

  • Matt Nicholas (3245 Yds-18 Tds-17 Int): This was certainly the year that Matt Nicholas got a shot to prove himself (With two teams!) and for the most part he did well. I cant fault his stats for declining too much in Winnipeg because of how fast he went over and started but Drew Willy is still the superior option there. I’m not sure Nicholas gets another starting gig but he can certainly make a number of training camps interesting and provide a quality backup.
  • Nick Moore (76 rec-899 Yds-4 Tds): Injuries have hampered Moore throughout his time in the Peg but when healthy he has shown elite talent. This year saw him put on a nice string of games despite inconsistent QB play for much of the year. Going forward it will be interesting to see if he stays on or tries his hand at FA, he will certainly have options.
  • Demond Washington (67 Tkl-3 Int-1 Sck): Washington has developed into another of what I call “solid” football players (explained above). He makes several wow plays every year and is important to his defense for his good tackling and return ability. Going forward I can see a team taking him for an increased role in returns and depth in the Secondary.

Bargains– Lirim Hajrullahu and Cameron Marshall: Last year I was drawing comparisons to Paul McCallum when it came to Hajrullahu and his kicking ability, this year he looked like completely different. I’m not sure what messed with his game but if he can fix it then he will be a great kicker for whoever takes a flier on him. I liked Marshall when he played this year, he showed good hands catching the ball and had some good cuts. I’m not sure if he takes a lead role somewhere but he certainly could find a home as a role player or backup.

Eskimos and REDBLACKS – Grey Cup

The Grey Cup has come and gone and we are now left with the empty void that is the CFL offseason. At least we were treated to a great game between the CFL’s finest and a half decent halftime show (if you watched on TV). The game ended the way I predicted but certainly not how I predicted, but often that’s half the fun of watching any sport because nothing is guaranteed. Sports theology aside, here is the breakdown of the 103rd Grey Cup.

Edmonton vs. Ottawa

This game was fantastic In that it showed the true colors of so many key players…

  • Adarius Bowman made a horrible drop on a key play and then proceeded to dominate the rest of his matchups like the top shelf receiver he is.
  • Patrick Watkins put an exclamation point on his reputation as a lockdown corner with an interception and several pass knock downs (and very nearly a second pick).
  • The REDBLACKS defense shut down the run game but were unable to control a mobile QB for the second straight week.
  • Mike Reilly took far too many hits and several questionable shots with the football but put the team on his back when the game was on the line and came out on top.
  • Henry Burris…well. Burris played a game that encapsulated his entire career. He started hot, made a huge mistake, went through a bad funk, and then almost came back for a win. Love him or hate him  Burris can play with the best of em, but he also has a knack for giving it all back when his concentration is broken.

The biggest surprise of the evening was how well the Eskimos covered the REDBLACKS receivers throughout the evening. Early on Burris tried to pick on Aaron Grymes and for the most part it worked, then Watkins snagged his interception. After that pick the entire Edmonton secondary clamped down and made the REDBLACKS lean on William Powel.

I have to throw a note in about the kickers, wow was I off base (much like Sean Whyte). Whyte came very close to costing the Eskimos the entire game with his pair of misses while Chris Milo cemented his odd year elite status with several clutch kicks, never bet against odd year Milo.

In the end the game did come down to defense and the Quarterback play, as most (NFL and CFL) games do. The game was never out of reach for either side thanks to the solid play from both teams along the defensive front. When it finally came to the crunch Reilly pulled out every trick he had and got his team across the goal line. I’m not sure how long Reilly can play his run-n-gun style in the CFL, before he literally gets knocked out for good, but he has proven that he can certainly be the franchise QB Edmonton wanted when they handed the reins to him back in 2013.

Extra Point

  • I’m not sure I would agree with it, but I can see Reilly getting the #1 overall spot in TSN’s top 50 CFL players next year after the above mentioned game winning drive (#BoldPrediction).

.