*Happy New Year! Welcome to my first post of 2016. As an editors note I started this post in early December but life typically got in the way. As such several of my original picks have been signed. I’ll make a note of which of my picks have now been taken off the Free Agent Market.*
Welcome to the East Division overview of the CFL Free Agent class of 2016. Below are the top 3 Free Agents for each team in the CFL East Division as well as 2 potential bargain pickups that could provide great value to a team who picks them up.
Trevor Harris: (4354 Yds-33 Tds-19 INT)
Harris was a revelation at QB for the Argonauts who looked certain to fall to the East Division basement when All-Star Ricky Ray was lost to a shoulder injury. Harris started the season red hot and forced people to take notice of his playmaking skills. Able to make all the throws a CFL QB needs to Harris was also able utilize his underrated athleticism to pick up first downs when things broke down. I felt that Harris showed he could be the prototypical CFL quarterback that all teams are looking for. I believe the Argos made a big mistake not playing Harris in the East semis and I think they are making a mistake resigning Ray and not establishing Harris as the future. Time will tell if I’m crazy but Harris is starter material and the Argos may lose him to a QB needy team.
Tristan Okpalaugo: (27 Tkl-11 Sck-3 FF)
Okpalaugo took the league by storm last year with a staggering 12 sacks as a rookie. While he started this year at a slower paced (much to the chagrin of my fantasy team) he caught fire down the stretch and finished with 11 sacks in year 2. Okpalaugo can play multiple positions along the line and will cause havoc when he gets going. As a bonus he is a hard hitter and tends to force fumbles when he gets home. Still a very young player with nowhere to go but up Okpalaugo will draw likely interest down south and from nearly all 9 CFL teams should he not resign with the Argos.
Chad Owens: (55 Cth- 570 Yds-2 TD)
Owens was the heart of the Argos offense for several years and it was unfortunate to see him struggle with injury throughout the season. Even when healthy his numbers dipped as he never seemed to fit what the Argos were doing with their overhauled receiving corps. That said, Owens is a leader and can provide a veteran presence on a team in need of receiver help. He showed he can still ball out when he is healthy and will still be a danger in the return game. I would think he would like to stay in TO but it may depend on the Argos willingness to pay him like a top tier receiver or whether he will still be a feature player after three very raw players (Gurley, Hazelton, Elliot) posted better numbers in 2015.
Bargains– Thomas Miles and Gregory Jones. This pair of linebackers held up well in the absence of Cory Greenwood (who missed time with injury). Jones was a tackling machine and played the run well while Miles is a National that a team could develop into a solid starter at Middle Linebacker in year or two. Both will find homes quickly if they hit the market. (*MILES HAS NOW BEEN SIGNED TO AN EXTENSION WITH TOR*)
John Bowman: (46 Tkl-19 Sck-2 FF)
The reigning CFL sack champion put the league (and his own team) on notice that he can still play, and play better than anyone. To have that kind if impact at age 34 and with the mileage he has is truly remarkable. Bowman wears down O-Linemen with relentless effort and seems to wait for the perfect moment to put a clownsuit on his blocker and make a game changing play. The logical part of my brain doubta he can repeat this feat in 2016 (please don’t hurt me John) but the Als would be foolish to think Bowman couldn’t be a top tier defender for at least another year. If he hits the market Bowman might not get top dollar due to his age, but he will be terrorising QBs in 2016, count on it.
Winston Venable: (104 Tkl-5 Sck-3 FF)
A versatile piece on defense for the Als, Venable racked up tackles and made an impact in the blitz game as well. I didn’t get to watch Venable as much as I would have liked but the few times I did he seemed to always be around the ball or rallying to a tackle, teams appreciate that kind of hustle and effort. Venable could fit on any team as a starter or high level depth and should have no shortage of suitors on the open market.
Josh Bourke: (stats for an O-Line?)
I will preface this by saying that while I feel myself to be above average in terms of analyzing football players I have very little experience with properly watching Offensive Line play. That said Bourke does see to get plenty of praise from teammates and other analysts for his effort and protection. A National to boot, Bourke is a solid piece on the O-Line and will likely be retained by the Als. If he reaches the open market expect a bidding war for the behemoth protector.
Bargains- Fred Stamps and Nik Lewis. Once considered the two best receivers in the CFL both players landed in Montreal after being dumped by their previous teams. Lewis remains a clutch player on 2nd down and can pick up yards with savy moves and brute force. Stamps showed some speed and playmaking ability on deep strikes and may shine again with a strong armed QB who takes shoots downfield. Teams may shy away from both due to age and injury concerns but I see a lot of value in these two former greats.
Emmanuel Davis: (61 Tkl-5 INT-1 Sck)
Davis had flown under my radar (apparently not hard to do) until one morning when I performed my weekly review of the CFL Stats page and saw his name with 3 INTs next to it. I started watching Davis more closely and saw a cover corner that makes tackles rather than shying away from them and makes plays on the ball (12 passes defended). He has already garnered NFL interest and, should he stay, will be a coveted asset in a pass heavy league. I can only imagine that Austin wants him to stay in the Hammer.
Ted Laurent: (26 Tkl-3 Sck-1 FF)
Laurent didn’t have the explosive stats from a year ago (9 Scks in 2014) but the stats don’t tell the whole story of how disruptive he can be on the field. A beast of a man who can swallow running backs whole or out-muscle his way to the quarterback Laurent can be a centerpiece on any defensive line. A National designation makes him even more valuable and his ability to turn it up when its all on the line (4 Scks in 2 playoff games this year) is something you cant teach. Laurent stands to make good money this offseason no matter where he goes.
Justin Medlock: (42 of 47 FGs-89.4%)
Readers of my blog will know I have a special place in my heart for kickers and Medlock is high on my list. With the extra point no longer being automatic and points coming at a premium with defenses now adjusting to the new “no-contact” rules on receivers (and seemingly every QB getting injured), kicker value has risen. In my humble opinion Medlock has replaced McCallum as the best best kicker in the league and yet I don’t see him getting a big deal on the open market. Teams are all looking for a young, cheap kickers and the fact that Medlock is not a National will further complicate negotiations. That said I believe Medlock would provide a clutch kicker and a decent punter to any team that picks him up.
Bargains – Justin Hickman and Andy Fantuz. Hickman regained his form the season after he returned from the NFL with 8 Scks. Although he may be a little old for some teams Hickman can provide a solid veteran presence and is still a defensive threat that may come more cheaply than Laurent. Fantuz struggled with injuries and isn’t likely the ideal #1 receiver anymore but his playoff action showed he can still make clutch catches and act as an excellent safety valve for his QB, add that to his National status and he can be a great pickup.
Chris Williams: (88 Cth-1214 Yds-5 Tds)
I remember when Chris Williams made his debut in the CFL back in 2011, I jokingly told my friend Mark that this guy will be big and he should pick him for his fantasy team rather than Dave Stala (whom I secretly coveted for my team). While Stala had a solid season Williams blew up the league as the hottest star in town, and 5 years later he still is. A threat to score anytime he touches the ball Williams will command one of the largest paychecks for a receiver should he hit the market. (*WILLIAMS HAS SIGNED AN EXTENSION WITH OTT*)
Justin Capicciotti: (47 Tkl-12 Sck-1 FF)
GM Marcel Desjardins deserves huge kudos for seeing the star that Capicciotti would become when he took him on from the Eskimos. With 23 Sacks in the last 2 seasons (with only 2 in the previous 2 years) the National pass rusher is only 26 and has many more productive seasons ahead. With his value at an all time high Capicciotti may wish to test Free Agency to gauge how much he can get. If he stays with Ottawa they will have secured a big building block to get back to the Grey Cup in 2016.
Zak Evans: (17 Tkl-7 Sck-1 INT)
Evans came on strong in his 4th season as the young National blew past his previous career high in sacks with 7. Stepping out of Keith Shologan’s shadow as the most promising Canadian DL acquired in the Expansion draft (though Shologan is no slouch either) Evans is just entering his prime and will have his share of suitors on the open market. It will be interesting to see what Evans can do if he is signed and made a feature player rather than a rotational one. (*EVANS SIGNED AN EXTENSION WITH OTT*)
Bargains – Damaso Munoz and Keith Shologan. Munoz was a highly productive linebacker for the REDBLACKS and added a pass rush element in addition to run defense, only the recent glut of solid linebackers appearing across the league kept him from being listed higher on my list. As mentioned above Shologan was also an impact player with the REDBLACKS and only his age kept him beneath Evans, he will find work even if he is not resigned.