Surprise (said nobody): Riders loading up on ex-Esks

If speedy defensive back Aaron Grymes wasn’t intent on pursuing NFL opportunities, a process expected to take another three weeks, he might already be on the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ lengthening list of new acquisitions.

He’s exactly what the Roughriders are looking for: Reasonably priced, fast, proven, big, available and a former member of the Grey Cup-champion Edmonton Eskimos. So don’t preclude Grymes just yet from joining the Roughriders, a sad-sack outfit in full rebuild mode following a 3-15 season.

The Roughriders have been one of the main players in the CFL’s free-agent frenzy, having signed 11 newcomers since their contracts expired Feb. 9.

Here are the new players signed by Saskatchewan in the past two days (with their recent CFL team in parentheses): receivers Shamawd Chambers (Edmonton), John Chiles (Toronto) and Jeremy Kelley (Hamilton), defensive backs Otha Jones (Edmonton), Graig Newman (Winnipeg) and Ed Gainey (Hamilton), returner Kendial Lawrence (Edmonton), linebacker Greg Jones (Toronto), running back Curtis Steele (Toronto), offensive lineman Andrew Jones (Edmonton) and defensive end Justin Capicciotti (Ottawa), who has confirmed his signing on Twitter.

The Riders also traded for offensive lineman Bruce Campbell, re-signed aspiring defensive end Dylan Ainsworth and re-upped veteran guard Chris Best.

Of the newly signed free agents, four are re-joining their former head coach, Chris Jones, and the coaching staff he brought from Edmonton after winning the 2015 Grey Cup. Jones is now Saskatchewan’s vice-president of everything, in charge of the Roughriders’ roster, so he’s peppering it with Eskimos and other players he has coached with or against during his earlier CFL stops.

Only the Winnipeg Blue Bombers can rival the Roughriders in their free-agent activity. And neither team is finished in a free-agent market that started with an unprecedented 122 candidates.

Why so many free agents? The newest collective bargaining agreement with the CFL Players’ Association allowed players to sign one-year contracts, without the standard option-year agreement at the club’s choice. It glutted the market.

Bombers general manager Kyle Walters said he would prefer building a squad through drafting and scouting. Pointing to the Calgary Stampeders, Walters said stability was a key factor for Calgary’s annual success. But because Walters’ team needs to become competitive quickly, the best possibility comes by signing free agents. Just like Saskatchewan. And they have plenty of choices.

If the CFL season began today, quarterback Darian Durant, receiver Rob Bogg, guards Best and Brendon LaBatte, defensive tackle Tearrius George, linebacker Jeff Knox Jr. and kicker Tyler Crapigna would likely be Saskatchewan’s only returning starters from the end of 2015.

Not much stability. Yet.

Darrell Davis has reported on the Riders for more than 20 years and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame media wing in 2006.