“You always overpay in free agency.”
That’s what one CFL player personnel man said about players hitting the open market and a look at the numbers indicates that was largely true in 2018 as well.
There was a lot of Canadian-coloured money thrown around for teams to land coveted football assets. The biggest dollars went to a national – Jamaal Westerman – which should serve as a reminder how valuable the ratio-breakers and starting Canucks are in the CFL.
If new Montreal Alouette defensive lineman Westerman plays six games in 2018 he’ll make $218,000 plus performance bonuses on his two-year contract. Westerman made around $165,000 in 2017 and Winnipeg offered the national pass rusher a raise of approximately $190,000 to stay with the Bombers but he elected to test the market and the gamble paid off, literally. Montreal general manager Kavis Reed reportedly flew to New Jersey to woo the Als prized free agent who has made 32 sacks in 47 career CFL games.
Just before the ball was snapped on free agency, defensive tackle Ted Laurent re-signed in Hamilton. Even though he took a pay cut from his 2017 salary, Laurent will make over $200,000 in 2018 and 2019 on his two-year pact. The 30-year-old has been a disruptive force on the Ticats’ defensive front for four years and over his career, Laurent has 150 tackles and 35 sacks in 110 games.
Elite linebacker Solomon Elimimian signed an extension in B.C. after the market opened that is worth over $200,000 in 2018 and 2019. The 2014 CFL MOP produced a league record 144 tackles in 2017, beating his own mark by one. Elimimian is well worth the money.
The Riders brought Zach Evans for a hefty $170,000 price tag. There were talent evaluators who felt Evans was among the best Canadian defensive lineman in the league and it’s clear Saskatchewan had a similar rating. At 27 years old, Evans is in his prime which means the Riders should get quality production from the Regina native.
Hamilton secured their quarterback of the defence on the morning of Feb. 13 when free agency was just hours away. Larry Dean put his name on a one-year contract worth $160,000. Since becoming the man in the middle of the Ticats ‘D’, Dean has produced 174 tackles, five sacks, five forced fumbles and one interception in 36 games – 94 stops earned the 29-year-old an East all-star nod in 2017.
After a big bounce-back season Euclid Cummings cashed in. He had a down year making 16 tackles and three sacks for Winnipeg in 2016, but recorded 21 tackles, eight sacks and forced three fumbles in 2017. That made the Lions ante up $160,000 for Cummings, a consistent pocket pusher from the inside who stays stout against the run.
Pass rusher Alex Bazzie came back from an impressive training camp and pre-season with the Arizona Cardinals to play six games for B.C. in 2017 making 12 tackles and three sacks. In 56 career CFL games, Bazzie has 32 sacks, proven ability to get the quarterback to the ground Edmonton paid under $160,000 for 2018 with an increase for 2019.
Nic Demski was coveted based on his pure athleticism and rare abilities as a combo receiver and returner. Winnipeg paid a $35,000 signing bonus and nearly $150,000 on the one-year deal Demski signed. Watching Demski used in game plans put together by Bombers offensive coordinator Paul LaPolice is going to be fun for all.
Kickers who can perform all three duties – kick-offs, punting and field goals – are hard to find, Canadian ones even tougher. That’s why Hamilton paid $145,000 on a one-year deal for Lirim Hajrullahu. He went 47-of-58 on field goals (81 per cent) with 44-yard punting average in 2017.
Noel Thorpe wants big, physical defensive ends for his defensive scheme and A.C. Leonard was an ideal fit. After transitioning from offence (receiver/tight end) the 26-year-old had 67 tackles and 10 sacks in two seasons under Chris Jones. He earned a $50,000 signing bonus and $145,000 for the quick and productive transition made to defence.
Montreal upgraded the secondary in two major ways: signing Tommie Campbell and Mitchell White. The Alouettes could pay over $150,000 to the former Stampeder while White will earn almost $140,000 (with an increase in 2019.) Campbell and White should form a formidable duo of cover men for Montreal and rookie defensive coordinator Kahlil Carter.
Winnipeg did their window shopping and really wanted the shiny item in the display case: Chandler Fenner. The Bombers locked down a versatile defender for two years at around $130,000 per season. He can play strong-side linebacker and various positions in the secondary while being a demon on special teams.
Adam Konar displayed his ratio-breaking ability during 12 games in 2017 when he made 59 tackles, two interceptions, one sack and forced one fumble. That earned the University of Calgary product a raise on his two-year deal, worth in the neighbourhood of $130,000 for 2018 and $160,000 the following campaign. Just 24, Konar is a young, dynamic Canadian talent.
Sam Hurl’s arrival in Saskatchewan meant Henoc Muamba was on the way out for one reason: salary cap. The former Bombers starting middle linebacker will make around $110,000 in 2018. If healthy Muamba could’ve made $220,000. Hurl, the 27-year-old who started all 18 games for Winnipeg in 2017 making 65 tackles, is a much cheaper option. That savings allowed the Riders to boost the ratio flexibility.
Enter Jerome Messam. The extra cap dollars opened up in the Hurl for Muamba swap made it possible for Saskatchewan to bring a starting-calibre Canadian running back to Regina for around $95,000 plus another over $15,000 in possible playtime incentives. The 32-year-old is coming off back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing season in Calgary and appears to have some gas left in the Brampton Bus.