Free agency isn’t over — is it ever really over? — and while there are still some big names left on the board, the initial frenzy of player signings has slowed down significantly, which means it is time to start handing out grades and whatnot.
With that in mind, I wanted to take a look at each teams’ haul and single out a signing I liked and one that I didn’t for each of them. I’m sure these picks won’t be controversial at all.
Like: John White
There were a number of pickups that could have gone here, Mike Reilly being chief among them, but picking the easy one isn’t always fun. In White, the Lions get a tenacious back who has all-star-calibre skills. Injuries have held him back, but he’s a multi-purpose back who could crack 1,200 total yards if he plays a full season.
Dislike: Sukh Chungh
Chung is a good player, but $200,000-plus for an interior offensive lineman is a steep price to pay. A lot of people seem to think Chungh was a product of Winnipeg’s excellent offensive line play and not the catalyst of it. We’ll see now if that is true or not.
Like: Trevor Harris
OK, this is the cop-out I refused to with B.C., but you have to give props to Edmonton GM Brock Sunderland for going out and immediately finding Mike Reilly’s successor in Harris. For all the knocks on his game, Harris has proven he can play winning football. He did so in Toronto in 2015 and again in Ottawa last year. I don’t expect Edmonton’s play to drop off at all with Harris under centre.
Dislike: Larry Dean, Greg Ellingson
I lumped these two together because while I think both are tremendous players, the price to get them was very high. Dean will pull in $210,000 in 2019, while Ellingson will take home $250,000 this year. Considering how easy it is to find starting-calibre middle linebackers, paying over $200,000 for one seems less than ideal. Ellingson is the second-highest paid receiver in the CFL, but is he the second-best receiver in the CFL? The answer is no, but he’s being paid like he is.
Like: Courtney Stephen
He fell out of favour in Hamilton last year, but Stephen still has the skills to be a top-tier safety or field-side corner for the Stamps. Like always, Calgary doesn’t make splashy moves… but they make the right ones.
Calgary has so far signed four players since the market opened: Stephen, Eric Rogers, Cordarro Law and Bo Levi Mitchell, and as much as I want to troll Stamps fans and put Mitchell here, there isn’t a single signing the Stamps made that you can dislike.
Like: Micah Johnson
William Powell was another possibility for this spot, but when you replace the league’s best defensive end by getting the league’s best defensive tackle you have done good. The Riders have holes elsewhere, but man oh man is that defensive line going to be fun to watch.
Dislike: Zach Collaros
The Riders missed out on the big QB fish in free agency and ended up back where thy started with Collaros. At one point, Collaros was in the conversation as the league’s best player, but those days are long gone. The injuries keep piling up and he becomes less and less reliable on a weekly basis. Without a solid backup plan in place (as of now), the Riders are risking a lot by placing a lot of eggs in the basket of this generation’s Buck Pierce.
Like: Willie Jefferson
The Bombers didn’t have a ton of holes to fill in free agency, but going out and nabbing the league’s premier pass rusher is a move that could put them over the top.
Like Calgary, Winnipeg wasn’t very active after the market opened signing just five players: Jefferson, Brandon Alexander, Nic Demski, Winston Rose and D.J. Lalama. Not really any signings there to dislike.
Like: Tunde Adeleke
Ja’Gared Davis is the obvious answer here since he will immensely upgrade the Ticats’ pedestrian pass rush, but the acquisition of Tunde Adeleke is one that helps in a number of areas. First and foremost, he’s Canadian and landing them is huge, especially for a team that has done a great job scouting and drafting them already. Secondly, he is versatile and can play in the secondary at safety or at SAM linebacker. Thirdly, he can contribute on special teams in the return game, an area the Ticats have needed help in for a couple of years.
Dislike: Brian Jones
I didn’t understand this signing then and I still don’t understand it now. With the re-signings of both Mike Jones and Shamawd Chambers, I don’t understand what role Brian Jones will have in 2019. He doesn’t excel on special teams and his numbers are, well, 14 catches for 148 yards and one TD. Those aren’t his single-game high or even his season high, those are his career numbers. Jones is one of five Canadian pass catchers the Ticats have on their roster as of now (the two Joneses, Chambers, Marcus Davis and Mitch O’Connor) and they still have last year’s first-overall pick Mark Chapman in the pipeline (but who knows if we ever see him). I’m not sure what the Ticats see in Jones that others haven’t, but this was a weird signing when it was announced and became even weirder once the team made more moves.
Like: Tobi Antigha
Antigha isn’t the household name that Derel Walker is (and that was a good signing also, even at the massive price tag) but he might end up being Toronto’s most important signing this off-season. The man is the very definition of a Swiss Army Knife. His natural position is defensive end, but he can play in the middle and even lined up at safety last year in Saskatchewan. The guy is a matchup nightmare because you never know what is assignment will be on any given play. Put him with Corey Chamblin, who is known to mix things up defensively, and you’ve got the recipe for a huge year for Antigha in double blue.
Dislike: All the running backs
When you have James Wilder, Jr., you don’t really need another running back. But when the Argos re-upped with Brandon Burks before free agency, I got it. Then they signed Chris Rainey, and still OK because Rainey is going to be used more in the return game than on offence. Then you bring in Mercer Timmis, and this is when I start to think they have too many, although Timmis being Canadian and good on specials still makes this a decent a signing. Then you bring in Tyrell Sutton and I have no idea what the plan is. Oh, and you still have Dexter McCluster hanging around as well. One or two or three of these guys are going to be on the outside looking in come June and which will make some of these pickups completely pointless.
I know, I know, I never like anything Ottawa does, but it is not like they had a very active free agency. They spent more of their time letting their best players walk than bringing in a ton of new talent. I do like the Chris Randle signing, but I am limiting myself to signings that occurred after noon on Tuesday, so he doesn’t count. Otherwise, when you look at the Redblacks’ haul, you see a lot of secondary talent, and given that they lost a lot of premier talent, that is not going to cut it.
Dislike: Jonathon Jennings
For as high as I, and many others, were on Jennings just a couple years ago, the Redblacks signing him to compete with Dominique Davis to replace Trevor Harris cannot be seen as anything but a tremendous downgrade. Ottawa could have built a mini-dynasty in the East if they had kept the band together, but instead they face questions at the game’s most important position for the first time in their existence. Maybe a change of scenery will do Jennings some good, but until he proves he can go back to being the player he was in 2016, this is a major gamble for the Redblacks.
Like: Taylor Loffler
When you get arguably the best Canadian player available on the market you have done well. This was a surprisingly competent free agency for Kavis Reed, and getting Loffler to Montreal was the biggest feather in his cap. He will allow the Als to do so much defensively and gives them the physical presence they have been missing on the backend for some time.
Dislike: DeVier Posey
Grey Cup MVP or no Grey Cup MVP, DeVier Posey hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire during his CFL career. His numbers are decent — 94 catches for 1,300 yards and 10 TDs in 24 career games — but he is expected to be a game changer for the Als and I’m just not sure he is that player. As a complementary piece, sure, but he is not being added to be a No. 2 or 3 option; he was brought in to be No. 1 and I don’t think that is what he is. This reminds me a lot of the Ernest Jackson signing a couple years ago, and he hasn’t exactly set the world on fire in Montreal. I see the same with Posey.