Five under-the-radar pass rushers the Alouettes could pursue in free agency

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/

The Montreal Alouettes need to get better along the defensive line.

New general manager Danny Maciocia admitted during his introductory press conference that the roster has issues, singling out the defensive line. The Alouettes had just 27 sacks in 2019, which was last-place in the CFL.

14-year veteran John Bowman accounted for eight of those sacks. Now 37, it’s unclear if the future Hall of Fame defensive end will be back for another year in La Belle Province. Regardless, Montreal needs to add players who can get to the quarterback.

Winnipeg’s Willie Jefferson is the top defensive end available, though he will command a huge contract if he reaches the open market. The league’s reigning Most Outstanding Defensive Player has expressed interest in returning to the Bombers, though rumours are swirling that a team in the East Division — other than Montreal — is preparing to make him a huge offer.

Hamilton’s Ja’Gared Davis will also be expensive if he chooses not to re-sign with the Tiger-Cats. The 29-year-old lived up to the hype that accompanied his signing a year ago, posting 13 sacks and three forced fumbles in 17 starts.

There are also a number of productive veterans the Alouettes could consider, though their age may be a deterrent. Odell Willis (35), Jamaal Westerman (34) and Shawn Lemon (31) can get to the quarterback, but wouldn’t help Montreal get any younger.

Below are five players the Alouettes could potentially bring in without breaking the bank. That’s not to say the defensive ends below won’t command big dollars — only that Montreal is more likely to be able to afford their services.

Players are listed in alphabetical order by last name.

Freddie Bishop III, Toronto Argonauts

The Western Michigan University product returned to the CFL in 2019 following a three-year stint in the NFL and AAF. He’s the oldest player on this list at 29, but the mileage is low and his production — 40 tackles and six sacks in 17 starts — is solid.

Chris Casher, Calgary Stampeders

The 26-year-old had a breakout season in 2019, recording 34 tackles and seven sacks with the Stampeders. Casher helped fill the void in Calgary’s pass rush left by Ja’Gared Davis and Micah Johnson in last year’s free agent frenzy.

Avery Ellis, Ottawa Redblacks

The six-foot-two, 250-pound rush end has been quietly impactful for the Redblacks, making 16 sacks and two forced fumbles over the past three years. Still just 25, Ellis is one of the youngest proven pass rushers in the CFL.

A.C. Leonard, Saskatchewan Roughriders

Often overshadowed by teammate Charleston Hughes, Leonard had a fantastic season following his return to Regina in 2019. The 28-year-old had nine quarterback takedowns in 17 games for the Riders, finishing top-ten in sacks league-wide.

J.R. Tavai, Ottawa Redblacks

The University of Southern California product had a breakout year in 2019, making 49 tackles, seven sacks, and three forced fumbles in 16 starts. Not much went right for the Redblacks in 2019, but Tavai was a bright spot.

John Hodge is a Canadian football reporter based in Winnipeg.