Five roster holes that remain following free agency

Photo Scott Grant/

Free agency has slowed to a crawl over the past week following an extremely fast-paced opening day.

Teams have spent their money and almost every big name has found a new home — except, incredibly, for all-star receiver Derel Walker.

A few roster holes remain, however, which provide us with an early look at where teams may need to uncover new talent in 2020.

Toronto Argonauts — running back

The Boatmen signed Marcus Thigpen in free agency, but it’s unlikely he will serve as the team’s primary running back in 2020. The soon-to-be 34-year-old had just 41 carries in Saskatchewan last season and is currently penciled in as Toronto’s return specialist.

A.J. Ouellette is the only other ball carrier on Toronto’s roster with any CFL experience. The 24-year-old signed with the team in September 2019 and started two games at the end of the year, recording 114 rushing yards on 23 carries.

A trio of former NFL players are also under contract in Bishop Sankey, Karlos Williams, and Trayone Gray. Sankey was a second-round pick in 2014 with Tennessee, while Gray brings tremendous size at six-foot-two and 240 pounds.

American running backs aren’t hard to scout, but it’s still surprising to see a team with so little CFL experience in the backfield.

Ottawa Redblacks — boundary wide receiver

Dominique Rhymes had a strong season in 2019, making 65 catches for 1,056 yards and five touchdowns. He wasn’t retained in free agency, leaving the boundary wide receiver spot vacant in Ottawa.

R.J. Harris could be an option if the club wants to open a starting job for DeVonte Dedmon at slotback, though he seemed to excel inside last year. Justin Hobbs (six-foot-four and 230 pounds) and Shannon Smith (six-foot-four, 220 pounds) have intriguing size, while newcomer Jovon Durante is super quick.

Free agent addition Anthony Coombs should contribute at slotback and running back, but there’s little doubt the club needs help at wide out. The fact that Ottawa hasn’t yet made a run at free agent Derel Walker is, frankly, bewildering.

B.C. Lions — strong-side linebacker

Chris Edwards departed for the NFL in January, leaving the Lions without an incumbent starter at strong-side linebacker (SAM). Several potential replacements were available in free agency — Don Unamba, Patrick Levels, Abdul Kanneh — but the team chose not to sign one.

One internal option could be Isaiah Guzylak-Messam, the former fourth-round draft pick who became a starter at weak-side linebacker in 2019. The six-foot-one, 205-pounder has the right frame for the job and played predominantly defensive back before converting to linebacker last season.

Regardless, the Lions will have to develop a new SAM in training camp unless they sign someone prior to the season.

Calgary Stampeders — boundary cornerback

The Stampeders made two shrewd additions in free agency, signing veteran defensive backs Branden Dozier (B.C.) and Richard Leonard (Hamilton). The club’s secondary suffered three key losses, however, with Tre Roberson and DaShaun Amos departing for the NFL and Brandon Smith filing for retirement.

The team could choose to shuffle 2019 starters Jamar Wall (strong-side linebacker) and Raheem Wilson (field-side cornerback) to new positions, but the simple math reveals the team is one proven starter short.

Calgary has had no trouble scouting defensive backs in recent years — nobody knew about DaShaun Amos or Raheem Wilson prior to 2019 — but they’ll have to continue that trend of recruitment and development.

A few in-house options could be Robertson Daniel or Jamari Gilbert — both of whom started two games apiece at field-side cornerback last season — or Lorenzo Jerome, who started one game at strong-side linebacker and boundary cornerback.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers — boundary halfback

The Grey Cup champions added Josh Johnson in free agency, a veteran who best slots in at cornerback. He alone can’t replace Winston Rose and Marcus Sayles, however, both of whom departed for the NFL this winter.

Nick Taylor won the starting job at field-side halfback late in the year, though flipping him to the boundary would only be replacing one hole for another. Brandon Alexander is another strong internal candidate to move to boundary halfback, though the club has expressed their desire to keep him at safety.

Winnipeg has added a former third-round NFL draft pick this winter in Dexter McDougle, while Malik Boynton should return for his second training camp with the team.

John Hodge is a CFL insider and draft analyst who has been covering the league since 2014.