The CFL free agent market was much different in 2020 than some expected.
Plenty of players had dollars signs in their eyes, but the reality was only a few athletes who switched teams received contracts that were for premium dollars. Excluding quarterbacks such as Toronto’s Matt Nichols, Ottawa’s Nick Arbuckle and Saskatchewan’s James Franklin, here are the top 10 highest-paid true free agents.
Professional football is a year-to-year business, so the numbers included below are just for the 2020 season — hard money trumps all.
1) Cleyon Laing, national defensive lineman, Ottawa Redblacks
The 29-year-old is one of the CFL’s most impactful defensive tackles, posting 27 tackles and seven sacks in 15 games with Toronto in 2019. General manager Marcel Desjardins paid up to sign Laing with $215,000 in hard money that includes a $50,000 signing bonus.
2) Sean McEwen, national offensive lineman, Calgary Stampeders
The Argos selected McEwen third overall in the 2015 CFL draft and he more than lived up to the hype in Toronto. That’s why John Hufnagel opened the Stamps’ wallet and gave McEwen $50,000 to sign with his hometown team, paying a total of $205,000 in hard money.
3) DaVaris Daniels, American receiver, Toronto Argonauts
Daniels has game-breaking ability — if he stays healthy, it’s all-but assured his first career 1,000-yard season will come. Michael “Pinball” Clemons and John Murphy tossed $190,000 Daniels’ way — including $80,00 for putting pen to paper — and his earnings will increase $550 per game each time he plays more than 51 percent of the offensive snaps.
4) Micah Johnson, American defensive lineman, B.C. Lions
General manager Ed Hervey remade the Leos’ defensive front, which was focused around Johnson. A hefty signing bonus of $100,000 is the big part of Johnson’s $190,000 pact with B.C. If Johnson plays over 51 percent of the defensive snaps in 15 or more games there is another $5,000 that will be added to the deal.
5) Philip Blake, national offensive lineman, Toronto Argonauts
Blake is stout on the interior of any offensive line when healthy and the Argos coveted the proven veteran. His signing bonus totaled $50,000 and he’s set to earn $171,000 overall, which can rise $500 per game for playing more than 51 percent of the offensive snaps.
6) Ryker Mathews, American offensive lineman, B.C. Lions
In an effort to better protect franchise quarterback Mike Reilly, the Lions signed the standout tackle away from the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Mathews is set to earn $170,000 in hard money from B.C., serving as a bookend opposite Joel Figueroa.
7) Chris Casher, American defensive lineman, B.C. Lions
Casher was part of the youth movement on the Lions’ defensive line. Seven sacks in 2019 netted the 26-year-old $145,000 total with $50,000 up front in the form of a signing bonus. Hervey appears to have replaced Odell Willis with Casher as his top pass rusher.
8) Juwan Brescacin, national receiver, Toronto Argonauts
The Mississauga native has all kinds of potential and his hometown Argos are counting on him to be a major part of the revamped offence in The Six. Brescacin has flashed outstanding ability on the field and it enticed Toronto to pay $140,000 for the 27-year-old.
9) Dariusz Bladek, national offensive lineman, Toronto Argonauts
The Bethune-Cookman University product left the prairies and headed east to Southern Ontario where he will provide experience at guard for the Argos. Toronto signed Bladek for $131,000 in hard money with playtime incentives that could add a further $20,000 to the deal.
10) Chris Ackie, national defensive back/linebacker, Toronto Argonauts
Ackie brings his defensive versatility to Toronto as the former first-round pick has consistently played at a high level no matter where he lines up. The double blue got his signature for $128,000, including a $35,000 signing bonus. He can earn an additional $1,000 per game for playing 51 percent or more of the defensive snaps.
Just on the outside:
Don Unamba, American strong-side linebacker, Ottawa Redblacks
The Redblacks wanted to shore up the important spot on defence and did so by inking Unamba for $125,000, including a $35,000 signing bonus.
Craig Roh, American defensive lineman, Toronto Argonauts
Roh gives the Argos a capable pass rusher for $125,000 after a solid season as a rotational player in Winnipeg.
J.R. Tavai, American defensive lineman, B.C. Lions
A strong sophomore CFL season paid off for Tavai as he’ll earn $125,000 in 2020 in Vancouver.