The six most cap-friendly deals from CFL free agency

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/

Free agency is rarely a time when teams sign players to cap-friendly contracts. Teams often overspend in the day’s opening hours, becoming overexcited at the prospect of signing all-star talent away from rival clubs.

This year’s free agent period was different due the new collective bargaining agreement. Not only did teams have less money to spend, the new negotiating window allowed them to (essentially) finalize contracts before free agency officially opened.

Today we’re looking at the six most cap-friendly contracts that were signed during free agency.

LB Micah Awe, Winnipeg Blue Bombers (A)

Adam Bighill and Kyrie Wilson are set to return at middle linebacker and weak-side linebacker, respectively, but adding Awe in a depth role was shrewd for the defending Grey Cup champions.

The 26-year-old will make $75,000 in 2020, plus $555 per game in which he takes more than half of all defensive snaps. This means his deal maxes out at $85,000 if he were to unseat either incumbent starter for the length of the season.

Awe made a name for himself on special teams with the B.C. Lions in 2017 and has grown into one of the CFL’s hardest hitters. The Blue Bombers will benefit from having him in the lineup on special teams as well as in a rotational role on defence.

CB Arjen Colquhoun, Toronto Argonauts (N)

There aren’t many national players who can start at cornerback and Toronto got one of them at a great price. Colquhoun signed a one-year deal with the Boatmen worth $92,000 plus $850 per game in which he plays the majority of the team’s defensive snaps.

The Michigan State University product is in his prime at 27 years of age and was born in nearby Windsor, Ontario. He is currently penciled in as the starter at field-side cornerback ahead of 2019 second-round pick Matthew Boateng.

Colquhoun battled injuries in Edmonton over the past three years, but this signing is a low-risk, high-reward move from a team that needed to upgrade its secondary following a poor 2019 season.

S Jermaine Gabriel, Edmonton Eskimos (N)

Gabriel isn’t getting any younger, but the eight-year veteran remains one of the league’s most versatile Canadian defensive backs. He started at safety and strong-side linebacker for the Argonauts last season, making 39 tackles and two sacks in 12 games.

Edmonton signed the Scarborough native to a one-year deal worth $65,000 plus $555 per game in which he plays the majority of the team’s defensive snaps. That means his contract maxes out at $75,000 even if he starts all 18 regular season games in 2020.

The Eskimos already had a solid group of national defensive backs in Jordan Hoover, Jordan Beaulieu, and Godfrey Onyeka. Gabriel provides even more starting experience, versatility, and depth at a cap-friendly price.

SAM Patrick Levels, Hamilton Tiger-Cats (A)

Levels is arguably the best strong-side linebacker (SAM) in the CFL, a position at which starters generally earn six-figure salaries. Hamilton signing him for $80,000 hardly seems fair, especially considering the level of talent already on the team’s roster.

The 25-year-old had a career-year with the Alouettes in 2019, recording 86 tackles, five sacks, and two forced fumbles in 18 starts. Why the team didn’t re-sign Levels is incomprehensible, but Montreal’s loss is Hamilton’s gain.

Levels will elevate an already-potent Tiger-Cats’ defence in 2020, partnering with Simoni Lawrence and Larry Dean to form the best linebacking corps in the CFL.

REC DeVier Posey, Hamilton Tiger-Cats (A)

In another case of the rich getting richer, Hamilton signed former Grey Cup MVP DeVier Posey to a one-year contract worth $90,000. The 29-year-old will help alleviate the loss of Bralon Addison, the CFL all-star who signed with the Minnesota Vikings in January.

Posey made almost $200,000 with the Alouettes last season, recording 780 yards and three touchdowns on 50 receptions in 12 games. The Ohio State University product is one of the top deep threats in the CFL at six-foot-two and 210 pounds.

The Tiger-Cats posted a franchise-best 15-3 record in 2019 but stumbled in the Grey Cup. Adding a player of Posey’s caliber at such a reasonable dollar figure should help the team get back to the top of the East Division in 2020.

REC Dominique Rhymes, B.C. Lions (A)

1,000-yard receivers aren’t supposed to come at a discount — especially when they’re six-foot-four, 215 pounds and just 26 years of age. The Lions got a bargain when they signed Rhymes to a one-year deal worth $80,000, filling out a dangerous receiving corps.

Rhymes spent the last three seasons in Ottawa and had a breakout year in 2019, making 65 catches for 1,056 yards and five touchdowns. The Miami native was the most productive weapon on an otherwise stagnant Redblacks offence that suffered from constant turnover at the quarterback position.

Rhymes will be B.C.’s new starting boundary receiver, replacing veteran Duron Carter who was released following the 2019 season. Given Mike Reilly’s fondness for the deep ball, expect to see Rhymes downfield early and often in 2020.

Next up will be the opposite when we look at free agency’s worst value deals.

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