Ten under-the-radar pending free agents that any CFL team would be smart to sign

Photo courtesy: Candice Ward / Calgary Stampeders

If recent history has taught us anything it’s that big-name CFL free agent signings rarely live up to the hype they initially generate.

In February 2021 there was a ton of buzz surrounding linebacker Larry Dean signing in Saskatchewan, defensive end Charleston Hughes inking a deal with Toronto, and running back Shaq Cooper joining the B.C. Lions. These additions all turned out to be busts, though many under-the-radar free agent signings helped teams win games.

With over 300 players currently set to reach free agency on Feb. 8, 2022, I’ve gone through the list to identify ten players that I consider under-the-radar gems. They’re not the biggest or flashiest names, but all could make a big impact next season with the right team.

Players are listed alphabetically by last name. Please note that “N” denotes national players (ie. Canadians) while “A” denotes American players.

RB Johnny Augustine, Winnipeg Blue Bombers (N)

The Guelph product was sensational in a depth role behind Andrew Harris and Brady Oliveira this past season, rushing 40 times for 285 yards (7.1 yards per carry). At 28, Augustine is ready to become an every-down running back in the CFL and could be a ratio-breaker for a club looking to start a Canadian in the backfield.

REC Steven Dunbar Jr., Hamilton Tiger-Cats (A)

Brandon Banks, Jaelon Acklin, and Tim White got a lot of attention in Hamilton’s receiving corps, but Dunbar Jr. had a great rookie season. The six-foot-three, 203-pound target made 44 receptions for 630 yards and four touchdowns in twelve regular season starts at boundary wideout along with six catches for 63 yards and a score in the Grey Cup.

OL Tui Eli, Winnipeg Blue Bombers (N)

The six-foot-four, 307-pound blocker started four games at right guard this past season and the Blue Bombers didn’t skip a beat. He’s Canadian, only 25 years old, and is capable of starting at centre and guard. The only issue with Eli is that he is reportedly unvaccinated, which means he’ll have a tough time travelling in 2022 unless rules change.

DB Kerfalla-Emmanuel Exumé, Montreal Alouettes (N)

The Montreal native has become the Marc Beswick of his generation: a Canadian defensive back who is dominant on special teams. Exumé has recorded 40 special teams tackles in 32 career games, which is a remarkable pace. He may not see many reps on defence, but that doesn’t matter — special teams in a huge part of the Canadian game.

FB Nikola Kalinic, Hamilton Tiger-Cats (N)

The York product occasionally makes plays with the ball in his hands — he’s got two career touchdown catches — but he’s at his best when he doesn’t. Kalinic is an excellent blocker as a tight end and draws a ton of attention from opposing units on special teams. He’s got a rare combination of size, athleticism, and speed to go along with a Canadian passport.

REC Hergy Mayala, Calgary Stampeders (N)

The 26-year-old suffered a sophomore slump in 2021, recording half the receiving yardage he did as a rookie in 2019 and five fewer touchdowns. I still think the former first-round pick has a bright future provided he’s afforded the right opportunity, which includes getting more snaps from the slotback position.

RB Jamal Morrow, Saskatchewan Roughriders (A)

The five-foot-eight, 205-pound speedster led the CFL in missed field goal return yardage in 2021, while ranking third in average punt return (11.0 yards) and sixth in average kickoff return (22.5 yards). Morrow has only played eight career CFL games, but he has the potential to make an impact as a ball carrier, receiver, and return specialist.

DB Jonathan Moxey, Calgary Stampeders (A)

The native of West Palm Beach, Fla. spent most of the 2021 season at field-side cornerback but looks ready to take on a larger role in the secondary. Moxey picked off two passes in the regular season before intercepting Cody Fajardo three times in the West Semi-Final in what was one of the best single-game defensive performances in recent memory.

DL Steven Richardson, Winnipeg Blue Bombers (A)

The 25-year-old missed half of the regular season with a foot injury but still had a great year, recording 13 tackles, four sacks, and one forced fumble from his interior position. The five-foot-eleven, 304-pounder is an excellent run stopper and made life miserable for Hamilton in the Grey Cup, making two sacks in a 33-25 overtime win.

DL Pete Robertson, Saskatchewan Roughriders (A)

The Texas Tech product started only three games in 2021 but still managed to post 12 total tackles and five sacks in the regular season as well as three tackles and a sack in the playoffs. If Robertson was that effective as a rotational player, what could he accomplish as a full-time starter?