The CFL negotiating window has officially opened, allowing pending free agents to talk with teams across the league. Players are unable to officially sign with a new team until Tuesday, Feb. 8, but that hasn’t prevented the rumour mill from spinning.
3DownNation recently unveiled its list of the top 30 pending free agents, the vast majority of whom are still set to hit the market. We remain in the process of releasing top free agent lists for each position; having already ranked the quarterbacks, the running backs, the receivers, the offensive line, and the defensive line.
Moving on to the linebacker, we’ve split the players into two separate lists — those who can play the more traditional roles of a weak-side or middle backer and those employed in the unique to the CFL strong-side linebacker role. A blockbuster trade and signing reported by our own Justin Dunk took former West Division Most Outstanding Canadian nominee Cameron Judge off the board last minute, but plenty of talent remains to fill the heart of a defence.
Weak-side and middle linebackers
1) Deon Lacey, Saskatchewan Roughriders
The 31-year-old had an excellent season in his return from the NFL, recording 54 defensive tackles, three special teams tackles, four sacks, and one forced fumble. What sets Lacey apart is his versatility as he’s capable of starting at weak-side linebacker, middle linebacker or defensive end.
2) Darnell Sankey, Calgary Stampeders
The 27-year-old had an excellent rookie season in 2021, leading the CFL with 97 tackles and making one sack and one forced fumble. Sankey is reportedly set to hit free agency and we could see a bidding war for the six-foot-two, 250-pound defender’s services.
3) Micah Awe, Ottawa Redblacks
The four-year veteran had another solid season in 2021, making 76 total tackles, three sacks, and two forced fumble. Awe is one of the CFL’s hardest hitters who has historically produced at a high level on defence and special teams.
4) Adam Konar, B.C. Lions*
The 28-year-old was once a ratio-breaking starter in Edmonton but has since been relegated primarily to special teams. He made six defensive tackles, 13 special teams tackles, and one sack in 2021 in a depth role behind Jordan Williams and Boseko Lokombo.
5) Justin Tuggle, Toronto Argonauts
Tuggle has proven to be a capable starting CFL middle linebacker in the past, but in 2021 the 32-year-old managed just nine total tackles and a sack in five games after signing with the Argos mid-season. If he has any juice left, he could be a worthy reclamation project.
Best of the rest: Jordan Herdman-Reed, Saskatchewan Roughriders*; Justin Herdman-Reed, Saskatchewan Roughriders*; Kevin Brown II, Winnipeg Blue Bombers; Christophe Mulumba-Tshimanga, Ottawa Redblacks*; Corey Greenwood, Calgary Stampeders*; Chris Frey Jr., Hamilton Tiger-Cats; Tyrice Beverette, Hamilton Tiger-Cats; Nakas Onyeka, Saskatchewan Roughriders*; Kevin Francis, Saskatchewan Roughriders*; Paul Kozachuk, Montreal Alouettes*; Frederic Chagnon, Ottawa Redblacks*.
1) Derrick Moncrief, Edmonton Elks
The six-foot-two, 220-pound defender didn’t skip a beat after returning from the NFL, making 24 total tackles and four sacks in just nine starts. Moncrief was named a CFL all-star under Chris Jones in Saskatchewan in 2019 and they may yet try to rekindle that magic in 2022.
2) Patrick Levels, Montreal Alouettes
The former East Division all-star had another strong season in La Belle Province, recording 42 tackles, three sacks, and one interception. He is known for his vocal leadership, with a prime example being him guaranteeing a win in the East Semi-Final against Hamilton.
3) Alden Darby, Winnipeg Blue Bombers
The 29-year-old played strong-side linebacker for the first time in 2021 after he was acquired via trade from Toronto. He was named a West Division all-star after making 34 tackles in 11 games as part of the league’s best defence.
4) Don Unamba, Ottawa Redblacks
The former CFL all-star started 12 games for Ottawa this past season, making 47 tackles, two sacks, and two forced fumbles. He will turn 33 two weeks after free agency gets underway.
5) Jamar Wall, Calgary Stampeders
The two-time CFL all-star has been a mainstay in Calgary for a decade but recently turned 34. He split time between strong-side linebacker and safety in 2021, recording 30 tackles.
6) Jacob Dearborn, Saskatchewan Roughriders*
The ultra-athletic Olympic bobsledder (no, seriously) played well at what is traditionally an American position, recording 20 total tackles and two interceptions in eight games.
7) Anthony Cioffi, B.C. Lions
The 27-year-old started seven games for the Lions in 2021 but served as a backup at times in the club’s secondary. He made 26 total tackles, one interception, and one forced fumble while splitting time between strong-side linebacker and safety.