In the modern CFL, free agency can reshape an entire team overnight.
Laughing stocks can become contenders and powerhouses can suffer their demises as impact players bounce from city to city, but the work doesn’t end when the ink dries on the last blockbuster deal.
While most teams have addressed their biggest needs, every squad across the CFL has holes on their roster waiting to be battled over in camp or seized by an unexpected youngster. With less than three months to go until rookies report to camp, it’s time to look at the biggest remaining positional question marks on each CFL team’s roster.
We’ll kick things off with the West Division, make sure to check back for the East.
B.C. Lions: interior offensive line
While the Lions made massive improvements on the other side of the trenches, they simply struck out on a paper thin group of free agent offensive linemen. Instead, B.C. will be looking to make a ratio flip to three Americans up front in order to solve their biggest remaining issue from the past two seasons, but it’s an open question who will plug their holes on the interior.
Americans Joel Figueroa and Kent Perkins are entrenched at the two tackle spots and Sukh Chungh will hold down his right guard position. That leaves Hunter Steward’s old left guard spot up for grabs, while Canadian Peter Godber is no longer a lock to start at centre. One job will go to an American, but which remains to be seen.
Phillip Norman has been the stop-gap American snapper before and fourth-year Canadian David Knevel will get a crack at the guard role, but unknowns Jarrell Broxton, James Moore and Jamar McGloster will all be in the mix, as will any potential Canadian draft picks and future additions.
Edmonton Elks: quarterback
Despite the Lions having less experience at the quarterback position, the only team entering the 2022 season without a declared starter is the Elks. In a league where you live and die by the quality of your pivot, that is a question mark that supersedes all others.
The presumed leader in the clubhouse is Nick Arbuckle, a once highly touted prospect with the Stamps who was rather unceremoniously cast out of the starting job by the Argos last season. However, reports indicate new head coach Chris Jones is lukewarm at best on the Georgia State product and his $100,000 signing bonus was on a deal struck with fired GM Brock Sunderland.
That might favour Gatling gun former XFL pivot Taylor Cornelius for the job, but who wants to bet on a quarterback who threw nine touchdowns and 13 interceptions in nine appearances last season? With some high profile dual-threat options on the roster in former Ohio State Buckeye J.T. Barrett and Arizona Wildcat Khalil Tate, there is no guarantee that Jones goes with either established option.
Calgary Stampeders: safety
The Stampeders don’t rebuild, they reload. Calgary’s 2022 roster isn’t overly burdened with experience at a number of positions, but they have young pieces they like to fill most of those roles. Projected starting halfback Javien Elliott is a prime example, as John Hufnagel has cited him in the future plans despite playing just one game last season.
What isn’t immediately clear though is how the Stamps will deploy their free safety. The pre-free agency trade that sent incumbent Royce Metchie to Toronto for new starting weak-side linebacker Cameron Judge seemed to indicate a ratio switch at the position, but the only Americans currently in line for the job are rookies.
The Stamps could keep the spot Canadian, though it would likely see them start more nationals than required. If they do, a 30-year-old Elie Bouka is the logical choice, but the recently signed former Rider has never been a full-time starter since his heralded return from the NFL. Second-year man Malcolm Lee is the only other national option on the roster, meaning this spot will be very much up for grabs to hungry youngsters of any nationality in training camp.
Saskatchewan Roughriders: running back
While Rider fans continue to bemoan their offensive line, the team has clear projected starters there — even if they aren’t entirely satisfactory to most. The secondary has more uncertainty, but the team gave a hearty stamp of approval to Damon Webb, Blace Brown and Jeremy Clark last season. That leaves the backfield with the biggest uncertainty following the departure of William Powell.
Powell’s absence opens the door for Jamal Morrow to take the reigns, a coaches’ favourite who has bided his time over the past two seasons as a practice roster player and backup return man. The 27-year-old Washington State product is ready for the opportunity, but his career total of nine carries for 41 yards and four catches for 52 yards hardly makes him a lock.
Canadian Kienan LaFrance is capable depth, but only NAIA spark plug Shamar Moreland is currently on the roster as American competition. That will almost certainly change come training camp and the Riders’ next back could be someone you’ve never heard of.
Winnipeg Blue Bombers: receiver
The Blue Bombers had the CFL’s leading receiver in 2021, but it doesn’t look like they’ll be getting someone close to that mark this season. Kenny Lawler is gone thanks to a whopping $300,000 contract from Edmonton and the ever consistent Darvin Adams will ply his trade in Ottawa next year.
The back-to-back champs inked a solid replacement in 33-year-old Greg Ellingson, but he is no longer a top-tier number one and has always worked best with a star running mate. Maybe a 29-year old Rasheed Bailey can break out as that guy after posting 629 yards and five touchdowns last season, but the team’s third American receiver spot is problematically bare.
Right now, it is five-foot-nine Kelvin McKnight penciled in on the roster. The team is high on him, but he has just 96 career yards in eight CFL appearances. Converted quarterback Blake Jackson is the only other American pass catcher under contract, meaning the ultimate solution could be among those signed in the lead up to the season.