Seven impact players who are free agents right now

Photo: AP/Ashley Landis

A number of players returned from the NFL late last season and made an immediate impact with their new teams, including receivers Duke Williams (Saskatchewan) and Reggie Begelton (Calgary) and cornerbacks Winston Rose (Winnipeg) and Tre Roberson (Calgary).

It’s rare to see players return north from the NFL before Labour Day but there are a number of talented players who are already on the free agent market. Will we see any of them sign in the CFL anytime soon? That remains to be seen — but be sure that teams north of the border are keeping a close eye on them.

Players are listed alphabetically by last name. Please note that “A” denotes American players and “N” denotes National (ie. Canadian) players.

Photo: AP/Butch Dill

K/P Lirim Hajrullahu (N)

The 32-year-old dressed for the Dallas Cowboys and Carolina Panthers during the 2021 NFL season, connecting on four-of-five field goal attempts and all eight of his extra points. He was also briefly on the practice roster with the Washington Commanders in December.

The Western product is currently a free agent after being waived by the Panthers earlier this month. He has proven he can perform all three kicking duties at the CFL level with a career field goal percentage of 83.3 and a punting average of 44.1 yards. For CFL teams that need kicking help, Hajrullahu should be at the top of their wish list.

Photo: AP/David Berding

OL Brett Jones (N)

The native of Weyburn, Sask. has been in the NFL since 2015 as a member of the New York Giants, Minnesota Vikings, and Denver Broncos. He has played 61 career NFL games with 19 starts but did not dress for any games in 2021 as he was placed on injured reserve before the start of the regular season.

Jones was excellent at centre over a two-year period with the Calgary Stampeders, being named the CFL’s Most Outstanding Rookie in 2013 and Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman in 2014. He’s made over $6.5 million playing in the NFL but he remains only 30 years old. Is there an appetite to return to the CFL?

Photo: AP/Tyler Kaufman

K Ty Long (A)

The 29-year-old spent the past three seasons with the Los Angeles Chargers, averaging 46.5 yards per punt and 63.8 yards per kickoff. He also went seven-of-nine on field goals in 2019 and made all nine of his extra point attempts in his first year with the team in 2019.

Long spent two seasons with the B.C. Lions (2017-18) and was named a West Division all-star both years, making 88.2 percent of his field goals and averaging 48.3 yards per punt. At age 29, the CFL could be a solid option for Long if another NFL opportunity doesn’t materialize.

Photo: AP/Bill Kostroun

K Brett Maher (A)

The Nebraska product has spent the past four years in the NFL as a member of the Dallas Cowboys, New York Jets, Washington Commanders, Houston Texans, Arizona Cardinals, and New Orleans Saints, making 77.4 percent of his field goals, 96.3 percent of his extra points, and averaging 62.3 yards on kickoffs.

Maher played four seasons in the CFL before heading south, making 78.1 percent of his field goals and averaging 45.8 yards on punts as a member of the Ottawa Redblacks and Hamilton Tiger-Cats. He’s made $1.5 million in the NFL but kickers who can perform all three duties can still make good money in the CFL (relatively speaking).

Photo: AP/Jack Dempsey

REC Diontae Spencer (A)

The five-foot-eight, 170-pound speedster spent the past three seasons with the Denver Broncos, returning 68 punts for 667 yards and one touchdown and 47 kickoff returns for 1,008 yards. He is currently a free agent after the Broncos chose not to bring him back as a restricted free agent.

Spencer was named a CFL all-star in 2018 as a member of the Ottawa Redblacks, recording 81 catches for 1,007 yards and seven touchdowns, 82 punt returns for 849 yards and one touchdown, and 38 kickoff returns for 815 yards. He turned 30 in March, but one has to think Spencer still some gas left in the tank.

Photo: AP/Darryl Webb

QB Chris Streveler (A)

The dual-threat passer saw action in seven games over two seasons with the Arizona Cardinals (2020-21), completing 68 percent of his passes for 141 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. He finished last year on the practice roster with the Baltimore Ravens before an off-season stint with the Miami Dolphins but is currently a free agent.

The 27-year-old has proven he can be one of the CFL’s most dangerous weapons, even when used in a rotational role. He didn’t start for Winnipeg during their Grey Cup run in 2019 but he still completed three passes for 39 yards and a touchdown and rushed 26 times for 122 yards and one touchdown.

Photo: AP/Danny Karnik

DL James Vaughters (A)

The six-foot-two, 255-pound edge rusher has spent the past three seasons in the NFL as a member of the Chicago Bears and Atlanta Falcons, recording 33 total tackles, 2.5 sacks, two tackles for loss, and one forced fumble. He is currently a free agent after being released at the start of May.

The 28-year-old made 58 total tackles and 11 sacks over two seasons with the Calgary Stampeders (2017-18) and would be an asset to virtually and CFL team’s pass rush if he chose to return north.

Editor’s note: free agent defensive end Jonathan Woodard is not featured on this list as his exclusive CFL rights belong to the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

John Hodge is a Canadian football reporter based in Winnipeg.