New year, new blood: one veteran player each CFL team should let walk in free agency

Photo: Arthur Ward/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

The new year is a time for self-improvement; a moment when we all collectively look in the mirror and ask ourselves what bad habits from our past need to be cast aside.

For CFL franchises, the process is much the same.

With the opening of free agency a little more than a month away, January is when general managers will sift through their rosters and determine which players truly spark joy. Cutting out the bad carbs from your football diet means getting rid of some notable veterans in the process, hoping that it will make you a better team over the next twelve months.

With that in mind, here is one veteran player that every CFL team should resolve not to bring back in 2023.

Photo courtesy: David Friedrich/B.C. Lions

B.C. Lions: QB Antonio Pipkin

B.C. isn’t well-positioned to let any of their veteran o-linemen walk in free agency given the lack of quality replacements on the market and, despite a decreased defensive role, 32-year-old Bo Lokombo remains too integral to their ailing special teams to appear on this list. That leaves third-string quarterback Antonio Pipkin as the biggest name that needs to be shown the door.

With Nathan Rourke bound for the NFL, B.C. will need to bring in a veteran 1-B option to pair with Vernon Adams Jr. Pipkin has had enough starting experience to prove that he can’t be that guy and while the 27-year-old remains a valuable short-yardage option, he can’t continue to take up a spot normally reserved for a developmental project.

At this stage, the Lions have no contingency plan if Rourke sticks down south long-term. They should plan on carrying several young pivots on the active or practice roster in order to find another quarterback of the future, which means saying goodbye to Pipkin.

Photo: Bob Butrym/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

Edmonton Elks: REC Emmanuel Arceneaux

The list of players that Elks fans are demanding to see return is pretty short, but I think we all risk becoming sentimental with regard to Arceneaux. The return of The Manny Show was one of the feel-good stories of 2022 and he performed reasonably well on the field with 39 catches for 513 yards, also taking home the prestigious Tom Pate Award for his work off of it.

That shouldn’t distract from the fact that Arceneaux is 35 years old and saw his production inflated while playing for a bad team. Right now, he’s just taking up snaps that could be used to evaluate players that might make Edmonton better.

There is a reason why Arceneaux hadn’t played in the league since 2019. If your team remains so devoid of leadership that it requires bringing him back for another year, perhaps more introspection is required as an organization.

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Calgary Stampeders: REC Kamar Jorden

Be honest, you forgot that Kamar Jorden even played for the Stampeders last year.

In 12 games, the 33-year-old mustered 43 catches for 433 yards. He never found the endzone and crossed the hundred-yard mark just once, in Week 2 against Hamilton. It was a noticeable decline from his resurgent 2021 campaign.

It is tragic that injuries prevented us from ever truly seeing just how dominant a CFL player Jorden could have been in his prime, but that time has now long since passed. The Stampeders have young players like Jalen Philpot who need more targets and bringing back an aging receiver for a swan song season makes little sense.

Photo courtesy: Saskatchewan Roughriders

Saskatchewan Roughriders: REC D’haquille Williams

Duke got a lot of hate for his lack of production in Saskatchewan last season, but 29 catches for 480 yards and four touchdowns in eight games is relatively respectable. The fact that he caught less than half of the balls thrown his way isn’t, but my primary issues with him lie elsewhere.

While injuries are a valid excuse for his on-field play, Williams’ extracurricular antics can be blamed on nobody but himself. Since joining the Riders in 2021, he has faced allegations of spitting and eye-gouging, been suspended for throwing his helmet at an opponent, and been flagged for a personal foul while in street clothes. A team that badly needs a character reset simply can’t retain a player with that history.

While their receiving corps is in shambles, Saskatchewan needs to take whatever money they might have spent on Williams and invest it in a quarterback. There is no reason to pay top dollar for more headaches.

Photo courtesy: Winnipeg Blue Bombers

Winnipeg Blue Bombers: DB Mercy Maston

Even though they are aging fast, the veterans in the Bombers’ refrigerator have yet to curdle and it is hard to find one that deserves his walking papers. Instead, this section will highlight an even harsher side of the business of sport.

When he joined the Bombers for their 2019 Grey Cup run, Mercy Maston looked like a long-term starter at strong-side linebacker with a bright future. Instead, he hasn’t played a game since, tearing his Achilles in two consecutive training camps. Now 30 years old, there is no telling what you might be getting if you sign him again.

Mike O’Shea isn’t really the type for post-injury brutality but the Bombers have done just fine at SAM without Maston for two seasons. There is little to be gained by giving him another chance.

Photo: Bob Butrym/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

Hamilton Tiger-Cats: DT Ted Laurent

Controversially, I believe there is a strong argument to be made for linebacker Simoni Lawrence in this spot. However, because he is the face of the franchise — and because I’m slightly afraid of him — I’ll opt for the low-hanging fruit that is Ted Laurent.

At 35 years old, Laurent may well retire of his own accord and begin his wait for Hall of Fame enshrinement. Nevertheless, the value that he continues to bring due to his Canadian passport pretty much ensures there will be a role waiting for him somewhere if he wants to play, even if his production is a fraction of what it once was.

When it comes to depth, it is far better organizationally to go for young players than aging legends on a highly limited snap count. It’s time for the Ticats to hand the keys to the interior rotation role to Mo Diallo and future draft picks.

Photo: Michael Scraper/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

Toronto Argonauts: QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson

The Argos have half-a-dozen veterans who might be best put out to pasture should they not retire themselves, but I’ve opted to go in a far spicier direction with this pick. Now that they have a Grey Cup banner with which to placate fans, 2023 is the time for a quarterback change in Toronto.

McLeod Bethel-Thompson may have led the CFL in passing last year, but we know what he is. He is a good CFL starter that you can win with, but he’s not going to be the reason you win championships. There are several CFL GMs that would sell their own mother to be able to have a quarterback of that calibre, but the Argos have a chance to chase something greater.

Beyond all the bravado and Grey Cup heroics, Chad Kelly is an elite quarterback prospect with unique traits. He could be the type of player who elevates an entire franchise but you won’t find out unless you start him and there isn’t unlimited time to do so. The Ole Miss product will be 29 years old next season, with his career clock ticking loudly.

Now is the moment for Toronto to swing for the fences and see what they have in Kelly. Unfortunately, McBeth needs to be a casualty in that process.

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/CFLPhotoArchive.com

Ottawa Redblacks: RB William Powell

It warmed the hearts of R-Nation to see William Powell return to Ottawa in free agency last year but they would rather be warmed by wins. That certainly won’t happen by spending any amount of money on a soon-to-be 35-year-old running back.

Powell mustered 79 yards in his best outing this past season, finishing with 306 yards in seven games. Devonte Williams and Jackson Bennett both looked like better options during their time in the backfield, and both are more cost-effective.

Amidst some very savvy moves made by new general manager Shawn Burke last offseason, this was the one that seemed more for the PR department than football ops. He shouldn’t make the same mistake twice.

Photo courtesy: Dominick Gravel/Alouettes de Montreal

Montreal Alouettes: DB Greg Reid

I became a big fan of Greg Reid during his all-star 2019 season but after going down in the first game of 2022 with a season-ending knee injury, his time may have run out in Montreal.

The 32-year-old could have plenty of gas left in the tank after his recovery, but Montreal had a wealth of talent emerge in the defensive backfield during his absence. Several of those players, including Adarius Pickett and Wes Sutton, are also scheduled to hit free agency and that is where Danny Maciocia would do best to direct his money.

Football will always be a young man’s game. In a position with tons of available talent, Reid’s age and recent injury should be a major deterrent.

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.