The CFL’s top 25 pending free agents right now

Photo: Larry MacDougal/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

2023 has officially arrived and we are only six weeks away from the start of CFL free agency. Over 200 players are currently set to hit the market, including a number of marquee players who could reshape the landscape the league.

Below is a list of the CFL’s top 25 pending free agents as created through a poll of 3DownNation contributors. An updated version of this list will be published in February as the off-season develops and players decide whether or not to return to their current teams.

Please note that “N” denotes National players (ie. Canadians) and “A” denotes American players.

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

25) QB Cody Fajardo, Saskatchewan Roughriders (A)

Once the most popular man in Riderville, the veteran pivot was benched late in 2022 with Saskatchewan’s season still hanging in balance. Despite his regression this past season, Fajardo’s passer rating was still better than those of Bo Levi Mitchell, Jeremiah Masoli, Vernon Adams Jr., McLeod Bethel-Thompson, and Dane Evans.

24) DB Kameron Kelly, Hamilton Tiger-Cats (A)

The 26-year-old has started 32 consecutive games for the Ticats at strong-side linebacker since his rookie season in 2021, recording 87 tackles, six interceptions, and three sacks. He’s young, athletic, and seems to have a knack for making big plays at key moments.

23) OL Derek Dennis, Calgary Stampeders (A)

The 34-year-old played well in his first season back in the CFL following a two-year hiatus, locking down the left tackle spot in Cowtown before suffering a fractured fibula. Despite his age and injury, the four-time West Division all-star should still draw interest if he reaches the open market.

22) DL Jackson Jeffcoat, Winnipeg Blue Bombers (A)

The 32-year-old is coming off a relatively quiet season but remains one of the league’s most feared pass rushers. He has recorded 30 sacks and 10 forced fumbles over 64 career games in Winnipeg and was named a CFL all-star back in 2021.

21) LB Darnell Sankey, Saskatchewan Roughriders (A)

The six-foot-one, 245-pound defender was a bright spot in Riderville this past season, making 122 tackles, three sacks, two forced fumbles, and one interception. Sankey is a high-motor defender who is arguably the league’s best in-box tackler.

20) OL Stanley Bryant, Winnipeg Blue Bombers (A)

The future first-ballot Hall of Fame inductee won a record fourth Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman award this past year but it’s hard to overlook the fact that he’ll be 37 by the time next season rolls around. Franchise left tackles always have value, though it’s clear Bryant is quickly approaching the end of his playing career.

19) DB Garry Peters, B.C. Lions (A)

The six-year veteran was named a CFL all-star for the first time this past season after making 47 total tackles and five interceptions over 18 starts at cornerback. Peters has been one of the league’s most durable players since joining the Lions in 2018 having not missed any games due to injury.

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

The six-foot-three, 203-pound target is coming off a breakout year in which he caught 72 passes for 1,000 yards and six touchdowns. Dunbar was a model of consistency over 17 starts this past season, finishing each game with at least 30 yards through the air.

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17) DB Adarius Pickett, Montreal Alouettes (A)

The 26-year-old is arguably the best young strong-side linebacker in the CFL, coming off a year in which he made 80 total tackles, four sacks, two forced fumbles, and one interception. Pickett brings physicality and athleticism to a defensive role that requires both.

16) REC Nic Demski, Winnipeg Blue Bombers (N)

The Winnipeg native was one of the league’s most dangerous red zone threats this past season as he caught at least one touchdown pass in six straight games in the middle of the year. Demski is also one of the league’s most versatile players as he blocks well and has proven to be an effective ball carrier out of the backfield.

15) QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson, Toronto Argonauts (A)

The 34-year-old has led the CFL in passing touchdowns and passing yardage, yet still doesn’t seem to get the respect of a true No. 1 quarterback. There are rumours that Bethel-Thompson may retire this off-season but if he plays in 2023, there are a number of teams who could use the services of a veteran passer.

14) DL Shawn Lemon, Calgary Stampeders (A)

The veteran pass rusher was named the West Division’s Most Outstanding Defensive Player after making 29 tackles, 14 sacks, and five forced fumbles this past season. Lemon simply refuses to slow down at the age of 34, making him an attractive option for teams looking to generate more pressure off the edge in 2023.

13) OL Zack Williams, Calgary Stampeders (N)

Talented young offensive linemen generally don’t make it to free agency, which is exactly what makes Williams so attractive. The 25-year-old started every game at left guard last year as part of an offensive line that allowed the fewest sacks league-wide and helped Calgary lead the CFL in rushing yards and rushing yards per attempt.

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

12) REC Kurleigh Gittens Jr., Toronto Argonauts (N)

The Ottawa native led the CFL in receiving among Canadian players this past season, making 81 receptions for 1,101 yards and five touchdowns over 18 games at slotback and wide receiver. The former third-round pick has been named an East Division all-star in back-to-back seasons but remains young with further untapped potential.

11) LB Jameer Thurman, Calgary Stampeders (A)

The 27-year-old has seemingly flown under the radar for his entire career but remains one of the league’s most consistent defenders. He made 74 tackles in 2022 along with three interceptions and two forced fumbles, helping lead a defence that finished third in offensive points allowed and fourth in net offence allowed.

10) DL Anthony Lanier II, Saskatchewan Roughriders (A)

This might seem too high for a player who has only played 21 career CFL games but the 29-year-old was a force to be reckoned with this past season. The six-foot-six, 285-pound defender made 19 tackles, eight sacks, and two forced fumbles at defensive tackle before suffering a season-ending concussion, after which Saskatchewan’s pass rush all but disappeared.

9) DL Lorenzo Mauldin IV, Ottawa Redblacks (A)

The 30-year-old exploded for 43 tackles, 17 sacks, and two forced fumbles this past year, setting all-new career-highs and winning the CFL’s Most Outstanding Defensive Player award. Mauldin seems primed to hit the open market as he told the media during Grey Cup week that he plans to test free agency.

Photo: Larry MacDougal/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

8) LB Cameron Judge, Calgary Stampeders (N)

The former West Division Most Outstanding Canadian had a bounce-back season in Cowtown, making 80 tackles, five sacks, two forced fumbles, and two interceptions over 17 games. Judge is one of the league’s most athletic and versatile linebackers and remains just 28.

7) REC Kenny Lawler, Edmonton Elks (A)

The former CFL all-star signed a mega-contract with the Edmonton Elks last off-season and mostly lived up to it, making 58 catches for 894 yards and five touchdowns over 12 games despite a ton of turnover at quarterback. Though he’s unlikely to match the $300,000 he earned a season ago, Lawler remains arguably the best go-to target in the league.

6) LB Wynton McManis, Toronto Argonauts (A)

The 28-year-old was dominant this past season and may have won Most Outstanding Defensive Player had he not suffered a torn bicep late in the year. He made 95 tackles, three sacks, two interceptions, and one forced fumble at weak-side linebacker this past season, earning a CFL all-star selection despite the injury.

5) QB Trevor Harris, Montreal Alouettes (A)

The veteran passer entered this past season as a backup but quickly earned the starting role, throwing for 4,157 yards, 20 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions and going 8-7 as a starter. Harris will turn 37 in May but has relatively low mileage for his age and believes he still has plenty of good football ahead of him.

4) DL Folarin Orimolade, Calgary Stampeders (A)

The fourth-year defender posted a respectable stat line this past season — he made 37 tackles, six sacks, one interception, and one forced fumble — but that’s not why he’s on this list. Orimolade finally avoided the injury bug for long enough to show his potential as an elite edge rusher who helps make those around him better, making him an ultra-intriguing potential free agent.

Photo: Larry MacDougal/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

3) DL Jake Ceresna, Edmonton Elks (A)

The 28-year-old was a one-man wrecking crew this past season, making 31 tackles, 10 sacks, and four forced fumbles over just 12 games. Ceresna was named a CFL all-star for the first time in 2022 and, at 28, should have many more elite seasons ahead of him.

2) REC Eugene Lewis, Montreal Alouettes (A)

The Oklahoma product had a career year in 2022, making 91 receptions for 1,303 yards and 10 touchdowns over 17 games. Lewis makes as many highlight-reel catches as any receiver in the CFL and should set the market for receivers league-wide when he signs his next contract, be it with Montreal or otherwise.

1) QB Bo Levi Mitchell, Hamilton Tiger-Cats (A)

The 32-year-old was traded to Hamilton in mid-November, though he plans to go to free agency before committing to a new team. The future Hall of Fame passer hasn’t posted elite numbers since he was named the league’s Most Outstanding Player in 2018 but appears to have fully recovered from a shoulder injury that plagued him during his final years in Calgary.