Two weeks away: the top 35 CFL free agents right now

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CFL free agency is officially less than two weeks away with a large number of high-quality players still set to hit the open market.

3DownNation posted a preliminary list of the top 25 free agents at the start of January, seven of whom have since signed contract extensions. We have now expanded the list to 35 players as free agency draws nearer on Tuesday, Feb. 14 at noon ET. This list was created through a poll of our contributors.

We will also be publishing a series of positional rankings starting on Monday, Feb. 6. The league’s negotiating window, which allows pending free agents to field offers from all nine teams, will open on Sunday, Feb. 5 and close on Saturday, Feb. 12.

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

35) OL Joel Figueroa, B.C. Lions (A)

The 33-year-old anchored the left tackle position over 18 starts this past season, helping lead an offensive line that allowed 39 sacks to rank fifth league-wide. With few veteran offensive tackles set to hit the open market, Figueroa should be an attractive option to any team looking to upgrade their pass protection.

34) LB Simoni Lawrence, Hamilton Tiger-Cats (A)

The ten-year veteran dressed for only nine games this past season due to injuries and didn’t resemble the dominant player he once was as he failed to record a sack, interception or forced fumble. The five-time all-star probably has some gas left in the tank, though, at 34, some teams might be put off by his age.

33) KR Janarion Grant, Winnipeg Blue Bombers (A)

The Florida native was named a CFL all-star this past season after returning two punts and one kickoff for touchdowns over the course of 16 games. His best effort came during Winnipeg’s postseason run as he returned 12 punts for 259 yards and two touchdowns in the West Final and 109th Grey Cup.

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32) DL Ja’Gared Davis, Toronto Argonauts (A)

The three-time all-star wasn’t as dominant in 2022 as he’s been in the past, though he still made 36 tackles and seven sacks over 14 games. Any team looking to make it to the Grey Cup this season should consider signing Davis as, through six seasons in the CFL, he has yet to fall short of appearing in the league’s title game.

31) DB Brandin Dandridge, Ottawa Redblacks (A)

The 26-year-old returned to Ottawa in midseason following an NFL stint and made five starts at cornerback, recording 14 tackles, two forced fumbles, and one touchdown. The five-foot-eleven, 183-pound cover man brings a nice combination of athleticism and physicality and has made four interceptions over just 18 career games.

30) REC Greg Ellingson, Winnipeg Blue Bombers (A)

The nine-year veteran was excellent when healthy this past season as he made 38 receptions for 598 yards and three touchdowns over just eight games. However, coming off an injury-plagued season, teams might start to question whether or not the 34-year-old will be able to play a full year in 2023.

29) DB DaShaun Amos, Toronto Argonauts (A)

The four-year veteran had a quietly strong season in his first year with the Boatmen, making 49 defensive tackles, two special teams tackles, and four interceptions over 17 starts at field-side halfback. The former West Division all-star now has 128 tackles and nine interceptions over 49 career games with Calgary and Toronto.

28) DL Julian Howsare, Hamilton Tiger-Cats (A)

The six-foot-three, 255-pound edge rusher set a new career high with seven sacks in 2022 along with 30 defensive tackles, one special teams tackle, and two interceptions. He was named an East Division all-star for the first time in his career and now have 21 sacks through four seasons in Steeltown.

27) LB Larry Dean, Saskatchewan Roughriders (A)

The six-foot, 226-pound defender showed no signs of rust after missing the 2021 season due to a torn Achilles. He started 18 regular season games at weak-side linebacker in 2022 and made 101 defensive tackles, seven special teams tackles, three sacks, two interceptions, and two forced fumbles.

Photo courtesy: Paul Yates/B.C. Lions

26) RB James Butler, B.C. Lions (A)

The 27-year-old had a breakout season in 2022, rushing 210 times for 1,060 yards and seven touchdowns and making 53 receptions for 384 yards and four touchdowns. Running back might not be the most valuable position in the CFL but it’s not always easy to find a player with the versatility to run, catch, and block.

25) LB Jovan Santos-Knox, Hamilton Tiger-Cats (A)

The five-year veteran started 17 games at middle linebacker this past season and made a career-high 105 defensive tackles along with one sack and one interception to be named an East Division all-star. The 28-year-old has managed to stay mostly healthy for the past two seasons after struggling with injuries with Edmonton in 2019.

24) OL Darius Ciraco, Ottawa Redblacks (N)

The four-year veteran has been a full-time starter at centre and guard since he was selected in the first round of the 2018 CFL Draft by Hamilton. At 26, this native of Burlington, Ont. should be a great fit for any team looking to upgrade the interior of their offensive line.

23) DL Micah Johnson, Hamilton Tiger-Cats (A)

He will be 35 by the time next season gets underway but the six-foot-two, 278-pound defender is coming off a bounce-back year in Steeltown and he made 24 tackles and seven sacks. Though he’s no longer the league’s best interior defensive lineman, Johnson was named an East Division all-star and appears to have some game left in the tank.

22) DB Jumal Rolle, Hamilton Tiger-Cats (A)

The six-foot, 190-pound cover man has established himself as one of the CFL’s best cornerbacks and has been named an East Division all-star in each of the past two seasons. He made 35 tackles, two interceptions, and one touchdown this past season to bring his career interception total to 11 through four seasons with Hamilton.

21) SAM Chris Edwards, Toronto Argonauts (A)

The five-year veteran started 13 games this past season, recording 36 defensive tackles, one special teams tackle, two interceptions, and one forced fumble. He also made a big impact during Toronto’s run to the 109th Grey Cup, making four tackles and two sacks to help his team upset the Blue Bombers.

20) DL Pete Robertson, Saskatchewan Roughriders (A)

The six-foot-two, 243-pound edge rusher got off to a torrid start this past season, recording 16 tackles, nine sacks, and four forced fumbles over his first eight games. His production fell significantly during the second half of the year but the 30-year-old has proven that he is capable of making life miserable for opposing quarterbacks.

19) OL Michael Couture, Winnipeg Blue Bombers (N)

The 28-year-old missed 14 games this past season due to an arm injury but has historically managed to remain healthy, dressing for every game over the first five seasons of his career. The former second-round pick out of Simon Fraser was named a CFL Players’ Association all-star at centre in 2021.

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18) 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.

17) 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.

16) 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.

15) 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.

14) 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.

13) 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.

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12) 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.

11) 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.

10) 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, he has 70 sacks in the last seven seasons and 22 in the last two. That makes him an attractive option for teams looking to generate more pressure off the edge in 2023. He ranks top-15 all-time in CFL history with 92 quarterback takedowns.

9) 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.

8) REC Tim White, Hamilton Tiger-Cats (A)

The Arizona State product had a breakout year in 2022 as he made 94 catches for 1,265 yards and eight touchdowns over 17 games. He was named an East Division all-star for the second straight season and a CFL all-star for the first time and should be in line for a big raise whether he remains in Hamilton or tests the open market.

7) 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.

6) 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.

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5) 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.

4) 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.

3) 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.

2) 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.

1) 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.