Elks undecided on future of Derel Walker, ‘still talking’ with Kenny Lawler: Ast. GM Geroy Simon

Graphic: 3DownNation (Photo: Bob Butrym | Paul Swanson)

The Edmonton Elks have made a number of splashy signings ahead of CFL free agency, but the team’s top two receivers from a year ago remain unsigned with the legal tampering window set to open on Sunday.

Joining 630 CHED‘s Inside Sports this week, assistant general manager Geroy Simon revealed that the team does not yet have clarity on the futures of Kenny Lawler and Derel Walker. When it comes to latter, the Elks are uncertain whether a new contract will even be offered.

“Right now, we haven’t come to a conclusion on what’s happening with Derel,” Simon said. “He’s a very good player, he finished the season strong last year. We just haven’t made a definitive decision with him.”

Walker played 16 games for the Elks in 2022, hauling in 65 receptions for 874 yards and one touchdown. He has played six of his seven CFL seasons with the Elks, interrupted only by a year spent with the Toronto Argonauts in 2019.

The 31-year-old pass catcher has tallied 471 receptions for 6,653 yards and 33 touchdowns in 91 career CFL games, earning divisional All-Star honours on four occasions. However, he has not returned to the heights of his 2016 season, when he posted 109 catches for 1,589 yards and 10 touchdowns on his way to receiving an NFL opportunity with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Now on the down side of his career arc, Walker was surpassed by rookie Dillon Mitchell in the Elks’ offence by the end of last season. His future with the franchise likely relies on whether or not Edmonton is able to retain their other high-priced veteran receiver, Kenny Lawler.

While Lawler’s contract status is the same as Walker’s, there is no debate as to whether the team wants him back. The question is whether they can successfully retain him at the price they are willing to pay.

“We’re still talking to Kenny and we’ll have a decision soon about whether he’s coming or going,” Simon said. “We’re still in the process of talking to Kenny.”

Lawler was the top free agent signing by the Elks a year ago, signing a one-year deal valued at a whopping $300,000. The 28-year-old played just 12 games due to injury but delivered an all-star campaign nonetheless, catching 58 passes for 894 yards and five touchdowns.

Just one year removed from leading the CFL in receiving yards as a member of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Lawler is looking to maintain his status as the league’s highest-paid receiver. However, the wisdom of bringing in a pass catcher on a pay scale usually reserved for quarterbacks is questionable — particularly with pocket books expected to tighten due to the league’s raise in minimum salary.

The Elks broke with convention to hand the Cal product three bills in 2022, but aren’t likely to be able to retain him without a reduction in salary. What remains to be seen is how high other teams in the league will be willing to go with their bids in order to lure Lawler away.

Either way, don’t expect the Elks to break the bank in order to bring in more weapons. Though they have already added a few big name defenders in A.C. Leonard and Loucheiz Purifoy, Simon predicts a quiet day when free agency opens on February 14

“I don’t think we’ll be as active as we were last year. I think we’re in a very good spot with our organization,” he said.

“We still do have some key pieces that we need to add to the roster and all that, but we feel very good with where we’re at. We’ve got to get those last key pieces to fill out the roster and start this push to win the Grey Cup.”