2023 CFL free agent rankings: quarterbacks

Photo: Matthew Johnson/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

On Sunday, the CFL’s negotiating window opened, allowing players with expiring contracts to speak with other teams ahead of the official opening of free agency on February 14.

With hundreds of players available, CFL free agency can make or break a franchise. At the start of the month, 3DownNation unveiled our list of the top 35 pending free agents. With negotiations now underway across the league, we’ll be ranking the top available players at each position over the coming days.

Today we start with the game’s most important position — quarterback. Check back tomorrow for our running back rankings.

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

1. Trevor Harris, Montreal Alouettes (A)

After Jason Maas was hired as head coach, Harris re-signing in Montreal felt like an inevitability. However, organizational turmoil has him testing the open market despite the perfect fit at home.

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. 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. McLeod Bethel-Thompson, Toronto Argonauts (A)

Despite rumours regarding his retirement, Bethel-Thompson recently informed the Argos that he will play in 2023. What remains to be seen is where, as the Grey Cup winner is weighing opportunities in the U.S. and will reportedly only sign with Toronto if he comes back to the CFL.

That won’t stop several teams from inquiring about his services, however. 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.

Photo courtesy: Saskatchewan Roughriders

3. Cody Fajardo, Saskatchewan Roughriders (A)

Once the most popular man in Riderville, Fajardo struggled early in 2022 after suffering a grade-two MCL tear and never seemed to regain his footing behind a bad offensive line. He was benched late in the season with Saskatchewan’s playoff hopes still hanging in balance.

Despite his regression this past season, the veteran quarterback’s passer rating was still better than those of Bo Levi Mitchell, Jeremiah Masoli, Vernon Adams Jr., McLeod Bethel-Thompson, and Dane Evans. A fresh start could see him recapture his former M.O.P. candidate form from three years ago, though Fajardo won’t rule out a return to Saskatchewan.

4. Matthew Shiltz, Hamilton Tiger-Cats (A)

After spending the first four seasons of his career in Montreal, Shiltz had a breakout year as a backup in Hamilton in 2022 and nearly unseated Dane Evans for the team’s starting job. At 30 years old, he’s likely reached his developmental ceiling but provides a top-tier backup option that can contribute through the air and on the ground.

5. Caleb Evans, Ottawa Redblacks (A)

Most young quarterbacks take three years to see significant playing time in the CFL but Evans has parts of two seasons as a starter under his belt at just 24 years of age. While his career touchdown-to-interception ratio of 9:16 is a red flag, the Louisiana-Monroe product still has time to develop. In the meantime, he is an elite short-yardage option, setting a CFL record for a quarterback with 16 rushing touchdowns in 2022.

6. Dominique Davis, Montreal Alouettes (A)

At 33 years old, Davis’ days of being viewed as a potential starter are long since past. However, the six-foot-four, 215-pounder can still push the pile on short yardage and looked sensational in the Alouettes’ regular-season finale — completing 13-of-14 passes for 166 yards, two touchdowns and a pick while rushing for his 13th score of the year.

Photo courtesy: Tiffany Luke/B.C. Lions

7. Antonio Pipkin, B.C. Lions (A)

At 27, Pipkin is still relatively young for a five-year vet but hasn’t shown much growth as a passer since his brief starting stint with Montreal in 2018. He failed to impress during his two games at the helm for the Lions last year but continues to provide short-yardage value due to his six-foot-three, 225-pound frame.

8. Dakota Prukop, Winnipeg Blue Bombers (A)

Prukop continues to flash elite speed and mobility but enters his sixth CFL season still facing questions about whether he can play quarterback from the pocket. Having spent last season as the third-stringer in Winnipeg, the 29-year-old doesn’t have many chances left to rise to the top of a depth chart.

9. Michael O’Connor, B.C. Lions (N)

Entering year four of his professional career, O’Connor has yet to establish himself as a legitimate backup. A rocky first start last year in place of Nathan Rourke ended in an injury to the UBC product and he was demoted to third-stringer for subsequent appearances. At 26 years old, the Canadian remains young but is likely headed for a fourth team in four seasons.