2023 market open: 3DownNation’s top 50 CFL free agents

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

CFL free agency is officially here as the market will open at noon eastern time on Tuesday, Feb. 14 after weeks of anticipation.

3DownNation posted a preliminary list of the top 25 free agents in January and an updated list of the top 35 free agents at the start of February. We have now expanded the list to 50 players in celebration of the CFL’s big day with plenty of talent still available to teams across the league. All of these rankings were created through polls of our contributors.

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

50) REC Darvin Adams, Ottawa Redblacks (A)

The Auburn product had a strong bounce-back year in his first season with the Redblacks, catching 63 passes for 949 yards and two touchdowns as the club’s second-leading receiver. The nine-year veteran has almost 6,000 career receiving yards and, at 33, should be viewed as a quality stopgap option for a team looking to flesh out its receiving corps.

49) LB Kevin Francis, B.C. Lions (N)

A six-year veteran, Francis isn’t going to give you starting minutes on defence but that isn’t why you pay him. The six-foot-six, 236-pounder had the best season of his career on special teams in 2022, racking up a league-leading 22 tackles in the game’s third phase.

48) OL Terran Vaughn, Ottawa Redblacks (A)

The 28-year-old has played at a high level at times over his four-year CFL career but hasn’t been able to stay healthy as of late, playing only 10 games over the past two seasons. Vaughn should still be an attractive option for a team looking to add experience at left tackle and has reportedly agreed to terms with the Ottawa Redblacks.

47) REC Jake Wieneke, Montreal Alouettes (A)

The native of Maple Grove, Minn. made 19 touchdown catches over 32 games in his first two CFL season but was less effective in 2022, catching 45 passes for 589 yards and two touchdowns. Though he technically remains a pending free agent, 3DownNation reported last week that he has agreed to terms with the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/CFLPhotoArchive.com

46) QB Caleb Evans, Ottawa Redblacks (A)

Most young quarterbacks take three years to see significant playing time in the CFL but Evans has started parts of the past two season at just 24. 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.

45) DL Shane Ray, Toronto Argonauts (A)

After disappointing in 2021, the former NFL first-round pick had a breakout season last year by racking up 13 tackles, six sacks, and two forced fumbles in 13 games before suffering a season-ending injury. About to turn 30, Ray will be hoping another serious injury doesn’t stop him from earning a pay raise more fitting of his previous pedigree.

44) LB Micah Awe, Montreal Alouettes (A)

A proven starter over five CFL seasons with B.C., Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal, Awe notched 47 tackles, an interception and a forced fumble in 13 starts with the Als last year. At 29, he won’t be viewed as a premier pick-up but could prove to be a vital depth signing in the event of injury.

43) OL Dan Clark, Saskatchewan Roughriders (N)

The soon-to-be 35-year-old has been with his hometown team since 2009 when he joined them as a territorial exemption. The one-time CFL all-star played only six games last season after suffering a broken leg and is clearly near the end of his career having suited up for 131 games. Though the club hasn’t ruled bringing Clark back, it appears as though the Riders could move on from the veteran blocker.

42) DB Abdul Kanneh, Ottawa Redblacks (A)

Ottawa’s goalline Grey Cup hero is still going strong entering his ninth CFL season, though he has managed to play 16 or more games just once since his last all-star selection in 2016. The 32-year-old dressed for 12 games a year ago, notching 37 tackles, two interceptions, and a forced fumble at field-side halfback.

41) RB Wes Hills, Hamilton Tiger-Cats (A)

The second-year CFL ball carrier has only dressed for seven career games but has made the most of his opportunities as they’ve come, rushing for 384 yards and one touchdown and making 11 catches for 105 yards last season. The native of Wildwood, N.J. has the most size of all pending free agent running backs, measuring in at six-foot-one and 218 pounds.

40) LB Fraser Sopik, Calgary Stampeders (N)

Entering his fourth CFL season, Sopik has established himself as a quality Canadian role player who can contribute on special teams and rotate in for certain defensive packages. With 31 defensive tackles, 30 special teams tackles, four sacks, and three forced fumbles in 44 career games, he’ll be looking to take more defensive snaps after turning 26 in April.

39) OL Justin Lawrence, Toronto Argonauts (N)

The Edmonton native was named an East Division all-star at centre this past season and captured his second Grey Cup after previously winning one as a backup for the Calgary Stampeders. The six-foot-one, 300-pound blocker is a plug-and-play starter at centre who can also fill in at guard if called upon who 3DownNation has reported will be signing with Montreal.

38) DL Michael Wakefield, Montreal Alouettes (A)

In five CFL seasons, Wakefield has proven to be a valuable interior rusher who is best used as part of a rotation, notching seven sacks over the course of a two-year stint in Montreal. He is expected to rejoin the Ottawa Redblacks in free agency, returning to the organization where he began his pro career.

37) REC Rasheed Bailey, Winnipeg Blue Bombers (A)

The three-year veteran started all 18 regular season games at boundary wide receiver for Winnipeg this past year and made 63 catches for 729 yards and nine touchdowns. The 29-year-old will likely never get enough targets to record a 1,000-yard season but he’s an excellent downfield blocker who brings an infectious level of energy into the locker room.

36) LB Henoc Muamba, Toronto Argonauts (N)

A ratio-breaker in the middle, Muamba is fresh off of becoming the second player in history to be named the Grey Cup’s Most Valuable Canadian and Most Valuable Player. However, the soon-to-be 34-year-old was considered to have had a down year overall — recording 75 tackles, three sacks and two picks in 2022 — and his future in Toronto is in doubt following their trade for Jordan Williams.

35) DB Branden Dozier, Calgary Stampeders (A)

The five-foot-ten, 204-pound defensive back has flown under the radar since being named an East Division all-star in 2018 with the Montreal Alouettes but has continued to perform at an elite level as both a safety and strong-side linebacker for B.C. and Calgary. The 29-year-old was limited to just seven games a year ago due to injury but made a big impact, tallying 20 defensive tackles, seven special teams tackles, and one pick.

34) RB Walter Fletcher, Montreal Alouettes (A)

The 26-year-old was effective along the ground and through the air this past season, rushing 85 times for 486 yards and one touchdown and catching 29 passes for 353 yards and one touchdown over 14 games. William Stanback is considered a star in La Belle Province but Fletcher was the more productive rusher in 2022, averaging 5.7 yards per carry to Stanback’s 4.5.

33) DB Shaquille Richardson, Toronto Argonauts (A)

A versatile defender who can line up at multiple spots in the secondary, Richardson notched 31 tackles, two interceptions and a forced fumble in 2022. The former NFL fifth-round pick was an East Division all-star at halfback in 2021 and has plenty of juice left despite turning 31 next month.

32) DL Casey Sayles, Winnipeg Blue Bombers (A)

One of the CFL’s most underrated players, Sayles has sneakily amassed 64 tackles, 11 sacks and two forced fumbles in two seasons with Winnipeg. Though nothing can be signed until Tuesday, he will reportedly head to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats next season.

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

31) OL Philip Blake, Toronto Argonauts (N)

The seven-year veteran moved from left guard to left tackle relatively early this past season after injuries started piling up along the offensive line. Despite being an interior blocker for most of his career, the Toronto native held his own as the club allowed 43 sacks on the year, ranking sixth league-wide. 3DownNation‘s John Hodge suspects that Blake will be signing with the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

30) DL Obum Gwacham, B.C. Lions (A)

An NFL veteran who didn’t arrive in the CFL until he was 30, Gwacham turns 32 next month but hasn’t shown signs of slowing down. He has mustered nine sacks in two seasons with the Lions but more importantly, has produced one of the best pressure rates in the league over that span.

29) REC Duke Williams, Saskatchewan Roughriders (A)

The six-foot-three, 225-pound target is coming off a disappointing season as he made 29 receptions for 480 yards and four touchdowns over just eight games. Williams missed a significant amount of time due to injury and was suspended for one game after throwing a helmet at Toronto defensive back Shaquille Richardson at Touchdown Atlantic.

28) DL Kwaku Boateng, Ottawa Redblacks (N)

Flying under the radar after he missed all of last season with a lower-body injury, Boateng is still a ratio-breaking defensive end and will be only 28 when next season starts. The six-foot-two, 257-pound defender has amassed 25 career sacks in his previous four seasons. He is reportedly going to sign with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

27) REC Derel Walker, Edmonton Elks (A)

The seven-year veteran made 65 catches for 874 yards this past season, though his days as a perennial 1,000-yard receiver could be behind him. The Elks are undecided about bringing the 31-year-old back in 2023 and he’s left the club once before, signing a big-money deal as a free agent with Toronto in 2019. Walker has caught only one touchdown pass over his last 27 games.

26) DL Mike Moore, free agent (A)

The 29-year-old made 31 tackles, six sacks, and one forced fumble this past season as a member of the Alouettes before being released on Monday. The six-foot-four, 269-pound defender has made 100 tackles, 23 sacks, and two forced fumbles over 66 career games as a member of the Ottawa Redblacks, Edmonton Elks, and Alouettes.

25) 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.

24) 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.

23) 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.

22) 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.

21) 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.

20) 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.

19) DB Cariel Brooks, free agent (A)

The five-foot-ten, 200-pound cover man was released by the Ticats this past week in what was presumably a cost-saving move ahead of free agency. He has made 205 defensive tackles, two special teams tackles, two sacks, 12 interceptions, and four forced fumbles over 70 career CFL games and was named a league all-star in 2021.

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

18) 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.

17) 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.

16) 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.

15) 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.

14) 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.

13) 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.

12) 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.

11) 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.

10) 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.

9) 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.

8) SAM 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.

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

7) 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.

6) 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.

5) 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.

4) 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.

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.