3DownNation CFL power rankings: Riders on the rise post-free agency

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The dust has settled on the 2024 CFL free agent frenzy and while a number of talented players remain available heading into the second week, the bulk of every team’s roster is set for next season.

For some franchises, just a few tweaks were needed to maintain the status quo. For others, a seismic shift was required to claw back into contention. While paper teams never win championships, the moves made have some organizations gaining steam and others written off entirely.

3DownNation’s power rankings are created by having eleven contributors rank each team from No. 1 to No. 9 independently, then averaging out the scores. The previous rankings — in this case, the post-Grey Cup edition — are in brackets.

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1) Toronto Argonauts (2)

The Argos have dealt with the exodus that so many elite teams experience after success, with all-stars like A.J. Ouellette, Adarius Pickett, Jamal Peters, Javon Leake, and Boris Bede headed elsewhere and Most Outstanding Rookie Qwan’tez Stiggers expected to be selected in the 2024 NFL Draft. That doesn’t seem to faze our voters so long as Most Outstanding Player Chad Kelly remains under centre, with Toronto’s absurd depth more than ready to be put to the test. Though Pinball Clemons has focused more on bottom-of-the-roster Canadian additions in free agency, the acquisitions of Jake Ceresna, Tunde Adeleke and Ka’Deem Carey should help plug some of the biggest holes.

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2) Winnipeg Blue Bombers (4)

The Bombers’ dynasty has lost some of its shine after two straight Grey Cup losses, but they still pulled off the biggest accomplishment of the offseason by retaining both Most Outstanding Canadian running back Brady Oliveira and all-star receiver Dalton Schoen on hometown discounts. That still meant saying goodbye to a few core members of the organization in right tackle Jermarcus Hardrick and defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat, but the team also managed to retain its elite scouting staff to fill those holes. At some point, the window will close on Winnipeg but it doesn’t look shut heading into 2024.

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3) Montreal Alouettes (1)

It may not sit right in Montreal but an underdog Grey Cup victory doesn’t assure any team favourite status heading into the next year. The Alouettes did a tremendous job of extending their key contributors but the NFL came calling for budding stars in Austin Mack and Lwal Uguak. Veteran presences like William Stanback, Ciante Evans and Almondo Sewell were also cast aside, leaving question marks for a team that mostly fished for role players in free agency. Still, Danny Maciocia pulled a rabbit out of his hat with a far more depleted roster last season, deservedly putting his team on the power rankings podium.

Photo courtesy: Paul Yates/B.C. Lions

4) B.C. Lions (3)

The Lions may have solved their problematically poor running game with the addition of William Stanback but it is hard not to ignore the team’s substantial losses. Gone is the league’s best defensive player in Canadian sack leader Mathieu Betts, signing with the team’s NFL cousins in Detroit. B.C. was also forced to part ways with an elite receiver in Dominique Rhymes due to rising costs, and won’t have either Keon Hatcher to catch passes or T.J. Lee to defend them for much of next year due to injury. With that said, losing a generational quarterback in Nathan Rourke didn’t slow the Lions at all last year, so these changes should be small potatoes.

Photo courtesy: Electric Umbrella/Liam Richards/Saskatchewan Roughriders

5) Saskatchewan Roughriders (8)

The Riders were the consensus winners of free agency, capturing lightning in a bottle with the signing of running back A.J. Ouellette and adding impact players across the board like Jameer Thurman, Jermarcus Hardrick, Adam Auclair, Jalon Edwards-Cooper, and Malik Carney. The hiring of Corey Mace as head coach is already having the desired cultural effect and makes them the biggest riser in these rankings. Add in a healthy Trevor Harris next season and the sky could be the limit.

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/CFLPhotoArchive.com

6) Ottawa Redblacks (9)

Hope springs eternal when you have a new quarterback in the fold and the Redblacks believe they have the league’s next franchise guy in Dru Brown, with some insurance provided by the return of Jeremiah Masoli on a discount. It will certainly help the young pivot to have Dominique Rhymes back winning 50/50 balls on the outside and Dariusz Bladek reinforcing the wall in front of him, while the addition of all-star SAM Adarius Pickett upgrades the defence despite the loss of Douglas Coleman III to the NFL. This could be it for the whole crew in Ottawa if things don’t work out, so the pressure is on.

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7) Calgary Stampeders (7)

The Stampeders were slightly more active in free agency this year than they have been in the past, snaking interception leader Demerio Houston away from the Blue Bombers, beefing up the tackle position with Trevon Tate, and adding some homegrown linebacking depth. That still left our contributors feeling underwhelmed, with some wondering if Jake Maier will survive another year at quarterback with Matthew Shiltz now behind him. Calgary is finally addressing some of its business issues but kick-starting stagnant play on the field is proving even more difficult.

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8) Hamilton Tiger-Cats (5)

It doesn’t matter if the Ticats manage to re-sign all-star Tim White or not, our voters place Hamilton eighth in both potential scenarios. Simply put, a front office shuffle and appointing Scott Milanovich as head coach cannot hide the fact that a declining Bo Levi Mitchell is still their starting quarterback. His newly reduced salary helped upgrade the defence with a trio of ex-Argos in Jamal Peters, Dewayne Hendrix and Brandon Barlow, but the lack of additional offensive weapons could spell trouble in Steeltown. When all is said and done, Simoni Lawrence may be grateful he called it quits when he did.

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9) Edmonton Elks (6)

The Elks believe the addition of McLeod Bethel-Thompson at quarterback will rocket them into contention, but benching electric young Canadian Tre Ford has clearly rubbed many of our contributors the wrong way. The team has improved dramatically on special teams this offseason with the additions of all-star returner Javon Leake and kicker Boris Bede, while bringing in receiver Kurleigh Gittens Jr. will give them an elite Canadian pass catcher. Unfortunately, that came at the cost of the team’s best pass rusher and Chris Jones’ struggling defensive unit may be even more rife with inexperience than it was before.