Change is good



As someone without a rooting interest in the Canadian Football League, I understand there will be many that don’t agree with me here.

But I don’t mind all the turnover that happens each year in the CFL.

I know it’s not exactly good business for the league, and I’m certainly sympathetic to fans who get frustrated when their favourite player leaves town after a short stay. Ditto for those who complain that it makes little sense investing in the jersey of a specific guy just for him to up and leave a year later.

However, it’s because of how much turnover there is — which, to be clear, has been accelerated by the decision to allow one-year contracts for veteran players as part of CBA negotiations back in 2016 — that makes days like Tuesday, the opening of CFL free agency, so much fun to watch. And this year, once again, didn’t disappoint.

While some teams, such as the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Calgary Stampeders, focused mostly on re-signing players from their 2021 roster, other clubs took a sledgehammer to their lineup. Then there were those that found themselves somewhere in the middle, adding pieces while saying goodbye to others.

All in all, it made for an eventful day, with some juicy storylines emerging from all nine teams. So, let’s get into it in the latest instalment of CFL Rundown.

1) Let’s begin with the champs. The Bombers did most of their work prior to free agency opening, re-signing many of their key contributors from 2021. That said, I’d argue they made the biggest noise of the day, not for the move they made — inking former Edmonton Elks receiver Greg Ellingson — but for the one they didn’t.

2) Even though it became abundantly clear in the hours leading up to free agency, I never imagined the Bombers would walk away from RB Andrew Harris. In the end, Winnipeg gave the future Hall-of-Famer no choice but to sign elsewhere, with Harris agreeing to a one-year deal with the Toronto Argonauts.

3) While there was interest in Harris elsewhere, including in (gulp) Saskatchewan, Toronto makes sense. Some have made waves over Harris going to a market where the local football team is often an afterthought, but I don’t think Harris is all that interested in garnering a ton of attention in what will likely be his final year. I also wonder if it’s no coincidence the Argonauts don’t play in Winnipeg next season?

4) Knowing they could never match the contract Kenny Lawler was being offered elsewhere, the Bombers had zeroed in on Ellingson for some time, mostly because of his connection with QB Zach Collaros (the two were in Hamilton together). They also went after Derel Walker, but Walker decided to give it another go with the Elks.

5) Good for Lawler for cashing in and setting a new ceiling for American receivers. Lawler signed with the Elks for one year, at $300,000. He turned down a two-year deal with the B.C. Lions, which also had a signing bonus attached. Lawler didn’t get the same love from Edmonton as far as up-front money, making it a bit of a risky gamble for someone who can be cut at any time. And if anyone would do that, it feels like it would be Elks GM and head coach Chris Jones.

6) Speaking of the Elks, it was a big swing and miss for QB Jeremiah Masoli, who opted instead to sign with the Ottawa Redblacks. Can’t help but feel for Elks QB Nick Arbuckle after several attempts by Jones to replace him, only to keep whiffing.

7) It’s difficult to say if the Elks have improved from last season, when they finished 3-11, including 0-7 at home. They’ve made some good additions in Lawler, DB Ed Gainey and OL Mark Korte, but they’ve watched others such as Ellingson, DE Kwaku Boateng and LB Derrick Moncrief walk away.

8) It’s a bit of a similar situation in Riderville. Great pickups in LB Darnell Sankey, who led the CFL with 97 defensive tackles, and Derrick Moncrief, who Saskatchewan wanted really bad before he signed with the Elks midway through last season. Still, that haul doesn’t outweigh the exits of Gainey, DB Loucheiz Purifoy, and Micah Johnson on defence, with RB William Powell also gone. Even if Saskatchewan likes what they have in-house.

9) I’m interested to see what a receiver combo like Shaq Evans and Duke Williams can do for the Riders. Evans had health issues for much of last season, so it’s safe to assume he’ll be better in 2022. If Williams, who signed for $260,000, can stay focused, he has the skill to lead the CFL in receiving. Add in Kyran Moore and Canadian Kian Schaffer-Baker and that’s a nice group of ball catchers for QB Cody Fajardo.

10) The B.C. Lions easily have the most intriguing QB room. After committing to second-year pro Nathan Rourke as the starter, the Lions went out and inked Michael O’Connor as his backup. For those checking passports, that’s a pair of Canadians, eh.

11) I guess after spending a large chunk of your salary cap on now-retired QB Michael Reilly and having nothing to show for it as far as playoff appearances, why not go in the exact opposite direction and pay next to nothing on the most important position on the field. My prediction is the Lions get eaten alive this season, but in this case, I’d be more than happy to be wrong.

12) If you can believe it, Calgary made no moves on Tuesday, other than re-signing DE Shawn Lemon. And it’s not like they didn’t lose anyone, they did, including Sankey, DBs DaShaun Amos and Richard Leonard, as well as OL Ucambre Williams and WR Hergy Mayala. Then again, we’re talking about John Hufnagel, so the Stamps should be in good hands.

13) The Hamilton Tiger-Cats have lost a significant player in DE Ja’Gared Davis, who opted to sign in Toronto. Davis has played in the last five Grey Cups, including two with Hamilton and three before that with Calgary. Not sure Micah Johnson makes up for him, but it’s close. Re-signing Ted Laurent, too, will make running on the Ticats very difficult — again.

14) Montreal was fairly quiet in the first day of free agency. They did eventually make some noise on Wednesday, re-signing QB Trevor Harris. That seemed to have irked No. 1 pivot Vernon Adams Jr., who took to Twitter to share a message about betting on himself, ending it with “Don’t try & call me now” and two snake emojis. His account has since been disabled.

15) The Ottawa Redblacks went an interesting, yet not too unfamiliar route, by buying their team in free agency. They signed 15 free agents on Tuesday. On offence, they got Masoli, along with O-linemen Ucambre Williams, Hunter Steward and Darius Ciraco, RB Powell, and wide receivers Jaelon Acklin, Shaq Johnson and Darvin Adams. On defence, they added Boateng and Lorenzo Mauldin IV on the D-line and Money Hunter and Patrick Levels in the defensive backfield.

16) Spoiler alert: winning free agency usually means losing in the regular season. If Paul LaPolice can focus on the offence and trust his staff to work out the defence and special teams, who knows what the Redblacks could do this year.

17) Finally, Toronto might just be the favourites to win the East again. They managed to keep much of their roster from last year, while adding a handful of studs, including Harris, Davis, Amos, and Adrian Tracy, who decided to come out of retirement for another shot at the Grey Cup.

Jeff.Hamilton@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @jeffkhamilton

Jeff Hamilton

Jeff Hamilton
Multimedia producer

After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.

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