The Great Debate: Who is the No. 1 pending free agent?

TORONTO — February 9 is quickly approaching and many of the top pending free agents remain without a new contract.

The list of pending free agents is long and boasts elite talent at almost every position, from franchise quarterbacks to impact defensive linemen.

With CFL.ca’s annual top 30 free agent list coming out on Thursday, the debate starts at the top: Who is the most coveted pending free agent?

There’s no question that the quarterback position is the most important position in football, but does that mean a pivot should land at the top of the list? You could argue yes, but there are other factor to consider. An impact national player is highly valuable considering the ratio. A playmaker who can change the game in an instant on either side of the ball is also a welcome addition to any squad. What about age? Should that be considered?

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Is quarterback Jeremiah Masoli the No. 1 pending free agent? (CFL.ca)

All of that aside, the discussion should start in Hamilton. There are three big names in the Hammer that hold expiring contracts, quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, linebacker Simoni Lawrence, 2019’s Most Outstanding Special Teams Player Frankie Williams.

Masoli is the most intriguing one of the three. It’s likely that the Tiger-Cats will want to try to keep the 32-year-old in their building but if they decide not to, Masoli will add to any team looking for talent to slot in behind centre. Masoli was having an excellent season in 2019 before a non-contact knee injury pushed him to the sidelines. Before his season-ending injury, the five-foot-10, 1128-pounder played in six games, completing 125 of 175 pass attempts for 1,576 yards, nine touchdowns and seven interceptions.

Lawrence had a stellar year in 2019, leading the CFL in tackles with 98 (a career-high) to go along with four sacks. He’s been the heartbeat of the Tabbies defence for years and if the team doesn’t sign him to a new contact, he’ll upgrade any teams’ defence looking for a strong WILL linebacker.

You have to consider the league’s best special teamer, Williams, in this conversation as well. Not only did the 27-year-old make an impact on special teams, he was versatile, lining up in the defensive back field, where he tallied 50 tackles and an interception.

If there are teams looking to add to their quarterback room, along with Masoli, they should look no further than McLeod Bethel-Thompson. Bethel-Thompson played in all 18 games for the Argos in 2019, completing 335 of 493 passes for 4,024 yards, 26 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. The 32-year-old would add to any team in search of a pivot.

For the teams not looking for a quarterback, there are plenty of impact players that could help turn a team into a championship-calibre squad.

Starting with those holding a Canadian passport, linebackers Cameron Judge and Henoc Muamba are two of the best nationals to play the position. Muamba was second in tackles in 2019 with 93, just behind Lawrence. It might be safe to assume that the middle linebacker will sign an extension in Montreal, but if he doesn’t, he’s a ratio-breaker that any team would love to have in the middle of their defence. Judge had his best year in the CFL the last time he hit the field in 2019. The 26-year-old scored his first career touchdown on a pick-six and hit career-highs in defensive tackles (60), special teams tackles (11), sacks (5), and interceptions (2).

For teams looking for upgrades on offence, Greg Ellingson, Bryan Burnham and DeVier Posey would add to any receiving corps. Ellingson has hit 1,000-yards in all of the last five seasons of his career, while Burnham has surpassed 1,000 in all of the last four. Posey only played in 12 games in 2019 but he hauled in a career-high 780 yards. Any of the three would be a welcome addition to an offence looking for a skilled pass-catcher.

And finally, a few elite defenders should be considered. Charleston Hughes and Micah Johnson have been two of the best to line up in the trenches over the last decade. Hughes and Johnson showed no signs of slowing down in 2019 in Riderville, as Hughes tallied 50 tackles and 16 sacks on the edge while Johnson had 26 tackles and four QB take downs on the inside.

With a long list of pending free agents, who stands out the most? Let the debate begin.

Who is the No. 1 pending free agent?

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