Grading each team after Day One of free agency

CFL free agency opened at noon on Tuesday with the usual frenzy of activity as teams scooped up some of the bigger names available in the early going. 3DownNation’s Drew Edwards and John Hodge reviewed what each team did on day one and gave each team a grade on their work thus far.

* denotes a re-signing.

T.J. Heath

Toronto Argonauts

INT DB T.J. Heath (WIN)
INT DB Johnny Sears*
NAT DB Jermaine Gabriel*

Heath is an all-star calibre defensive back who returns to Toronto after the disastrous Drew Willy trade two seasons ago. Gabriel is a starting Canadian safety and Sears is a valuable piece if he can stay healthy.

Grade: B

Lirim Hajrullahu

Hamilton Tiger-Cats

NAT K Lirim Hajrullahu (TOR)
NAT LB Nick Shortill*
INT LB Larry Dean*
NAT DT Ted Laurent*

Dean and Laurent never got to free agency, but re-signing them still feels like a get for the Ticats. Hajrullahu gives them a proven Canadian kicker and the roster flexibility that comes with it while Shortill is a solid depth piece and a borderline starter. The Ticats now have their ratio in order with backups in place.

Grade: B+

A.C. Leonard (right)

Ottawa Redblacks

INT DE A.C. Leonard (SSK)
INT DB Loucheiz Purifoy (BC)
INT DB Rico Murray

Leonard should provide some help off the edge, though $145,000 is too much to pay for a second-tier rush end. Purifoy and Murray are veteran defensive backs who will provide versatility having seen time at a number of positions in the secondary. Losing a Canadian starter in Zack Evans (and Arnaud Gascon-Nadon, it appears) hurts, however, and Ottawa could use some national help.

Grade: C

Tommie Campbell.

Montreal Alouettes

INT DB Tommie Campbell (CAL)
INT DB Joe Burnett (CAL)
INT DB Dominique Ellis (HAM)
INT K Boris Bede*
INT OT Xavier Fulton*
NAT DB Tevaughn Campbell*
NAT OL Matt Vonk*
NAT REC S.J. Haidara*

The Alouettes are desperate for help in two areas: quarterbacks and Canadians. This list features zero quarterbacks and no new Canadians. Campbell was one of the best defensive backs available, but he (like Burnett) is on the wrong side of 30. Not a strong day in La Belle Province.

Grade: D

Joel Figueroa (right)

B.C. Lions

INT OL Joel Figueroa (EDM)
INT OL Jeremy Lewis (MTL)
INT DL Euclid Cummings (EDM)
INT DB Garry Peters (EDM)
NAT LB Mitch Barnett (HAM)
NAT DB Dominique Termansen (MTL)
INT DB A.J. Jefferson (OTT)

New GM Ed Hervey said the offensive and defensive lines were a priority and he took steps to address them on day one with veteran tackles Figueroa and Lewis and the excellent Cummings. A number of the players brought in on day one had Hervey connections as he puts his stamp on the club but this list lacks a much-needed impact Canadian.

Grade: C+

Zack Evans (right)

Saskatchewan Roughriders

NAT OL Zack Evans (OTT)
NAT OL Dan Clark*
NAT FB/TE Spencer Moore*
NAT RB Jerome Messam
INT OL Travis Bond

Evans is a feel-good story as a Regina boy who comes back to his hometown team (where he’s already won a Grey Cup) and he’s a bona fide Canadian starter to boot. Clark and Moore are useful Canadian pieces. Adding national content makes this a good haul for the Riders but questions remain on what the cap implications might be just ask Derek Dennis.

Grade: B+

Nic Demski

Winnipeg Blue Bombers

NAT REC Nic Demski (SSK)
NAT RB Kienan LaFrance (SSK)
INT DB Chandler Fenner (BC)

Fenner was a huge – and surprising – get for the Bombers while Demski and LaFrance are hometown kids. Demski got starter money so he will need to stay healthy while LaFrance provides affordable insurance behind Andrew Harris. These are smart, well-executed moves by the blue and gold.

Grade: B+

Alex Bazzie

Edmonton Eskimos

INT RB John White*
INT DE Alex Bazzie (BC)
NAT LB Adam Konar*
INT DB Johnny Adams*
INT DB Forrest Hightower*

White is a great backup or No. 1A back behind C.J. Gable. Bazzie is a younger pass rusher than the departed Odell Willis and reunites with defensive coordinator Mike Benevides. Konar will get another chance to stay healthy and win a starting job while Hightower and Adams are veterans with experience in Benevides’ scheme. $160,000 may be too rich for Bazzie, but keeping Konar helps the Esks’ grade.

Grade: B

Emanuel Davis

Calgary Stampeders

INT DB Emanuel Davis (HAM)
NAT DB Adam Berger (OTT)
NAT DL Ese Mrabure (SSK)
INT LB Deron Mayo*
INT RB/KR Roy Finch*

Finch might be the most dynamic playmaker in the CFL while Mayo is a starter on defence. Davis is a two-time all-star at halfback while Mrabure will benefit from the tutelage of former CFL defensive linemen Corey Mace and DeVone Claybrooks. This list isn’t sexy, but Calgary has had a lot of success using free agency to make underrated depth moves. This year appears to be the same.

Grade: B

Drew Edwards

Drew Edwards

Drew Edwards is into his eighth season covering the CFL and the Ticats for the Hamilton Spectator. He is the founder and editor of 3DownNation.
Drew Edwards
Drew Edwards
About Drew Edwards (1526 Articles)
Drew Edwards is into his eighth season covering the CFL and the Ticats for the Hamilton Spectator. He is the founder and editor of 3DownNation.

30 Comments on Grading each team after Day One of free agency

  1. “The Alouettes are desperate for help in two areas: quarterbacks and Canadians.”

    You can probably go ahead and carve that into “Les Oiseaux’s” 2018 season tombstone right now. *Sigh*

  2. The stench of a dumpster fire is blowing in from Montreal… feel bad for the players and fans… they deserve better than what Wetenhall and Reed have produced so far…

    Only possible redemption might be to acquire Manziel from Ticats and reunite him with Sherman… maybe trade Tommy Campbell to Ticats…

    • I am absolutely positive that Reed considers Manziel his only hope for career redemption. In his dreamy dreams, he’ll sign Manziel and start another “Calvillo Dynasty” to sweep the East for the next decade or two.

      Considering how bad a GM Reed’s been up to now (ain’t I clever, removing all the swear words from that statement?), his Manziel fantasy is more than likely to blow up in his(our) face(s), and the Alouettes will be left fielding a 30yr old QB with ZERO CFL experience.

      Many thanks for the sympathy, but if it’s all the same to you. please send a quarterback instead.

      Als fans.

      • Paul Bomber // February 14, 2018 at 10:30 am //

        uh-oh….that door just closed. You see the comments below? Johnny Football got a job in Texas! (went to the interweb and verified too! thought it might be a joke)

  3. Drew I have not followed CFL. Became interested when the Johnny Manziel negotiations came about. I fooled all the podcasts and TSN and started to learn much more about the players. You provided a good analysis. Good work.

  4. I’m shocked Dominique Ellis is willing to come back to Montreal, considering how unceremoniously he was “dissed” out of a job here a couple years ago. If Ellis thinks things have improved since Popp left, he’s in for a rude awakening.

  5. Rakeem Cato’s not a free agent. He’s playing quarterback in Arena Ball for the Richmond Roughriders.

    There. I’ve officially done a better job scouting quarterbacks than Kavis Reed in the past 2 seasons.

  6. Hammerhead // February 14, 2018 at 9:59 am //

    Jeeze what does one have to do for an A I wonder! The Als should have picked up Tate by now to have an experienced CFL Qb. Every team looks good coming into 2018 except the Als. However, look at Toronto last year almost everyone had them near the bottom so never know!

    • Picking up Tate would be the best move the Alouettes could make at this point. At least give the guy a look and see if he can compete for the job.

      Which puts the likelihood of an *&&^$# GM like Reed actually doing so at around 10%.

  7. After obnoxiously stating that the Alouettes were going to have to start somewhat of a youth movement, especially at quarterback, and how he needed to “educate the fans” about the imperative nature of this upgradamania, Reed has signed a 30 year old NFL quarterback who’s been on the shelf for the last 5 years, John Bowman, who is arguably pushing the player/coach barrier, and now two DB’s on the “wrong side of 30”.

    While a good fan is always looking to improve his education, an intelligent fan is always ready to duck the flying *xcr*m*nt that passes for wisdom from the likes of Kavis Reed.

    And if this offseason is any indication

  8. Stephen Fisher // February 14, 2018 at 10:02 am //

    Montreal has done nothing to improve the worst offense I have ever seen. And giving up JC Beaulieu for that fumbler and pass dropper and Hefner neck breaker has made it worse.

    • At least Reed traded a Canadian for a Canadian. Our Canadian/American ratio is so screwed at the moment, they might have to suspend the team for the season.
      That was a joke. I think.

  9. Meh, lets rank the first day of Free Agency this coming November after the Grey Cup has been played.

    I’m going to be a few of the guys signed today will be waived at some point this season and one or two will end up as busts.

  10. FLASH. Johnny Manziel signed up with the spring league and will play in 2 games televised by turner sports. Games are in Austin Texas headlines in NFL. The comeback has started.

  11. See NFL and all sports broadcasters as making headlines.

  12. Ian Rapaport
    Johnny Manziel reports to the Spring League on March 28, and the season ends April 15… in time to attend a team’s OTAs if it works out. More than 20 teams are expected to attend practices and games to scout him and others.

  13. pretty obvious the writer is biased on the Eastern conference as he works for the Hamilton Spectator and even as owner and founder of 3rd down nation he should be more objective… interesting he gives Ottawa a C and MTL a D
    of course the ALS need help everywhere but remember they signed 2 DB’s from Calgary on the recommendation of their new DC ( from Calgary) so they know what they are getting and stealing a DB in White from a division rival is never bad… if they can sign Drew Tate ( if he wants to play in MTL) will help at QB.. funny how when the Ti-Cats sucked he probably was never critical in his commentary or objectivity

    • Billinburlington // February 14, 2018 at 9:05 pm //

      Not that Drew needs defending, l note that the article was co-authored by John hodge, a western team follower. As a Ticat fan I can tell you that Drew was very critical of the Ticats when they were a dumpster fire during the first half of last season. IMO there appeared to be much tension between then coach Kent Austin and Drew at the post game & practise media scrums … Austin would provide sharp answers; Drew asking the tough questions knowing what was coming his way.

      Agree that day 1 of Free Agency is not good indicator of how the season will play out. But FA is an important opportunity for teams fill personnel gaps; and it sure is fun to assess the teams’ signings and label the winners and losers.

  14. I see Montreal as a trainwreck. Not just this season. I’m not a fan of Reed. I really don’t understand what he’s done to be a GM. I’m surprised he didn’t hire Bart Andrus as a coach. Count Chocula!

  15. To rate free agency, you can’t just look at who teams have signed, but you need to look at their losses as well. The free agency report card should tell you if the team has improved through the process or fallen back.

    Usually, the best teams lose players because they just can’t afford to re-sign all their stars and must rely on recruiting. The best teams tend to have a net talent loss in free agency and therefore get poor grades.

    The weaker teams let go of underperforming players who are overpaid and snap up the stars from the better teams. They tend to get the best grades because they have the most room to improve, and should have the most SMS room to add players.

  16. I’m not very impressed with the Redblacks so far, what’s the holdup with Taylor Reed? Recruiting better be off the charts this year.

  17. bill dehoog // February 14, 2018 at 2:09 pm //

    From a Redblacks fan…are so cruelly low. Every team has improved itself. Even Montreal…looks like they have all star defence especially in the back field…lots of money spent there. They obviously are acknowledging a problem with their offence, so are making sure the defence is top notch.
    Even the Redblacks got better even with losing a couple of good Canadians. We need a pass rush and dbs which we have got. Easier to find a DL at tryout camps.
    Remember this was only day 1, still lots of players out there…more reasonably priced as well

  18. Stephen Fisher // February 14, 2018 at 2:34 pm //

    Not so sure about Montreal. Especially from the fans point of view. Last year you could go for months with not a single offensive play to cheer about. If I wanted to put fans back in the stadium I would start with an exciting offence. Something to stimulate the adrenaline.

  19. Allan Moore // February 14, 2018 at 3:54 pm //

    I am very disappointed BC lost Fenner who was our best defensive player over the last 8 games. What a steal for Winnipeg! I guess Hervey didn’t watch the Lions last year. Been a BC fan since 1958 but this is too much.They don’t know what they are doing.

  20. “Fans of the Montreal Alouettes know” Kavis Reed has got to go!

  21. You might want to rethink that grade that you gave to the Riders after having to release a young Canadian middle line backer, Muamba, in order to pay for an old running back and an American offensive guard. Where does this make sense? Only in Saskatchewan under Jones.

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