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'Round and 'round it goes...

Free-agent carousel stops with the Ticats going on a spending spree

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The Bombers let their deal with Jovon Johnson lapse and the cornerback was picked up in free agency by the Ottawa Redblacks.

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Enlarge Image

The Bombers let their deal with Jovon Johnson lapse and the cornerback was picked up in free agency by the Ottawa Redblacks. Photo Store

A total of 30 players signed new CFL contracts since free agency opened last Tuesday, according to the CFL's free agent tracker.

In a couple of cases -- Montreal's offensive lineman Josh Bourke and linebacker Kyries Hebert, for instance -- they simply re-signed with their old teams just as free agency opened.

But for the most part, players were on the move this week as CFL general managers shuffled the deck in a way that only happens once a year in a league in which trades are few and far between.

Now, there's still lots of unsigned free agents -- 29 of them as of Friday afternoon. And a couple of them are of the blue-chip variety -- rush en ds Keron Williams (BC) and Cordarro Law (Calgary), for instance, had still not signed with anyone as of yesterday. And Edmonton's non-import defensive tackle Ted Laurent -- maybe the most coveted of the free agents still remaining -- was also still a free agent yesterday as he continued to entertain NFL options.

But with a few exceptions, most of the big moves have already been made in the CFL, with only the fate and destination of more marginal players still be determined.

"The guys that tend to go the first day early -- those are the high-end guys. Teams that go after them (think) they're going to help upgrade us instantly," Bombers GM Kyle Walters said this week. "There's more of a thought process now -- if we go after this guy, does that upgrade us over a guy we already have under contract. It's not as clear-cut."

So with that as a backdrop, this seems like a good time to take a look at the winners and losers in the CFL this week:

 

Big Winner

Hamilton Tiger-Cats

The Ticats went on a spending spree this week the likes of which hasn't been seen in the CFL since the Saskatchewan Roughriders opened the vault prior to the 2013 season.

And for similar reasons. With the Riders, all that loose money was targetted at getting the home team playing in last November's Grey Cup in Regina. In Hamilton's case, ownership wants the team's first season in a brand new stadium -- Tim Hortons Field -- to be a winning one and they are obviously committed to spending whatever it takes to make that happen.

Hamilton landed non-import linebacker Craig Butler, the most coveted of all this week's free agents; upgraded its secondary with the signing of Winnipeg Blue Bombers free agent cornerback Brandon Stewart; and signed speedy wide receiver Cary Koch away from the Edmonton Eskimos.

Throw in some other role players signed by the Ticats this week and they were, by far, the club that improved the most.

 

You win some, you lose some

Toronto Argonauts

The Argos lost arguably the best defensive back in the CFL when Patrick Watkins signed with Edmonton to be closer to former Argos defensive coordinator Chris Jones, who's now the Eskimos head coach.

But they also landed a stud ratio-changer in Shea Emry, which will give new Argos defensive co-ordinator -- and former Bombers field boss -- Tim Burke a lot of flexibilty.

Throw in the re-signing this week of versatile Argos kicker Swayze Waters and the Argos did alright.

 

Ho-hum

Ottawa Redblacks, Calgary Stampeders

For all the worrying CFL GMs did in the lead-up to this week about what effect the expansion Ottawa franchise would have on free agency, in the end it wasn't much at all.

The Redblacks were mostly quiet this week, signing mostly bit players but making one modest splash when they inked former Bombers cornerback Jovon Johnson.

While Johnson has regressed over the form that won him the 2011 CFL most outstanding defensive player award, he's still a big improvement on what the Redblacks had in their secondary and will bring the kind of experience a fledgling franchise will need.

The Redblacks also signed linebacker Malik Jackson away from the Stampeders, who had an otherwise fairly quiet week for a franchise that extended 10 of 20 potential free agents and had four others retire.

 

Too early to tell

Edmonton Eskimos

The Eskimos were plenty busy this week, signing a couple of non-import offensive linemen in Justin Sorenson and Andrew Jones, landing maybe the best defensive back in the league in Patrick Watkins and taking a flyer on enigmatic non-import WR Akeem Foster.

The problem is they also lost the speedy Koch and a non-import offensive lineman of their own in Scott Mitchell and by week's end had still yet to re-sign Laurent.

 

Could have been worse

Montreal Alouettes

The Als avoided what could have been a disastrous week by locking down Hebert, kicker Sean Whyte and, especially, Bourke, just as free agency opened.

Yes, they lost Emry -- the 2012 East Division nominee as most outstanding defensive player. But this week could have been a disaster for the Als and they won just by mitigating the damage.

 

Could have been better

Winnipeg Blue Bombers

A shiny new import receiver was not on the list of things the Bombers needed most this week, but they got one anyway in Nick Moore, who was third in the league in receiving yards with BC last season. And the Bombers also got a solid new defensive back in Chris Randle, via a trade with Calgary the night before free agency opened.

But the much bigger Bombers need this week was Canadian talent and that went mostly unreplenished. Yes, the Bombers re-signed non-import receiver Rory Kohlert and picked up a non-import special teams player in Graig Newman. But aggressive offers by Winnipeg to land ratio-changers like Emry or Butler were rebuffed and by week's end the Bombers were no closer to replacing their best player in 2013 -- non-import LB Henoc Muamba, who signed in the NFL -- than they were at the start of the week. And they also now need to find a new non-import centre after Sorenson went to free agency and promptly signed in Edmonton.

Plus, they've got no feature tailback at the moment -- Will Ford turned down their offer and they didn't make one to Chad Simpson. And their CFL rookie of the year in 2012 -- WR Chris Matthews -- remains unsigned.

 

Losers

BC Lions,

Saskatchewan Roughriders

The Lions lost Moore to the Bombers, defensive back Josh Bell to the Stampeders and non-import offensive lineman Steve Myddleton to the Ticats. And they struck out in an aggressive bid to land Butler, although they did land Hamilton LB Jamall Johnson late yesterday.

The Riders -- already stinging from the earlier loss of receiver Weston Dressler to the NFL -- also lost running back Kory Sheets to the NFL this week. Add to that the loss of Butler to Hamilton via free agency and their backup quarterback Drew Willy in a lopsided trade with Winnipeg and the defending Grey Cup champs have a lot of work to do if they're going to be back in the big game this November.

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @PaulWiecek

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 14, 2014 C6

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