Impact players still available as CFL free agency set to begin Tuesday


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Now comes the waiting for Jeremy O'Day.

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Now comes the waiting for Jeremy O’Day.

According to CFL sources last week, the Saskatchewan Roughriders GM reached agreements in principle with quarterback Trevor Harris and receiver Jake Wieneke during the CFL’s free-agent negotiating window.

The sources spoke on the condition of anonymity as deals reached during that time couldn’t be announced.

Saskatchewan Roughriders general manager Jeremy O'Day looks on during the CFL's Labour Day Classic against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in Regina, Sask., on Sunday, September 6, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Taylor

Now, the Montreal Alouettes will have until Tuesday morning to re-sign Harris and/or Wieneke before the start of free agency, although both are expected to head West once their present deals expire.

O’Day said the Riders had good conversations with both Harris and Wieneke

“We’re just in a position where we’re waiting to get to free agency so that we can get to that point where these guys are allowed to sign contracts,” O’Day told reporters in Regina last week.

Harris and Wieneke were slated to become free agents at noon ET on Tuesday, but were allowed to entertain offers from other clubs from Feb. 5 until Sunday.

Any proposals made — including base salary and incentives — had to be registered with the league and CFL Players’ Association and would be considered binding.

When the window closed Sunday, teams had 48 hours to negotiate exclusively with their own potential free agents. The CFL would give clubs any registered offers that were made to those players.

Teams then had until 10 a.m. ET on Tuesday to make offers to their players, with copies given to both the league and CFLPA. Then the players would have two hours (10 a.m.-noon ET) to choose an offer or reject them all and enter free agency at 12:01 p.m. ET on Tuesday.

The window was introduced in 2020 to curb tampering and allow pending free agents to explore all of their options before the free-agent period.

“I think what’s better is it’s a more open process,” O’Day said. “You can openly talk to the player, you can openly have your position coach call the player, the head coach can call the player and you don’t feel like you’re doing anything wrong.”

Harris, 36, completed 71.6 per cent of his passes for 4,157 yards last season. The six-foot-three, 212-pound Harris is entering his 12th CFL season but Saskatchewan would be his fifth different league team.

The six-foot-four 215-pound Wieneke, who’s reportedly very good friends with Harris, has spent the last three seasons with Montreal. In 48 regular-season games, the 28-year-old American had 142 catches for 2,056 yards with 21 touchdowns.

Saskatchewan (6-12) finished fourth in the West Division standings last season, missing the CFL playoffs. And while Harris and Wienke are expected to help an offence that was second-last in offensive points (19.8 per game) in 2022, there’s still the matter of improving an offensive line that allowed a league-leading 77 sacks last year.

“I guess the reality is we’ve got a lot of starting positions going into free agency that have to be filled,” O’Day said. “If that’s what you want to call active, I’d say, yes, we’re going to be active . . . we’ve got positions we’ve got to fill with starters.”

A fact not lost upon Dave Dickenson, the longtime Calgary head coach who is also in his first season as the club’s GM.

“I find if you’ve had a tough year, you should be louder on opening day,” Dickenson told reporters in Calgary last week. “I think if you’ve had a good solid year, a year that you like your team, if you do your job well you should try to get those guys back and get as many as you can.”

Montreal signed American linebacker Avery Williams and re-signed American receiver Reggie White Jr. to a contract extension Monday. American defensive lineman Mike Moore was released, reportedly before a bonus was due.

Many other pending free agents signed extensions with their clubs, including defensive lineman Lorenzo Mauldin IV (CFL’s top defensive player last year with Ottawa), receiver Kurleigh Gittens Jr. and running back Andrew Harris (both Canadians with Grey Cup-champion Toronto), quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell (Hamilton), offensive linemen Stanley Bryant (league’s top lineman last year with Winnipeg) and Derek Dennis (Calgary) and Canadian linebacker Cam Judge (Stamps).

O’Day also re-signed defensive linemen Anthony Lanier II and Pete Robinson, linebacker Larry Dean and running back Jamal Morrow, all Americans.

But there are other top players who could hit the open market. They include: Montreal receiver Eugene Lewis (East Division’s top player last year with 91 catches, 1,303 yards, 10 TDs), quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson and Canadian linebacker Henoc Muamba (Toronto); defensive lineman Shawn Lemon (West’s top defensive player last year with Calgary) and American linebacker Darnell Sankey (CFL-high 122 tackles last year with Saskatchewan).

Others, like Canadian defensive lineman Kwaku Boateng (Ottawa), American receiver Kenny Lawler (Edmonton), American linebackers Jovan Santos-Knox (Hamilton) and Jameer Thurman (Calgary) and American defensive lineman Folarin Orimolade (Calgary), were among players who reportedly agreed to terms with different clubs. But that was before their parent teams had the right to negotiate with them before the formal start of free agency.

On Monday, the B.C. Lions signed American receiver Dominique Rhymes an a contract extension through the ’24 season. Rhymes had 85 catches for 1,401 yards (second-most in CFL) and 11 TDs last season.

On Monday, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers re-signed Canadian linebacker Jesse Briggs, while Canadian fullback Charlie Power remained with the Calgary Stampeders. Both veteran players were slated to become free agents Tuesday.

One player who won’t be testing free agency is Tony Washington. The American offensive lineman retired Monday after playing 11 CFL seasons.

The six-foot-seven, 318-pound Washington appeared in 138 career regular-season contests with Toronto, Edmonton (two stints), Hamilton and Montreal. A two-time Grey champion, Washington, 36, dressed for nine contests last season with the Elks.

Edmonton signed American quarterback Vincent Testaverde Jr., whose father, Vinny, spent 21 NFL seasons under centre, while releasing running back Ante Litre and defensive lineman Malik Tyne, both Canadians.

Donna Spencer in Calgary contributed to this report.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 13, 2023.

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