CFL free agency preview: A look at top players to watch


Edmonton Eskimos quarterback Mike Reilly stretches before a CFL football game against the B.C. Lions. (Darryl Dyck/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

CFL free agency is set to begin at noon ET on Tuesday. Here’s a look at some of the top players expected to hit the open market:


Mike Reilly: The 34-year-old led the CFL in passing yards (5,562) and was second in TD passes (30). Reilly led Edmonton to a Grey Cup win (2015) and captured the league’s outstanding player award (2017). Over the past three seasons he’s not missed a game, impressive considering Reilly has run 319 times for 1,391 yards (4.37 average) and 34 TDs over that span while also throwing for almost 17,000 yards and 88 TDs.

Bo Levi Mitchell: Since becoming Calgary’s full-time starter in 2014, all Mitchell has done is win, whether it be Grey Cups (four appearances, two victories) or CFL outstanding player honours (2016, ’18). The 28-year-old native of Katy, Texas, has amassed a 69-15-2 record as a starter. Mitchell worked out for seven NFL teams this winter but didn’t sign a contract. If he opts to remain in Canada, the prevailing talk is Mitchell will consider all offers.

Trevor Harris: The 2018 season was his best in the CFL. The 32-year-old established career highs in pass attempts (615), completions (431) and passing yards (5,116) while sporting an impressive 70-per-cent completion percentage. Harris threw a CFL-record six TD passes in Ottawa’s 46-27 East Division final win over Hamilton, but he and the Redblacks fell short in the Grey Cup, losing 27-16 to Calgary.

Ottawa Redblacks’ Greg Ellingson (82) makes the touchdown during second-half CFL East Division Final football game action against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in Ottawa, Ontario, Sunday, Nov. 18, 2018. (Sean Kilpatrick/CP)


Derel Walker: A knee injury slowed the 27-year-old last season but Walker still managed 51 catches for 875 yards (17.2-yard average) and eight TDs with Edmonton. One of the league’s top receivers when healthy, Walker took the CFL by storm his first two seasons with a combined 198 receptions for 2,699 yards and 16 TDs. He was the league’s top rookie in 2015.

Greg Ellingson: The 30-year-old had 91 catches for 1,086 yards and five touchdowns last year with Ottawa. Ellingson has been a 1,000-yard receiver three straight years with the Redblacks. Amazingly, he’s played in five Grey Cup games in his six-year CFL career (twice with Hamilton, three times with Ottawa), winning in 2016.

Bryan Burnham: The six-foot-two, 205-pound Burnham has oput together three straight 1,000-yard campaigns. Last season, the 27-year-old registered 67 catches for 1,029 yards and nine touchdowns. Burnham has spent his entire five-year CFL career with the B.C. Lions.


William Powell: The former Kansas State star has been a 1,000-yard rusher the past two seasons with the Ottawa Redblacks. Powell, 30, finished second overall behind Winnipeg’s Andrew Harris (1,390 yards) in league rushing last year with 1,362 yards on 251 carries (5.4-yard average) with six TDs. He also had 39 catches for 319 yards and two touchdowns.

Tyrell Sutton: The 32-year-old ran for 685 yards on 141 carries (4.86-yard average) combined last year with the Montreal Alouettes and B.C. The five-foot-eight, 213-pound native of Akron, Ohio, is a physical runner who in 2015 rushed for a career-high 1,059 yards (5.9-yard average) and five TDs in 2015.

Chris Rainey: Versatile best describes the 30-year-old Rainey. He did run for 218 yards on 52 carries (4.19-yard average) and had 28 catches for 234 yards with B.C. But he’s also one of the CFL’s top return specialists with a career punt-return average of 11.1 yards and four TDs and 24.3-yard kickoff return mark with two TDs.

Winnipeg Bluebombers centre Matthias Goossen (61) and offensive lineman Sukh Chungh (69) celebrate a touchdown by running back Andrew Harris (33) during first quarter CFL game action. (Peter Power/THE CANADIAN PRESS)


SirVincent Rogers: The six-foot-four, 319-pound native of Jasper, Texas, has established himself as one of the CFL’s best during his four-year tenure in Ottawa. Rogers, 32, was a league all-star in 2015 and ’18 and was named the top lineman in 2015. Rogers helped the Redblacks reach the Grey Cup three times in the last four years, winning in 2016.

Sukh Chungh: Much was expected of the 26-year-old when the Winnipeg Blue Bombers selected him in the first round, second overall, in the 2015 CFL draft. The six-foot-four, 315-pound native of Port Coquitlam, B.C., has missed just three games over his four seasons at right guard in Manitoba. He was a West Division all-star in 2018.

Mike Filer: The 28-year-old native of Brantford, Ont. has spent his entire seven-year CFL career with Hamilton. The burly six-foot-two, 302-pound centre was originally drafted by Calgary in 2012 but joined the Ticats after being released. He became a full-time starter in 2014 and has played all 18 regular-season games in three of the last four years.

Hamilton Tiger-Cats quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, left, runs from Calgary Stampeders’ Micah Johnson during second half CFL football action in Calgary. (Jeff McIntosh/THE CANADIAN PRESS)


Willie Jefferson: The six-foot-six, 245-pound defensive end is a freakish athlete who can rush the passer (10 sacks last year with Saskatchewan) but also twice returned interceptions for touchdowns. And the scary part is at age 28, the 2018 league all-star should be just hitting his prime. Generally regarded as one of the CFL’s top rushers coming off the edge.

Micah Johnson: The 30-year-old is one of the CFL’s top interior rushers. The six-foot-two, 277-pound defensive tackle had 14 sacks last season with Calgary. Johnson has helped the Stampeders win two Grey Cups and three times has been a league all-star. Over six seasons in Alberta, Johnson has 158 tackles and 41 sacks.

Shawn Lemon and Odell Willis: Tough to put one ahead of the other considering each had 11 sacks with B.C. last year. Lemon, 30, had 10 of those after being traded to the Lions from Toronto. Over 10 CFL seasons, the 34-year-old Willis has 173 career sacks in 240 games.

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Larry Dean: The 29-year-old American was nothing short of sensational last year with Hamilton, registering 96 tackles and three sacks. That earned the six-foot, 226-pound linebacker the East Division’s top defensive player honour as he finished behind Winnipeg’s Adam Bighill for the league honour.

Jovan Santos-Knox: The 2018 season was an impressive one for the 24-year-old Santos-Knox. The six-foot-two, 233-pound sophomore registered 82 tackles, six sacks and a forced fumble for Winnipeg after recording 47 tackles, two sacks and two interceptions in his first CFL campaign in 2017.

Marcus Ball: The 31-year-old is coming off a foot ailment that landed him on the six-game injured list last year with Toronto. But the six-foot-one, 209-pound native of Norfolk, Va., has been an emotional leader over his four seasons with the Argonauts.


T.J. Heath: It’s been a whirlwind CFL existence for the 30-year-old, who’s been traded twice and played for three different teams in his three seasons in Canada. But there’s no questioning the six-foot-one, 181-pound defensive back’s nose for the football with 15 career interceptions to go with 185 tackles.

Taylor Loffler: The former UBC star became a starter at safety for Winnipeg as a rookie in 2016. The six-foot-four, 225-pound native of Kelowna, B.C., has amassed 185 tackles, eight interceptions and a sack over his three CFL seasons and at age 26, the three-time league all-star still boasts plenty of potential.


Lirim Hajrullahu: The five-foot-11, 205-pound former Western star handled all kicking chores last season with Hamilton. Hajrullahu hit on 46-of-54 field goals (85.2 per cent) and 41-of-46 converts (89.1 per cent) to finish second in CFL scoring among kickers with 189 points. He also sported a 45.0-yard average as a punter.

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