Stampeders active on busy opening day of CFL free agency period

Hamilton Tiger Cats defensive back Richard Leonard (4) makes an easy interception deep in his own zone during first half CFL football game action against the Edmonton Eskimos, in Hamilton, Ont., Friday, Oct. 4, 2019. (Peter Power/CP)

TORONTO — It was a busy opening day of CFL free agency for Brock Sunderland.

The Edmonton GM added nine new players and a former Eskimo while re-signing another after the free-agent period opened at noon ET on Tuesday. Defence was a priority as Sunderland signed American defensive backs Trumaine Washington, Jonathon Mincy, Anthony Covington and Caleb Ham (all Toronto last season) as well as linebackers Justin Tuggle (Hamilton) and Korey Jones (Winnipeg).

He also added running back Brandon Burks (Toronto) and receivers Alex Charette (Toronto) and Shakeir Ryan (Montreal). Charette is a Canadian while Burks and Ryan are both Americans.

Sunderland re-signed American offensive linemen Tommie Draheim while adding Canadian offensive lineman Jean-Simon Roy, an Eskimos 2017 draft pick who spent last year with B.C.

And before noon, Sunderland signed American quarterback Logan Kilgore and Canadian defensive tackle Mark Mackie to contract extensions.

However, Sunderland said free agency isn’t the be-all, end-all for CFL teams.

"This is one piece of the puzzle of building a team," Sunderland told reporters in Edmonton. "It’s probably the most exciting for media and the fans and I understand that.

"We have the CFL draft and we’re going to sign free agents that don’t have CFL experience that we anticipate being good players."

Edmonton (8-10) is looking to improve upon its fourth-place finish in the West Division last season. The Eskimos hired a new head coach this off-season (Scott Milanovich) and last month signed quarterback Trevor Harris to three-year contract extension.

The Calgary Stampeders were also active. Traditionally they’re not busy when CFL free agency begins but president/GM John Hufnagel told reporters Monday that could change this year.

On Tuesday, Hufnagel was a man of his word as Calgary signed Canadian kicker/punter Ronnie Pfeffer to a one-year deal before noon to fill the void created by veteran Rob Maver’s retirement.

Once free agency opened, Calgary added Canadian defensive lineman Connor McGough, a former Calgary Dino who spent the last three years with Hamilton, and American defensive backs Richard Leonard (former all-star with Ticats) and Branden Dozier (B.C.).

Leonard and Dozier fill a need for Calgary, which lost three starters from its secondary with the retirement of Brandon Smith and Tre Roberson and DaShaun Amos leaving for the NFL. The Stampeders also re-signed backup quarterback Montell Cozart and added fellow American passer Dakota Prukop (Toronto).

On Saturday, Calgary signed Canadian centre Sean McEwen, who’d been released earlier by Toronto.

However, the free-agent frenzy was nowhere near where it was last year when marquee quarterbacks Harris, Mike Reilly and Bo Levi Mitchell all hit the open market. Edmonton was right in the thick of it, signing Harris after Reilly left to join the B.C. Lions.

Mitchell ultimately re-signed with Calgary.

But one big name remains on the open market. Speedy receiver Derel Walker (65 catches, 1,040 yards, six TDs last year with Toronto).

B.C. landed one of the biggest names in burly defensive tackle Micah Johnson (four sacks last year with Saskatchewan after registering a career-best 18 in 2018 with Calgary). The Lions also signed offensive lineman Ryker Mathews and inked national linebacker Kevin Francis (Ottawa) to one-year deals.

Other CFL free-agency moves include:

— Ottawa shored up its defence by signing Canadian defensive lineman Cleyon Laing (Toronto), former Redblacks defensive back Abdul Kanneh (Toronto) and veteran American linebacker Don Unamba (Edmonton). They also added running back/receiver Anthony Coombs (Hamilton) and linebacker Christophe Mulumba-Tshimanga (Edmonton), both Canadians.

— The Blue Bombers signed former Edmonton defensive back Josh Johnson, an American who registered three interceptions in Edmonton’s East Division semifinal win over Montreal. The secondary was definitely an area of need with Marcus Sayles and Winston Rose both leaving to pursue NFL opportunities. The defending Grey Cup champions also re-signed linebacker Thomas Miles, a Winnipeg native who’ll enter his fourth season in Manitoba.

— American quarterback James Franklin signed a one-year deal with Saskatchewan to back up incumbent Cody Fajardo. Franklin was released last week by Toronto. The Riders also re-signed Canadian defensive end Jordan Reaves and veteran linebacker Solomon Elimimian.

— Toronto boosted its Canadian content, signing offensive linemen Philip Blake (Montreal) and Dariusz Bladek (Saskatchewan), receiver Juan Brescacin (Calgary), linebacker Nick Shortill (Hamilton) and defensive lineman Fabian Foote (Montreal). The Argos also landed defensive lineman Alex Bazzie (Edmonton) Craig Roh (Winnipeg) and receiver DaVaris Daniels (Edmonton). Daniels was a definite need given Walker and Armanti Edwards, both 1,000-yard performers last season, are free agents and veteran S.J. Walker (85 catches, 1,039 yards, four TDs) is now in the XFL.

— Montreal re-signed veteran American defensive back Ciante Evans and added Americans Tyquwan Glass and Marloshawn Franklin to its secondary. The Alouettes also signed Canadian linebacker Frederic Chagnon (B.C.).

— Hamilton signed running back Don Jackson (Calgary) as well as linebackers Larry Dean (Edmonton) Qudarius Ford (Toronto) and Canadian Justin Herdman-Reed (Toronto). Safety Courtney Stephen, a native of Brampton, Ont. who spent his first six CFL seasons with the Ticats before playing with the Stampeders last year, returns to the squad.

— Running back/returner Chris Rainey returned to B.C. (Toronto). Rainey began his CFL career with Montreal in 2014 before spending the next five seasons in Vancouver. The Lions also signed defensive lineman Cam Walker (Ottawa, Toronto last year), a native of London, Ont., and Americans Chris Casher (Calgary), J.R. Tavai (Ottawa) and Ryan Brown (Montreal) as well as Canadian defensive back Derek Jones (Winnipeg).

Still, there was an anticlimatic sense to the start of free agency. Not only were there no elite quarterbacks available, defensive lineman Willie Jefferson — the CFL’s top defensive player last year and regarded as the best available pending free agent — signed a two-year contract extension Monday to remain with the Grey Cup-champion.

Some players were signed prior to start of free agency but the most entertaining was American defensive lineman Dylan, who signed a two-year deal to remain with Hamilton. Wynn, who had a career-best 11 sacks last year, took to Twitter to announced he’d signed with the XFL but then said he was joking and donned a Ticats hat before rocking out to AC/DC’s "Back in Black."

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