CFL free-agent period set to open after busy window negotiating period

CFL free agency is set to open Tuesday with much of the guesswork seemingly having already been done.

Many pending free agents reached agreements in principle with other teams last week during the CFL’s open-window period. It began Feb. 4 with teams being allowed to speak with players who were slated to hit the open market.

That window closed Sunday. Now, pending free agents have until 10 a.m. ET on Tuesday to speak with the teams they remain under contract with.

Players will then have from 10 a.m. until noon ET on Tuesday to agree to any offer they’ve received. Should the player not accept any, he’ll become a free agent at 12:01 p.m. ET and able to sign with the team of his choice.

And Tuesday could be when there’s clarity on the football futures of Canadian defensive lineman Mathieu Betts and American receiver Tim White. 

Betts, the CFL’s top defensive player last season after registering 18 sacks with the B.C. Lions — the most ever by a Canadian player — could reportedly sign with the NFL’s Detroit Lions in free agency. White had 75 catches for a CFL-high 1,269 yards, eight touchdowns in 2023 with Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

There were moves Monday as Canadian linebacker Shayne Gauthier and American defensive back Money Hunter signed one-year deals with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Ottawa Redblacks, respectively, Both were eligible to become free agents Tuesday.

Veteran defensive lineman Micah Johnson signed a one-year extension with the Saskatchewan Roughriders. The Toronto Argonauts signed offensive lineman Ryan Hunter, of North Bay, Ont., through the 2026 campaign while Hamilton extended American defensive lineman Casey Sayles through next season while re-signing defensive back Richard Leonard, who was a pending free agent.

Hunter’s extension was good news for a Toronto team that was hit hard during the window period. Linebacker Adarius Pickett, the East Division’s top defensive player last year, signed with Ottawa upon getting his release while running back A.J. Ouellette (Saskatchewan), defensive linemen Dewayne Hendrix and Brandon Barlow and defensive back Jamal Peters (all with Hamilton), kick-returner Javon Leake (Edmonton) and offensive tackle Trevon Tate (Calgary) all agreed to deals in principle elsewhere.

Toronto also dealt Canadian linebacker Jordan Williams to Hamilton. And the Argos could be without cornerback Qwan’Tez Stiggers, the CFL’s top rookie last season, if he’s taken in the ’24 NFL draft.

Ottawa GM Shawn Burke has been busy this off-season. In addition to signing Pickett, Burke acquired/signed American quarterback Dru Brown from Winnipeg and free-agent receiver Dominique Rhymes upon his release from B.C. 

Burke also re-signed defensive linemen Lorenzo Mauldin IV, Bryce Carter and Michael Wakefield, receiver Justin Hardy (team-high 85 catches for 1,009 yards and three TDs) and running back Devonte Williams (1,003 rushing yards). All were pending free agents.

Ottawa also re-signed Canadian offensive lineman Jacob Ruby to a one-year deal Monday. He was released last month before being due an off-season bonus.

Retaining CFL rushing leader Brady Oliveira and receiver Dalton Schoen were among Winnipeg GM Kyle Walters’ biggest moves this off-season, along with keeping defensive lineman Willie Jefferson and tackle Stanley Bryant. But tackle Jermarcus Hardrick (deal in principle with Saskatchewan), defensive lineman Ricky Walker (Calgary) and cornerback Demerio Houston (Stampeders) appear headed elsewhere.

Montreal GM Danny Maciocia has worked diligently to keep much of the Grey Cup-champion Alouettes’ roster intact, re-signing linebackers Darnell Sankey and Tyrice Beverette, defensive lineman Shawn Lemon and Canadian offensive linemen Philippe Gagnon, Justin Lawrence and Kristian Matt, to name a few. But running back William Stanback (now with B.C.) was released while receiver Austin Mack (Atlanta Falcons) and Canadian defensive lineman Lwal Uguak (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) both signed NFL deals.

Ouellette wasn’t Saskatchewan GM Jeremy O’Day’s only window-period agreement. The Riders also reportedly agreed to terms with linebacker Jameer Thurman (Hamilton) and cornerback Jalon Edwards-Cooper (B.C.) while re-signing standout receiver Shawn Bane Jr.

Thurman’s presence in Saskatchewan would suggest veteran linebacker American Larry Dean hits the open market. The six-foot, 225-pound Dean had 104 tackles, two sacks, one forced fumble and two interceptions last season.

Also expected to hit free agency is veteran Hamilton linebacker Simoni Lawrence. The colourful 34-year-old American had 84 tackles (three for loss), five sacks, three forced fumbles and an interception in 18 regular-season games after injuries limited him to nine contests in 2022.

Two Bombers slated to become free agents are starting guard Geoff Gray, a Winnipeg native, and American kicker Sergio Castillo — 46-of-51 field goals, 90.2 per cent. American running back Ka’Deem Carey, who ran for a CFL-high 1,088 yards in 2022 but had 476 yards in nine regular-season contests last year, was released earlier this month by Calgary.

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