Where will the Top-20 Sign?

In a wild, wild off-season littered with coaching changes and controversy, it’s only fitting that free agency will see a record number of free agents hit the open market in what will be an absolute frenzy. The off-season will finally reach its climax.

And as always, I’ve ranked the top-20 free agents (and more) and which team I think they’ll put pen to paper with. This was harder than usual, of course, with the vast amount of eligible free agents. This is the first free agency where we’re seeing the effect of the CBA’s now-allowed one-year contracts, which were agreed upon in the 2014 negotiations. It’s no guarantee that General Managers such as Jim Barker and Wally Buono, who typically sit back in free agency, will become players given the amount of free agents and the the low prices that the middle class of free agents will be forced to take. But I think they’ll come out of their shells and open up the payroll.

Last year, I went 9/18 – excluding the NFL departures – and am looking to improve this time around.

1. DT Ted Laurent, Hamilton Tiger-Cats

Frank Gunn: THE CANADIAN PRESS

Laurent is undoubtedly the best nose tackle in the league – Canadian or not. As a 0-tech and 1-tech, the 6’1″, 301-pounder is an elite run-stuffer who pushes the pocket and attracts double teams in the pass-rush. He’ll likely be made the highest paid Canadian in the league, earning around $250,000/season. Laurent will receive interest from all nine teams, but the likely suit could be Chris Jones’ Saskatchewan Roughriders. The ‘Riders already have National depth to put behind Laurent with have money to spend.

Prediction: Signs with Saskatchewan

2. DE Justin Capicciotti, Ottawa REDBLACKS

Being only 26-years-old and having 23 sacks in the past two seasons, Capicciotti’s value may not ever be higher. He’s an elite, Canadian pass-rusher that’s been the anchor of Ottawa’s defensive line for the past two seasons. An alum of Simon Fraser University, Capicciotti has roots in British Columbia and would make a great fit in the Lions’ defense. BC desperately needs help with their pass-rush, as well as a Canadian starter to replace Andrew Harris in the ratio; Capicciotti makes the most sense.

Prediction: Signs with British Columbia

3. DB Aaron Grymes, Edmonton Eskimos

Grymes is arguably the best defensive back in the league and should get paid decently for an international. He’s been exercising all NFL options up to this point but I wouldn’t suspect he signs a deal. The ‘Riders only have one returning halfback in Tyree Hollins, while Grymes excelled in Chris Jones’ system in Edmonton. A return to northern Alberta or a new beginning in Regina are the likely options. Don’t rule out the Lions, either, if Wally Buono decides to be a player in free agency, as Grymes is a native of Seattle, WA.

Prediction: Re-signs with Edmonton

4. RB Andrew Harris, BC Lions

Despite being one of the best running backs in the league – and a Canadian, at that – Harris may not get paid as much as people think on Tuesday. And while, personally, I’d pass on Harris, he’s likely on his way to Winnipeg – his hometown where his daughter lives.

Prediction: Signs in Winnipeg

5. QB Trevor Harris, Toronto Argonauts

Harris and the Montreal Alouettes is a perfect fit. Montreal needs a franchise quarterback and there wouldn’t be much of bidding war to get Harris’ services. But I think he re-signs with Toronto, as Ricky Ray’s deal is incentive-laden, meaning the starting job is still very much open.

Prediction: Re-signs with Toronto

6. RB Jerome Messam, Calgary Stampeders

Messam was easily the most dominant running back last season, averaging 6.1 yards-per-carry. The 30-year-old managed to stay healthy throughout the season and wasn’t abused with too many carries. Contract negotiations have begun between Calgary and Messam, and are beginning to gain momentum. I think they’ll reach a deal.

Prediction: Re-signs with Calgary

7. LB Winston Venable, Montreal Alouettes

Venable had his breakout season in 2015 and likely earned a big pay raise. It’s no guarantee he re-signs in Montreal, however, as they already have Henoc Muamba, Bear Woods and promising rookie Kyler Elsworth as inside linebackers. With Chris Jones unable to recruit Sherritt to Regina, he’ll hit a home run with Venable.

Prediction: Signs with Saskatchewan

8. LB Keon Raymond, Calgary Stampeders

Considering the huge role he played within Calgary’s defense and how great he played, Raymond is still an elite player in this league. He can line up all over the formation and take on many responsibilities; he’s truly one of the most underrated player in the CFL. It would make a lot of sense for Raymond to follow his defensive coordinator, Rich Stubler, to Toronto, where he’d hold down a strong-side LB position that hasn’t be solidified in Toronto for a few years.

Prediction: Signs with Toronto

9. SB Ryan Smith, Saskatchewan Roughriders

The new regime in Saskatchewan appears to be moving on from Smith (which, by the way, doesn’t make a lot of sense). But he makes a lot of sense for the Bombers to sign – more sense than Weston Dressler – and would complete their receiving corps. The 24-year-old accumulated 991 yards in 16 games during his true rookie season and could be a slam-dunk pickup for the Bombers.

Prediction: Signs with Winnipeg

10. SB Kenny Stafford, Edmonton Eskimos

Darryl Dyck: THE CANADIAN PRESS

Surely, Kenny Stafford will look elsewhere of Edmonton where he’ll get a bigger role in another offense. He’s a legitimate deep-threat receiver that would fit in well in Winnipeg’s offense. But I think he’s Saskatchewan-bound, reuniting with Chris Jones and offensive coordinator Stephen McAdoo.

Pick: Saskatchewan Roughriders

11. DT Keith Shologan, Ottawa Redblacks

Having missed out on Ted Laurent, Cleyon Laing (NFL) and Justin Capicciotti, I think the Bombers will pick up Shologan, which would still be a big pickup. Jake Thomas provides good depth behind the 30-year-old, who’s been nothing but productive throughout his career.

Prediction: Signs with Winnipeg

12. RT Josh Bourke, Montreal Alouettes

Any time a Canadian offensive tackle hits the open market, he’s going to garner a lot of interest. But I re-watched a lot of tape on Bourke and he was the weakest link on a relatively strong Montreal offensive line. He’s now 33-years-old and Montreal could be letting him walk knowing 2016 is the season that he really falls off, similarly to Saskatchewan and Dominic Picard. With all of Hamilton’s offensive tackles slated to hit free agency, they could take a gamble on Bourke and start four Canadians on their offensive line.

Prediction: Signs with Hamilton

13. DT Euclid Cummings, Toronto Argonauts

Cummings emerged in his rookie season as one of the best three-tech defensive tackles in the league. He’s another one of Jim Barker’s many treasures from down south and I don’t think he’s going to let Cummings walk after just one full season in the league.

Prediction: Re-signs with Toronto

14. MLB JC Sherritt, Edmonton Eskimos

After a bounce-back 2015 campaign, Sherritt could test the market and check his value. But he’s been the heart-and-soul of Edmonton’s defense for a long time and I don’t think that’ll change. And Edmonton can’t allow that to change, either.

Prediction: Re-signs with Edmonton

15. K/P Swayze Waters: Toronto Argonauts

He’s just one year removed from dominating the CFL on special-teams and many pundits around the league seem to forget that. He’s an excellent kicker and punter that’s an impact player. Toronto can’t lose him.

Prediction: Re-signs with Toronto

16. DB Emmanuel Davis, Hamilton Tiger-Cats

Davis emerged in 2015 as a big-play defensive back, returning three of his five interceptions for touchdowns. He’s a good, not great, halfback, but would leave a big hole to fill in Hamilton’s defense if he leaves.

Prediction: Re-signs with Hamilton

17. DT Bryan Hall, Hamilton Tiger-Cats

Hall is a versatile three-tech that’s simply a bruiser in the trenches. He could garner a lot more interest in the market than people think, but Hamilton can’t afford to lose another key defender.

Prediction: Re-signs with Hamilton

18. SB Nic Moore, Winnipeg Blue Bombers

Had he missed maybe seven less games in is Bomber career, Moore would’ve never been on this list. But alas, he hasn’t been able to stay healthy and is now out of the Bombers’ plans. He’s still been productive when healthy, however, and likely would’ve had 1,000-yard campaigns in 2014 and 2015. The Stamps, who’ve lost Eric Rogers (NFL) and possibly Jeff Fuller, will be serious contenders.

Prediction: Signs with Calgary

19. WR Jeff Fuller, Calgary Stampeders

Fuller has the size and speed to be a Duron Carter-type player; he just needs to stay healthy. The six-foot-four, 223-pound boundary wideout is loaded on potential, and Jon Hufnagel knows that and won’t let him leave.

Prediction: Re-signs with Calgary

20. WR Shamawd Chambers, Edmonton Eskimos

Chambers will be a boom-or-bust pick for whoever picks him up. His tenure in Edmonton as a first-round draft pick was a bust – his 2-catch, 47-yard performance as Grey Cup Most Outstanding Canadian means nothing in the grand scheme of things- as he’s been constantly injured. National players almost always move closer to home in free agency, and that’s why I think the Markham, Ontario native will sign with either Toronto or Hamilton.

Prediction: Signs with Hamilton

Bonus

21. K Justin Medlock, Hamilton Tiger-Cats

He’s an American that isn’t a great punter, which is rare to see, but Justin Medlock is still the best kicker in the CFL and that’ll make him a hot commodity on the open market.

Prediction: Re-signs with Hamilton

Best of the Rest:

SB Andy Fantuz, Hamilton: He’ll take a pay cut to stay in the QEW with Hamilton.
SB Chad Owens, Toronto: Ditto to Fantuz; re-signs with Toronto.
LB Taylor Reed, Hamilton: Cats can’t lose another defender.
RB/RET Chris Rainey: Dynamic player who’d fit in well in Ottawa or back in BC.
LB Cory Greenwood, Toronto: Serious concussion issues could scare a lot of teams off. He re-signs in Toronto.
SB Chris Getzlaf, Saskatchewan: Safe to say he’ll be back in Regina in a reduced role.
DB Otha Foster, Edmonton: Mediocre strong-side LB. Off to Saskatchewan.
C Cory Watman, Saskatchewan: Disappointing former first-round pick that’ll stay in Regina.

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