Will B.C. quarterback Mike Reilly reach free agency, or will the Lions lock him up?
The CFL released a list of which players could potentially be free agents come February on Wednesday, and it makes for interesting reading. Although some of these guys will undoubtedly resign with their current teams before then, there are plenty of big names out there, so we should certainly have some notable moves when the free-agent deadline strikes on February 15. Here's a player in particular to watch from each team, going West to East, plus a few others to keep an eye on.
B.C. Lions: Mike Reilly, quarterback: Reilly might be the most interesting free agent potentially out there, as he shone as B.C.'s starter down the stretch while Travis Lulay was out with a shoulder injury. That has plenty of teams talking about him, particularly those with obvious quarterback issues like Edmonton and Winnipeg. Although Lulay certainly looks like the Lions' starter going forward, it's not inconceivable that Reilly could return to the Lions, as he seems to fit in well there; the Lions may also be motivated to make him a significant offer, considering the time they've spent developing him and potential concerns about Lulay's health. (Despite starting the West Final, Lulay just didn't seem to have his typical zip on his throws; a key question is if that was just too soon after his injury and if he'll get that back this offseason, or if his arm strength has actually dropped.) Still, if Reilly gets an impressive offer from another team, and there are plenty of reasons to think he might, it's tough to see him remaining in black and orange. Chances to start in the CFL are rare, and Reilly's turning 28 in January (plus, Lulay's only 29, so it's not like he's likely to hang his cleats up any time soon); if he gets a good offer, it would make sense for him to jump at it. The Lions have plenty of other notable names here, including offensive tackle Jovan Olafioye, linebacker Solomon Elimimian and receiver Shawn Gore, but Reilly may draw the most interest.
Calgary Stampeders: Romby Bryant, wide receiver: Bryant's 55 catches for 678 yards in the 2012 season were good but not great by his standards, but he really came on in the playoffs, catching four passes for 102 yards and a touchdown against Saskatchewan, two passes for 69 yards and a touchdown against the Lions and two passes for 31 yards in the Grey Cup game against Toronto. He's not likely to be a number-one receiver, but he could certainly be a nice depth option for many teams. His age (32) may be a bit of a concern, though.
Edmonton Eskimos: J.C. Sherritt, middle linebacker: The Eskimos' unquestioned 2012 star (and their candidate for most outstanding player) set a CFL record for tackles in a single season this year and was named the league's top defensive player. He's recovering from an ankle injury, but would seem a potential candidate to defect to the NFL: plenty of defensive players have made that jump quite well, including former Saskatchewan linebacker Jerrell Freeman (now starring with the Indianapolis Colts), and the old "undersized" tag doesn't seem to carry as much weight down south as it once did. He's quite young at 24, which also might make him an appealing target for NFL teams. If he stays north of the border, though, expect plenty of bidding interest in him.
Saskatchewan Roughriders: Shomari Williams, outside linebacker: Williams was the top pick in the 2010 Canadian draft, and he's developed from an excellent special-teamer into a solid defensive player. He's played both in the middle and on the outside (where he shifted after the Riders signed Joe Lobendahn), and his non-import status and ability to play in the linebacking corps could make him a potential ratio-buster for interested teams. At 27, he should have plenty of good years left.
Winnipeg Blue Bombers: Bryant Turner, defensive tackle: Get ready for the Bryant Turner rumour mill to kick into overdrive if the Bombers can't take care of business. The team's lone league all-star and one of the few bright spots in Winnipeg's dismal 2012 season recorded six sacks, 20 tackles and a forced fumble in 14 starts before a late-season injury. The 25-year-old Turner provides a great pass rush, which is always a crucial consideration in free agency. He can be a solid presence against the run as well.
Hamilton Tiger-Cats: Chris Rwabukamba, cornerback: The 25-year-old Rwabukamba began the year as a backup, but took over a starting cornerback role partway through the season. It was his second year with the team, but he only recorded one tackle in 2011. 2012 saw him make 23 regular tackles and another eight on special teams. As a Canadian who can start at a tough position, he'll be either a crucial player for Hamilton to lock up or a target for other teams.
Toronto Argonauts: Chad Kackert, running back: Kackert was often overlooked during the 2012 season, but really came into his own in the playoffs and was named the Grey Cup's most outstanding player after collecting 133 rushing yards on 20 carries. He's also just 26. It's not going to be easy for Argonauts' general manager Jim Barker to bring him back, as he'll certainly be in line for a raise from the approximately $50,000 he's estimated to have been paid this past year.
Montreal Alouettes: Brandon Whitaker, running back: It's going to be very interesting to see what happens with the 27-year-old Whitaker. He tore up the CFL in 2011, leading the CFL with 1,381 rushing yards and adding 638 receiving yards, but although he was good before he got hurt this year, he wasn't at the same level of dominance. For one thing, his yards-per-carry average dropped from an excellent 6.1 to a closer-to-average 5.1. Moreover, Alouettes' general manager Jim Popp has long been a proponent of letting known names walk and replacing them with cheaper finds; after all, that's what happened in 2011 when Popp let Avon Cobourne go to Hamilton and handed Whitaker the job. Will that happen again, or will Montreal pony up the cash to keep him?
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