CFL free agency opens Friday: Five key players to watch

The CFL's free agency window officially opens at noon Eastern Friday, but it's debatable just how action-packed this year's dealings will be. Attitudes towards free agency differ dramatically from team to team, but many CFL general managers aren't huge fans of making big moves in the free agent market. Moreover, several notable names once potentially set to become free agents have already either signed new deals with their current team (Shawn Gore, Jonathan Hefney, Bryant Turner) or found new landing spots (Mike Reilly, Romby Bryant). There are still plenty of significant free agents set to hit the market Friday, though. Here's a look at five of the most interesting names out there.

Dwight Anderson, defensive back, Montreal: Anderson's perhaps the toughest pending free agent to accurately value, as his stock has rose and dipped dramatically over the past few seasons. He was a league all-star with Calgary in 2010 and was seen as a key free agent signing for the Alouettes in 2011, but fell into controversy that year and didn't play all that well beyond that, reportedly earning his way into head coach Marc Trestman's doghouse. It looked like he might be released last offseason, but Montreal patched things up with him, and he played well enough to earn an East Division all-star nod in 2012. Anderson certainly has plenty of talent, which could make him an intriguing prospect for teams looking for help in the secondary (Saskatchewan has been mentioned, but others may pursue him as well), but the question is if a new team will be getting the star of 2010 and 2012 or the troublemaker of 2011.

Shomari Williams, linebacker, Saskatchewan: What's particularly notable with Williams is his non-import status. Teams are always looking for top-tier Canadian talent, and Williams could very well be that; the top draft pick in 2010, he started out as a special-teams star, but worked his way into the Riders' starting lineup this past year. However, there are reasons to think he may not be sticking around Saskatchewan. For one thing, the Riders initially were using him as a middle linebacker, but then shifted him to an outside slot, and they have other capable players pushing for those slots (particularly Diamond Ferri). Moreover, it seems quite likely that they'll be able to reach their minimum of seven starting non-imports without Williams. It's going to be interesting to see if anyone else makes him a significant offer: Williams is a very capable player, but a lot of teams prefer to go with all-import linebackers. If he can land a likely starting spot and a commensurate salary elsewhere, he's likely gone, but if not, he may stay in Saskatchewan and compete for a job.

Jovan Olafioye, offensive tackle, B.C.: Olafioye may have the most confusing status of any pending free agent. He's indisputably one of the league's best blockers (and was named the CFL's top offensive lineman this past year) and has long been rumoured to be heading to the NFL, but apparently was shot down by the Packers' medical staff this offseason thanks to a family disposition towards high blood pressure. Last year, the Rams vetoed bringing him in for similar reasons. The key question with Olafioye is if an NFL team will see his CFL career as evidence he's perfectly capable of playing football while remaining healthy. If another team steps in, he'll be headed south of the border. If not, he could be back in B.C., or he could be an instant upgrade on the offensive line for anyone else.

Chad Kackert, running back, Toronto: Kackert, the MVP of the 2012 Grey Cup, overcame a lot of the doubters this past year. Now the question is what's next for him. There's reportedly been NFL interest in Kackert, but at 5'8'' and 201 pounds, he's significantly smaller than most running backs in that league. NFL teams may or may not take a chance on him. If they don't, the Argos would love to keep him, but that likely depends on how much other teams offer. The majority of CFL teams seem set at running back, but sometimes the urge to bring in a proven star is tough to resist. If that happens, Kackert may have played his last game in the Argos' double blue.

Brandon Whitaker, running back, Montreal: Whitaker is in a similar situation to Kackert, as he's received NFL interest but is typically undersized (5'10'', 196 pounds) by that league's standards. He's also trying to come back from knee surgery, and it sounds like his days with the Alouettes may be coming to a close. He's dominated when healthy, leading the CFL in rushing in 2011 and proving a capable receiver out of the backfield as well, but running back's a tough position to get free agent offers at in the CFL; most teams only want one big-name guy and a bunch of capable backups. If he doesn't wind up in the NFL, Whitaker will receive plenty of CFL interest, but the question's how much any team will be willing to ante up for him.

Stay tuned to 55-Yard Line and the Yahoo! Sports CFL page for coverage of free agency signings. You can also follow our coverage on Twitter from @YahooSportsCFL, @55YardLineCFL and @AndrewBucholtz.

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