Sunday, Feb. 5th, marks the opening of the CFL free agency negotiation window, where teams like the Toronto Argonauts can openly talk with pending free agents. It also means that teams can freely negotiate with the Argo players who are set to hit the open market.
The negotiation window was created in 2020 to suppress tampering and allow pending free agents to explore their options ahead of the market’s official opening. The negotiation window will remain open for exactly one week, closing at noon ET on Feb. 12.
The negotiating window is the unofficial official start of CFL free agency, with players getting a sense of their market value legally.
CFL Free Agency Negotiation Window Guidelines
During the seven-day negation window period, teams can make a formal offer to any pending free agent. That offer must be registered with the CFL office and CFLPA. Offers made in the window are binding and cannot be rescinded.
When the window closes on Feb. 12, pending free agents move into an exclusive 48-hour negotiating period with the teams that hold their present contracts.
At that time, every club in the CFL will be provided with the registered offers the pending free agents have received. Teams have until 10 a.m. ET Feb. 14 to make an offer to their pending free agents, including a copy of it to go to the league office and the CFLPA.
Pending free agents will then have from 10 a.m. to noon ET on Feb. 14 to accept any offers that have been made to them by any club. If the player chooses not to take any of those offers, they officially become free agents at 12:01 p.m. ET on Feb. 14. Any introductory offers are deemed to be withdrawn. When the free agent market opens, contract offers no longer need to be provided to the CFL or CFLPA.
The CFL’s free agency period opens on Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2023, at noon ET.
The following Argonaut players will become free agents should they not re-sign. As of press time, Toronto has 20 pending free agents, and the Boatmen have brought back six of their free-agent this off-season.
The status column below indicates whether a player has re-signed or is still bound for the open market.
TORONTO ARGONAUTS 2023 PENDING FREE AGENTS
|GITTENS JR. Kurleigh
|Nanaimo Raiders Jr.
|St. Francis Xavier
CFL 2023: Toronto Argonauts Free Agency Preview
Toronto Argonauts Championship Dilemma
The ancient adage is that it’s lonely at the top. However, when you win it all in sports, everyone gathers around your tree, looking to grab the golden apples that may fall.
Undoubtedly, the Grey Cup Champion Toronto Argonauts will see a host of their pending free agents draw attention on the open market.
They say, ‘to the victor goes the spoils’; however, everyone wants to obtain a champion’s riches. Because what transpires in this post-title process is that all your players level up in their value and status.
Opposing teams are not only looking to better themselves, but it’s a bonus to have an opportunity to weaken a champion simultaneously. It’s a win-win strategy, particuarly in play for division rivals. Eastern teams would love to strip away from the Boatmen’s championship core.
Toronto Argonauts Tall Task Keeping Superstars Like Kurleigh Gittens Jr.
The Toronto Argonauts have seventeen 2022 starters, give or take, set to hit free agency.
The Boatmen have reeled back in one of their biggest fish by re-signing Grey Cup hero Robbie Smith to a two-year deal. But arguably the team’s most crucial free-agent piece, superstar national receiver Kurleigh Gittens Jr. could be setting sail for another CFL team.
The Double Blue brass has to do everything it can to keep Gittens. Not only is KG2 an elite receiver in the league, but he is a homegrown draft pick for Toronto whose dual assets are his age (25) and national status.
Perhaps, this section will become a moot point in the coming days if the Argonauts announce that they have re-signed Gittens. However, if Double Blue doesn’t execute a preemptive strike, they need to prepare for the possibility of a formidable bidding war.
A Potential Bidding War Abound For Double Blue
A year ago, the Edmonton Elks signed megastar receiver Kenny Lawler away from the then-champion Winnipeg Blue Bombers. The Elks gave Lawler a $300,000 contract. The former Cal standout and seventh-round draft pick of the Seattle Seahawks became the CFL’s highest-paid non-quarterback in 2022.
Lawler is set to become a free agent again on 2/14. His injury-plagued 2022 season might cause hesitation for some CFL teams in breaking the bank the way Edmonton did last February. But in some instances, like that of Kurleigh Gittens, the risk is minimized due to the value of the return.
Lawler’s talents and the market dictated his value. One could argue that All-Star Kureligh Gittens Jr. is in line to match or better the deal Lawler received simply because he has added value as a Canadian.
On Feb. 5 at noon ET, Kurleigh Gittens Jr. can talk with any CFL team in the league about what they can offer him. A team can make him a formal offer at any point in the week, and it would be registered with the league and the CFLPA and considered binding.
On Feb. noon ET, the negotiation window closes, and Gittens Jr. enters into a 48-hour window where he can exclusively talk with the Argonauts, who will be aware of any of the formal offers made to him in the previous week. If KG2 isn’t interested in any of the offers he’s received, he can become an official free agent at 12:01 p.m. ET on Feb. 14, free to sign with any team of his choosing.
The Wilfred Laurier product and 2019 third-round selection by Toronto will have several suitors in free agency. Divisional rival Ottawa may be looking to pull an Edmonton by capturing a hometown superstar away from the Argonauts. The Boatmen need to ensure Gittens doesn’t jump ship and break their hearts on Valentine’s Day.
CFL 2023 Free Agency: Potential Toronto Argonauts Targets
The focus is on the Toronto Argonauts keeping their championship core pulling together in 2023. But the team might also be looking for premium free-agent players from opposing teams.
General manager Michael Clemons and his staff might end up in reactionary mode if certain Argos players decide to take their talents elsewhere.
The Double Blue’s actions in free agency will be dictated by the decisions made by some of their veteran players.
Most notably, quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson. The clock is ticking on him to make a decision for the 2023 season. The Argos would love to bring him back for one more ride. But they may have to pivot and bring in a different veteran as insurance, ahead of or behind emerging star Chad Kelly.
Toronto will add a veteran QB if MBT departs the Six. The question is, which aisle in the shopping lane will the Argos shop for his replacement?
There are former Argonauts Cody Fajardo, and Trevor Harris, who could assume a veteran insurance/bridge role. But are the Argos willing to front significant money to either player?
Ultimately, Toronto could shop for a quarterback at a discount rate.
Other veteran pivots on the market are Caleb Evans, Matt Shiltz, Dakota Prukop, and Michael O’Connor. One could mention someone like Nick Arbuckle, but that reunion seems extremely unlikely. These types of signings would suggest that Toronto is turning the keys to their club over to Chad Kelly immediately.
Will Andrew Harris be back? For that matter, will A.J. Ouellete return to the Six? There’s some doubt about the latter. Losing the emerging dual-purpose Ouellette would be a crushing blow. Quite the turnaround for a player who didn’t make Toronto’s active roster to start the 2022 season.
The Argos need plans B and C, just in case they don’t retain one or both.
In that scenario, Walter Fletcher, James Butler, and Jamal Morrow are definitely players Toronto should consider signing.
This position is arguably the richest in CFL free agency. There are plenty of star players to choose from in this group.
The list is topped by superstars like Eugene Lewis, Kenny Lawler, Kurleigh Gittens Jr., Tim White, and Nic Demski. But there are also quality starting receivers such as Steven Dunbar, Rasheed Bailey, and Kamar Jorden.
The Argos have as many as five potential starting receivers set to hit free agency. KG2, DaVaris Daniels, Markeith Ambles, Eric Rogers and Juwan Brescasin.
Toronto has already parted ways with Brandon Banks. For salary cap purposes. The door is not entirely closed on his return. However, the Boatmen will likely field a completely different-looking starting group in 2023.
Toronto has retained the services of offensive tackles Trevon Tate and Isiah Cage. The two will give the Argos added options and depth in 2023, provided that they can stay healthy next season.
However, there are some interesting decisions to be made on swiss army knife Philip Blake, who started virtually an entire season for Toronto on the blindside—and starting C/G Justin Lawrence.
Of all the positions on the Argonauts, this appears to be the one where the club could sustain from within. After all, All-Star Peter Nicastro is returning to man the middle, and Gregor MacKellar picked up valuable playing time last season. And perhaps, the best and most unheralded signing last season, Ryan Hunter, is in-house to play on the interior or at tackle.
The propensity of Vince Magri to draft well in the trenches could lend Toronto to upgrading this position through that process rather than doling out big money in free agency.
A standout option could’ve been Derek Dennis; however, he was wisely retained by Calgary. The Bombers have followed suit extending bookend superstar tackles Stanley Bryant and Jermarcus Hardick. Quite frankly, with those options off the table. The pickings for quality offensive linemen are incredibly slim.
The Argos don’t quite have the in-house strength they do here as they possess on their offensive line. But very quietly, the team has built up a nice war chest of promising American imports over the last two seasons.
The key for Toronto will be whether they retain JaGared Davis and Shane Ray as edge rushers. The re-signing of Robbie Smith, based on his emergence, age, and national status, was a must.
While it would be tempting for the Boatmen to bring on board someone like DE Obum Gwacham or veteran menace DT Micah Johnson to their front, Toronto has more pressing priorities elsewhere.
Wynton McManis and Henoc Muamba fall under the must-re-sign category, and Toronto’s front office is doing everything possible to retain both. But SAM linebacker Chris Edwards is someone Toronto has to work hard to bring back. Talents like his are hard to come by, even if there are some inherited headaches.
Losing McManis, Muamba, or Edwards could be problematic for the Boatmen’s chances of repeating as champs this year.
IF, for whatever reason, two or three of these players depart. Toronto might have to break the bank on someone like Jameer Thurman. Provided that the Stampeders do not re-up with him. It can be debated that, pound for pound, Thurman is the CFL’s best linebacker. On the field and off.
Jovan Santos-Knox is another terrific player set to hit the open market. His Ticats teammate Simoni Lawrence would cause an earthquake in Ontario if he donned Double Blue.
Surprisingly enough, division rival Montreal hasn’t re-signed Adarius Pickett yet, and he’s a name to watch if the Argos decide to move on from Edwards. But it might be a costly proposition.
Another prominent free-agent player at linebacker is Darnell Sankey. It’s challenging to believe, at this point, that he hasn’t been extended or re-signed. But if, for whatever crazy reason, Sankey is out there. And the Argos don’t get back McManis/Maumba. Pinball Clemons needs to get on the horn.
There are some quality Sam’s, Will’s, and Mike’s out there in CFL free agency. But anything less than just an average Joe at linebacker would be unacceptable for Toronto. They need to bring back their best or obtain that level of quality.
Toronto wants to go younger in their secondary, and this could mean a departure or two from a list of veterans like Royce Metchie, DaShaun Amos, and Shaq Richardson.
As crazy as that seems, it’s all contingent upon where the Argonauts decide to dole out their cap dollars in free agency. Very quietly, Toronto has gone heavy on American imports in free agency, signing five new players this off-season.
However, too much change, in the secondary, especially with All-Star Jamal Peters departing for the NFL, might not be a good thing.
From one All-Star to another, Hamilton Tiger-Cats cornerback Jumal Rolle should be a hot commodity in free agency. All-Stars like Jonathan Moxey and Garry Peters have been re-signed before free agency by their respective clubs. (Calgary/B.C.) If Rolle gets to free agency, he could be an option as a replacement for Jamal Peters. Ciante Evans, another Ticat, is another name to watch.
The safety/halfback position is not very deep in CFL free agency. So it would be in the Boatmen’s best interest to run it back for another year with players like Richardson, Metchie, and Amos. Depending on the price tag.
Boris Bede is coming off arguably the worst season of his CFL career. However, because of his versatility on kickoffs and as a punter if needed. Bede could be back in the Six. But Toronto is likely to add some competition. The problem is there aren’t many viable kicking options in free agency.
By default, and because the market is barren at placekicker, Bede could return.
Mickey Donovan’s unit got some promising signs at kick returner at the tail end of 2022. WR Jeremiah Haydel, and more specifically, RB Javon Leake, brought life to a dead spot for Toronto over the last couple of seasons.
However, if the Argonauts decide to make a significant splash at kick returner in free agency, the player to target would be Janarion Grant. The 29-year-old Rutgers alum has been one of the league’s best game-breakers. Last season for Winnipeg, he had three return touchdowns, two of them on punt returns. Grant’s had six punt returns for majors in his three-year CFL career.
Nothing is more challenging in sports than becoming a champion. The Argonauts have done it 18 times now. However, staying a champion provides the ultimate test. Toronto will be tested this off-season to avoid the pitfalls of defending champs in their recent history. The moves made by the Argos in free agency will prove if their 2022 championship is built to last.
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