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February 12, 2018

The Roughriders may not do much on the market

The Saskatchewan Roughriders may kick the tires on a few players after CFL free agency opens Tuesday.

For the most part, though, the Roughriders are likely to pump the brakes in free agency. Saskatchewan already has had a busy off-season and isn’t expected to be too aggressive on the open market.

In fact, head coach-GM Chris Jones has made that abundantly clear in discussions with the media.

“We got a lot done prior to free agency,” he told CKRM’s The Sportscage on Friday. “We’ve got some guys we need to secure. But I don’t see us being overly active in free agency this year. We’ve got a good roster.”

One of the other issues is the salary cap. After some of the moves the Roughriders made this off-season, the team is — in Jones’ words — “right at it” when it comes to the cap. That too could affect Saskatchewan’s activity on the market.

“The zeroes have to line up and you can’t be over the cap,” Jones told CKRM. “We’ve got work to do.”

When the CFL announced the list of potential free agents on Nov. 30, 22 Roughriders appeared on it. After signing a number of players to contract extensions and releasing others, only 10 players remain on Saskatchewan’s list of pending free agents.

Defensive linemen A.C. Leonard, Ese Mrabure and Eddie Steele, offensive linemen Bruce Campbell and Dan Clark, running backs Spencer Moore and Greg Morris, receiver Nic Demski, linebacker Otha Foster III and kicker Quinn van Gylswyk could hit the open market Tuesday at 11 a.m.

Well before the 2017 season ended, the Roughriders locked up one key player who could have become a free agent Tuesday. In October, Saskatchewan signed offensive lineman Brendon LaBatte to a four-year contract extension.

Since the 2017 campaign came to a close, the Roughriders have been making what they hope will be impactful personnel changes.

Saskatchewan signed quarterback Brandon Bridge to a contract extension that kept him from becoming a free agent. The Canadian pivot appeared in 12 games (with one start) in the regular season and in one playoff game in 2017, providing a change of pace from starter Kevin Glenn.

Shortly after Bridge was extended, the Roughriders acquired quarterback Zach Collaros from the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. That move, along with Bridge’s extension, allowed Saskatchewan to release Glenn.

The Roughriders then locked up offensive tackle Thaddeus Coleman (the only O-lineman who has played in every one of the team’s games over the past two seasons) and cornerback Jovon Johnson (who, as a long-serving CFL veteran, helped solidify the secondary in 2017) with contract extensions.

Saskatchewan continued its off-season work by getting Duron Carter to sign an extension before he could hit the free-agent market. The receiver/defensive back was the Roughriders’ nominee for the CFL award as most outstanding player in 2017.

Two weeks later, the Roughriders made another move to solidify their roster, acquiring four-time CFL all-star Charleston Hughes from Hamilton.

The two-time Grey Cup champion brings instant impact to Saskatchewan’s defensive line; he has won the league’s sack title in each of the past two seasons and has 99 career quarterback takedowns.

Two days after that transaction, the Green and White got one of the CFL’s top defensive players looked after. Defensive end Willie Jefferson, who could have become a free agent Tuesday, signed an extension.

The Roughriders also signed receiver Devon Bailey to an extension, a move that adds to the team’s Canadian depth.

Among the other Roughriders who were slated to become free agents, five (linebackers Jeff Knox Jr., and Cameron Ontko, tailback Shakir Bell, defensive tackle Zach Minter and cornerback Kacy Rodgers II) were released and one (receiver Chris Getzlaf) retired.

Knox and Rodgers were released so they could try their luck in the NFL. They signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New York Jets, respectively.

For good measure, the Roughriders also signed defensive back Crezdon Butler and returner Christion Jones to extensions. Their original deals were slated to expire in February of 2019.

 

Here’s a look at the 10 Roughriders who could hit the market Tuesday:

Bruce Campbell, left tackle: Campbell, who called it a career before the 2016 season, came out of retirement after training camp last season and joined the Roughriders in Week 2.

After waiting his turn through Saskatchewan’s next five games, the 29-year-old Connecticut product started 12 regular-season contests and two playoff games.

Campbell will miss two games to start the 2018 season after failing a league-imposed drug test.

Dan Clark, centre: In 2017, the 29-year-old Reginan played Saskatchewan’s first six regular-season games before suffering an elbow injury that sidelined him for nine games. He returned for the Roughriders’ final three regular-season games and two playoff contests.

Clark’s injury forced the Roughriders to juggle the line — LaBatte moved to centre, Derek Dennis moved to guard and Campbell took over at tackle. Clark subsequently was activated off the six-game list early when Dennis sustained a back injury.

Nic Demski, wide receiver: Demski started the 2017 season red-hot — he had 14 catches for 169 yards and a TD through the Roughriders’ first two regular-season games — but he cooled off after that.

A foot injury ended his campaign after nine regular-season games and he finished the season with 19 catches for 222 yards and a TD and 23 punt returns for 227 yards.

The 24-year-old from Winnipeg was a first-round pick (sixth overall) by the Roughriders in the 2015 draft, but he hasn’t played a full season since.

Otha Foster III, linebacker: Foster was the Roughriders’ top defensive player in 2016 and he parlayed that into a tryout last season with the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens.

He was cut by the Ravens and returned to Saskatchewan in September, but a back injury limited him to just three games. He finished with 11 tackles and one tackle for loss.

A.C. Leonard, defensive end: Leonard played 17 regular-season games in 2017, recording 33 tackles, 24 quarterback pressures, five sacks, four tackles for losses, three knockdowns and one forced fumble. He also appeared in both of the Roughriders’ playoff games.

The 26-year-old Floridian was Saskatchewan’s second-most consistent pass-rushing threat behind Jefferson last season.

Spencer Moore, fullback: In his fifth season with the Roughriders, Moore had seven catches for 85 yards, 15 special-teams tackles, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery in 18 regular-season games. The 27-year-old from Hamilton also appeared in both of Saskatchewan’s playoff games.

Moore was selected by the Roughriders in the fifth round (44th overall) of the 2013 draft out of McMaster University.

Greg Morris, running back: In his first full season in Saskatchewan, Morris played in 18 regular-season games and both playoff contests in 2017.

The 25-year-old product of Toronto had 14 carries for 66 yards, one catch for 34 yards, 32 kickoff returns for 732 yards and eight special-teams tackles in the regular season.

With the off-season release of Kienan LaFrance, Morris and Moore currently comprise Saskatchewan’s corps of national running backs.

Ese Mrabure, defensive lineman: The 25-year-old from Mississauga played in 16 regular-season games and recorded 17 tackles, 10 quarterback pressures, two sacks and a fumble recovery. He also played in the Roughriders’ two post-season games.

A former first-round pick of the B.C. Lions (fifth overall in 2015), Mrabure showed an ability to play anywhere on the Roughriders’ defensive line last season.

Eddie Steele, defensive tackle: Signed as a free agent last February, the 29-year-old Winnipegger appeared in all 18 regular-season games and two playoff contests in 2017. He had 23 tackles, four quarterback pressures, two pass knockdowns and a sack in the regular season.

Steele, who played for Jones in Edmonton, joined the Roughriders last season specifically because he wanted to play in Jones’ system again.

Quinn van Gylswyk, punter/kicker: The 26-year-old product of Victoria, B.C., appeared in one regular-season game last season, recording one convert and three kickoffs in place of the injured Tyler Crapigna. Van Gylswyk spent the rest of the season on the Roughriders’ injured list.

Since being drafted by Saskatchewan in the third round (26th overall) of the 2016 draft, the UBC grad has played in just two games while waiting behind Crapigna and punter Josh Bartel.