Costabile: Five pending FAs that need to stay put

CFL

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With an abundance of players due to become free agents on February 13, the next few months will be a busy time for general managers across the league.

There are so many stars that hold expiring contracts and it’s no secret that their respective teams will want to keep them all to themselves.

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It was hard to pick just a handful of players their respective teams should try and keep, since there are so many playmakers on all three sides of the ball that could hit free agency in a few months.

With that being said, here’s five players that their clubs should try and keep.

TIM WHITE
WR – Hamilton Tiger-Cats

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats may not have had the season they had hoped for, but Tim White was everything they could have wished for and more, leading the league in receiving yards by year’s end.

White’s been a model of consistency over the last two seasons for Hamilton; he hauled in 1,265 yards and eight touchdowns in 2022 and caught 1,269 yards and eight touchdowns this season. That’s only a four yard difference between years.

It’s also worth noting that his success has come with a plethora of quarterbacks throwing passes his way in both years. Dane Evans, Matthew Shiltz, Jamie Newman, and briefly Jalen Morton all threw passes in 2022 and this season saw Bo Levi Mitchell, Shiltz, and Taylor Powell under centre. That should bode well for the Ticats when they begin to make roster decisions this off-season, knowing that their All-Star receiver can perform no matter who is at quarterback.

AJ OUELLETTE
RB – Toronto Argonauts

The Toronto Argonauts offence ran through the ground in 2023 with running back AJ Ouellette leading the way. His bruising, downhill running style was an excellent compliment to his quarterback Chad Kelly‘s escapability out of the pocket, as the team’s run game kept opponents guessing all season long.

Ouellette didn’t play the entire season, after Toronto clinched the East the 28-year-old sat out for a few contests and the ones he was in, he didn’t see every snap. Despite that, he still hit 1,000 yards for the first time in his career (1,009) and became the first Argo to surpass that marker since 2016. Who knows how many yards he would have tallied if he played in every contest down the stretch. And don’t forget that Ouellette threw a touchdown pass in the team’s Labour Day victory over Hamilton to go along with a pair of touchdown catches through the air.

American running backs sometimes don’t get the respect they deserve in situations like this, but it can’t be understated just how much Ouellette meant to Toronto’s offensive success and they should want to get him signed to a new deal before February 13.

DARNELL SANKEY
LB – Montreal Alouettes

Darnell Sankey‘s impact in the Montreal Alouettes’ championship run cannot be denied. He joined the team ahead of their Week 15 matchup against the Toronto Argonauts, the team’s last loss of the season, and started doing what he does best: making plays. His guarantee that Montreal wouldn’t lose again after that game and would go on to win the Grey Cup astonishingly came true, much to his own credit. The linebacker tallied 31 tackles in six regular season games, to go along with a sack, an interception, and a forced fumble.

He was also around the football in his team’s two playoff games and in the 110th Grey Cup victory tallying 22 tackles, three sacks, two interceptions, and a fumble recovery over those three games. Making plays is nothing new for Sankey either as he led the league in tackles in 2021 and 2022 (the only other two seasons he’s suited up in the CFL) with 120 and 97, respectively.

While I don’t know if his premonition to never lose again is a good enough reason to keep someone around (it is for this armchair general manager), but his resume speaks for itself and he should be on top of Danny Maciocia’s list to get a new contract.

BRADY OLIVEIRA
RB – Winnipeg Blue Bombers

While I know that Brady Oliveira has said he’d like to try his hand playing in the league down south, a new contract for the reigning Most Outstanding Canadian should still be on Kyle Walter’s list this off-season.

The Bombers offence ran through the legs of Oliveira, as he pushed to the top of the stats page in rushing yards with 1,534 yards in the regular season. The Winnipeg native went over 2,000 all-purpose yards too, proving he’s a dual threat on the ground and catching passes out of the backfield.

Oliveira was sensational in 2023 on his way to winning the Most Outstanding Canadian award and earning the West Division’s Most Outstanding Player nomination. Keeping a player of his calibre around almost seems like a no-brainer.

MATHIEU BETTS
DL – BC Lions

Mathieu Betts had a breakout season in 2023, hitting career-highs across the board; 42 defensive tackles, four forced fumbles, and 18 sacks.

His quick release off the line and precise pass-rush moves made him a handful for any offensive line he lined up against. Plus, his 18 sacks led the league and set a new record for most in a single season by a Canadian player.

Betts won the Most Outstanding Defensive Player Award for his efforts and keeping a guy like that under contract, with his skill set and passport as a ratio breaker, should be near the top of Rick Campbell and Neil McEvoy’s to-do list this off-season.

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