The Great Debate: Who is the FA diamond in the rough?
TORONTO — With free agency under a week away, there are still plenty of difference makers that appear to be weighing their options and could hit the open market on Feb. 11.
Many teams will target high-profile players, like Willie Jefferson or Derel Walker, but there are still many considered under the radar that would make significant contributions to any team that decides to hand them a contract.
There were plenty of under the radar signings during free agency in 2019 that paid off immensely. Tunde Adeleke signed in Hamilton as a free agent, took over as the team’s starting safety and ended up hitting a career-best in tackles (52) and hauled in two interceptions. Brandon Alexander re-signed in Winnipeg and was one of the key pieces of the Bombers’ secondary as they went on to win the Grey Cup. Bo Lokombo was another free agent pickup and the hard-hitting, ratio breaker made an impact in the form of 51 tackles and two interceptions in Montreal.
In the latest debate, we take a look at a handful of potential free agents that are diamonds in the rough that could help put a team over the edge in 2020.
Solomon Elimimian headed to Riderville after his release from the Lions last off-season. Don’t let his age deter you, because at 33, Elimimian didn’t miss a beat in his 10th CFL season.
Hit hit the field for the first time as a Rider in Week 4 – he was on the sideline for the first three games of the season recovering from an injury – and began a stellar season in Saskatchewan. In 15 contests, Elimimian tallied 88 defensive tackles, four sacks and one forced fumble. The middle linebacker was on pace for 105 tackles over a full season, proving he still has plenty left in the tank and would add a veteran presence to any team’s defence if he hits the open market.
Don Unamba, LB
Don Unamba has quietly become one of the best cover linebackers in the CFL but is still looking to become a household name.
The 30-year-old has found his place among the front seven of a defence after switching from defensive back to SAM linebacker. In 2018, his first year as a fulltime LB, he tallied 59 tackles, four sacks, an interception returned for a touchdown and three forced fumbles. That season in Hamilton, he earned his first division and CFL All-Star nods. He then headed to Edmonton during free agency last year and was a perfect fit in Phillip Lolley’s defence. Unamba hit a career-high in sacks (six) and would have done the same in tackles if he played a full season – he tallied 43 tackles in 12 games, a pace that would have seen him hit 64 on the year.
S.J. Green, WR
Already known as one of the best in the business, S.J. Green continued to shine in Toronto last year. He’s turning 35 this year but Green has yet to show any signs that he’s slowing down or ready to hang up his cleats.
He put up his third-straight 1000-yard campaign since joining the Double Blue in 2017 and wrote his name in the record books, becoming just the 18th player in CFL history to surpass the 10,000-yard mark. He’s also been a consistent option for QBs, making at least 80 catches in all of the past three years. The reliable, three-time Grey Cup champion would add to any team’s receiving corps if he doesn’t sign an extension in Toronto.
Anthony Cioffi, DB/LB
Anthony’s career-best season in 2019 may have been overlooked because of the Ottawa REDBLACKS’ losing campaign.
The 25-year-old suited up in all 18 games in the nation’s capital and tallied 61 defensive tackles, five special teams tackles, two sacks, and a forced fumble. The six-foot, 205-pounder played at SAM linebacker last season and would add to any team looking for a versatile playmaker on the defensive side of the ball.
Shawn Lemon, DL
Shawn Lemon has proven that he is a force to be reckoned with, no matter what team he’s been on.
As a member of the Argonauts in 2016, he hit a career-high in sacks (14) and tallied 22 tackles in 16 contests. He played in 13 games with the Lions in 2018 and tallied double digits in sacks again (10) and last season, following his trade from Toronto back to BC, he tallied eight sacks, three forced fumbles and 19 tackles in 10 games.
If Lemon hits free agency, he’ll add 70 career sacks to any team looking to bolster their pass rush.
DaVaris Daniels, WR
DaVaris Daniels had a quiet season by his standards in 2019, taking a secondary role to Ricky Collins Jr. and Greg Ellingson in the Esks’ receivers room and missing time with injury. But let’s not forget why Daniels was named 2016’s Most Outstanding Rookie.
The 27-year-old played in 13 games last season, hauling in 738 yards and two touchdowns. If he suited up in a full season, he was on pace to catch 1,021 yards. He also had two massive outings in the regular season for the Esks – 155 yards against the Argos in Week 10 and a 207-yard performance in Week 11. Not to mention his clutch performance against the Tiger-Cats in the Eastern Final where he hauled in 109 yards and a touchdown.
If given the opportunity, and if he can stay healthy, Daniels has proven he can be reliable No. 1 option in a team’s offence.
Frank Beltre, DL
Frank Beltre played two roles for the Toronto Argonauts in 2019. He lined up in the trenches, tallying eight tackles, but where he excelled was on special teams.
Often over looked, special teams is an important aspect of the Canadian game, especially the players who run down field looking to stuff explosive returners. Beltre led the league in special teams tackles with 27, two more than a pair of Bombers, including the West Division’s nominee for Most Outstanding Special Teams Player Mike Miller. Teams looking to add an explosive, downhill runner will look no further than Beltre.
Which FA diamond in the rough is best?