Roughriders narrow down targets as CFL free agency nears

Taylor Shire, Regina Leader-Post

The window is about to open for Jeremy O’Day.

Beginning on Sunday, as general manager of the Saskatchewan Roughriders, O’Day can begin talking to pending free agents from across the league when the CFL opens its seven-day “free agency communication window,” allowing teams to openly reach out to players who are set to hit the open market on Feb. 13 at 11 a.m.

“It gives us and the players an opportunity to communicate; something that you haven’t been able to do with the player until the window opens up,” O’Day said from Texas where he is scouting at the East-West Shrine Bowl.

“If we do have interest in that player, that player has an opportunity to see where he fits.”

Before the free agency communication window first became a thing in 2020, teams could not talk to pending free agents as they were still under contract and therefore would be considered tampering.

Now, there’s a week-long period where teams can make formal offers to pending free agents or at the very least, gauge interest in the players they might want to sign.

“It’s a good opportunity to get to know someone and see if they’ll add value to your team,” said O’Day.

When the window closes on Feb. 11, pending free agents will then move into a 48-hour communication window with the team they were under contract with last season. At that time, every club will be provided with the registered offering that those pending free agents have received.

“You’ll have an idea of what it would take to sign the player or in some cases to get your own players back,” said O’Day.

Teams will then have until 9 a.m. on Feb. 13 to make an offer to that player. Those pending free agents will then have two hours to accept an offer made to them by any team or else they will officially become a free agent at 11 a.m. Any offers made prior to free agency opening will be withdrawn.

After the 2023 CFL season that saw Saskatchewan miss the playoffs for a second straight year, the Green and White had 30 players set to hit the open market.

They have since signed 13 of those players, including 1,000-yard receiver Shawn Bane Jr., who inked a two-year contract extension on Thursday.

“Happy to get Shawn back,” said O’Day. “When we signed him in free agency (last year), we were trying to add a little bit of speed to our receiving corps and Shawn has the ability to break the long ones.

“He brings an element to our offence that we’re looking for.”

There are other potential big names from Saskatchewan’s roster set to become free agents including linebacker Larry Dean, defensive lineman Micah Johnson and running back Jamal Morrow, who is among three of the top six running backs from the CFL last year who are set to hit the market, alongside Brady Oliveira and A.J. Ouellette.

“We’ve had discussions with (Morrow’s) representation and right now there’s nothing imminent that’s in the works,” said O’Day. “We’ll see what progresses in the next few days and then once we get into the window.”

When it comes to quarterbacks, the Riders made a decision last week when it the potential backup to incumbent starter Trevor Harris, as Saskatchewan signed Mason Fine to a two-year extension over Jake Dolegala. The Riders are also returning Antonio Pipkin and Shea Patterson.

“We spent a lot of time watching film on our quarterbacks from last year,” said O’Day. “We had to make sure that we evaluated them with our new head coach and new offensive coordinator.

“Through that process, we decided that we wanted to go with (Fine) and just for us, it was the fit with (offensive coordinator Marc Mueller’s) offence.”

While the Riders will need to add depth at a number of other key positions, including the offensive line, just how busy O’Day will be during the opening day of free agency will be determined over the next week when he’s able to speak with potential recruits.

“It’s hard to tell,” said O’Day, who wouldn’t divulge any positions he wants to target. “Sometimes it just depends on how everything goes within the window.

“Obviously we have some areas that we’re focused on that we want to improve or we don’t have as much depth as we want.”