The Saskatchewan Roughriders Kory Sheets celebrates after the Roughriders defeated the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the CFL's 101st Grey Cup on Nov. 24. David Stobbe/Reuters
An enticing list of prospective CFL free agents is out, but football fans shouldn't get carried away drawing up their wish lists just yet.
On Thursday, the CFL unveiled which players are slated to become free agents at noon ET on Feb. 15. Among them are Grey Cup MVP Kory Sheets and receivers Weston Dressler and Taj Smith, who all helped the Saskatchewan Roughriders defeat the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 45-23 in the league's championship game Sunday at Mosaic Stadium.
More than 120 players are scheduled to test the free-agent waters. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers have the most (23), including linebacker Henoc Muamba, the East Division's top Canadian this year.
The Calgary Stampeders, who posted a league-best 14-4 record, have 21 players with expiring contracts. Montreal and Saskatchewan are next with 19 each while the B.C. Lions have the fewest (six).
The reason for the abundance of potential free agents is simple. On Dec. 16, Ottawa Redblacks GM Marcel Desjardins will select 24 players (eight imports, 16 Canadians) over three rounds to stock his expansion team. Desjardins will take eight imports in the first round before selecting eight Canadians in each of the final two.
The eight other CFL GMs can protect any of their players, including those heading into free agency. However, there's a challenge Ottawa faces taking unprotected prospective free agents. If they don't want to sign with the Redblacks, they simply have to wait until Feb. 15 when they're able to join the teams of their choice.
Another hurdle Ottawa faces is taking pending free agents who have re-signed with their former clubs before Dec. 16 but not registered the deal with the CFL. Being selected by the Redblacks would give those players the unique opportunity to sign with the expansion squad because the deal with their former teams wouldn't have been sent to the league office.
However, Ottawa would hold exclusive negotiating rights to the pending free agents until Feb. 15. Once the players became free agents they could register their pre-arranged contracts with the CFL to make them legal and binding.
Any pending free agents with pre-arranged deals not taken by Ottawa could register their contracts with the CFL following the expansion draft, thus limiting the potential free-agent pool.
CFL players have seven days to file their contracts with the league otherwise the deal is illegal. However, proving the violation took place is very difficult.
Ottawa is scheduled to return to the CFL next season and the club's biggest off-season question is who will play quarterback. Slated for free agency are Montreal's Josh Neiswander, Toronto's Zach Collaros, Hamilton's Henry Burris, Saskatchewan's Drew Willy and Edmonton's Matt Nichols.
CFL clubs will be allowed to protect a quarterback and 10 additional imports under contract in the opening round.
Any franchise losing a quarterback will then protect two more Canadians in the second round while a club losing a punter/kicker can protect another Canadian.
In the second, Ottawa will select eight Canadians — one from each team —as CFL GMs will be allowed to protect six non-imports.
If Ottawa wants a Canadian-born kicker or punter, it must take him in the second round. A team losing a non-import kicker or punter will be allowed to protect another Canadian in the third round.
CFL teams will protect at least six more Canadians in the third, depending on who they've lost to that point. Ottawa will complete the process by taking another non-import from each team in the final round.
Ottawa can take a maximum of two quarterbacks and one kicker/punter, but all three can't come from the same club.
Once the Ottawa draft is complete, CFL teams will have exclusive negotiating rights with their prospective free agents until mid-February. Those not re-signing with their former clubs prior to Feb. 15 will become free agents and able to negotiate with any squad.