Friday's CFL free-agent deadline is looming, and two players who were integral in the Toronto Argonauts' recent Grey Cup victory remain unsigned.
The Argos have made offers to both tailback Chad Kackert and defensive end Ricky Foley, the Grey Cup MVP and the top Canadian in the championship game, respectively. Now it's up to the players to decide whether to re-sign or test the open market when the deadline hits at noon ET on Friday.
Argos general manager Jim Barker aims to prove that his club can string together multiple Grey Cup victories, but don't expect that to change the GM's distaste for overspending in free agency. He refuses to say what team needs he may shop to fill, but admits there are players he's eyeing.
Kackert has reportedly auditioned for the New York Jets, so he may have NFL possibilities to weigh against offers from the Argos or any other CFL team. The 26-year-old import began 2012 as the Argos' backup and had a modest contract. The second-year CFLer emerged as the starter after the team's August release of Cory Boyd and rushed for 638 yards and five touchdowns on 100 carries in the rest of the regular season. He's likely out to see what kind of a pay hike that may have earned him.
Foley is 32 and a CFL veteran of seven years. As a Canadian, he was already commanding a higher salary by CFL standards. The Argos have already released starting defensive end Ronald Flemons. Asked if other players in free agency might fill needs on Toronto's defensive line, Barker didn't express much interest.
Barker, who signed his own three-year contract extension Thursday, said instead he's confident in his staff's ability to find talent elsewhere, particularly Chris Jones, the defensive co-ordinator and assistant general manager who is known to uncover players in places no one else looks. The team has recently signed a handful of new players they discovered in various camps and tryouts, including a running back.
Other Argos who may enter free agency are Evan McCollough (defensive back), Tristan Black (defensive lineman), Cedric Gagné-Marcoux (offensive lineman), and Maurice Mann (wide receiver). The Argos have already re-upped with two young Canadian players, Joe Eppele (offensive lineman) and Spencer Watt (wide receiver)), keeping them out of free agency.
The Argos did fill their need for a speed receiver this week by adding former Calgary Stampeder Romby Bryant as a target for quarterback Ricky Ray.
Barker was tight-lipped about what he may seek in free agency.
"We have a couple of needs, and by Saturday or Sunday, you will see what we thought that need was that could be filled in free agency," he said. "There are some guys out there who fit our specific needs, but to tell you what they are will tell you who we are going after."
SIX TO WATCH
Here are six CFL free agents sure to draw interest, if not contracts, starting Friday:
The CFL's most outstanding offensive lineman will be listening to NFL offers. He was signed by the St. Louis Rams last season before failing his medical and returning to the B.C. Lions. If NFL teams are worried about Olafioye's having to take hypertension medication, the 6-foot-6, 325-pound import is likely to re-sign with B.C.
In his first year as a starter with the Saskatchewan Roughriders, the 28-year-old import linebacker left his mark. He recorded 77 tackles, made two interceptions, and showed excellent mobility and strong pass-coverage skills.
Canadians are always a sought-after, free-agent commodity and Muamba will garner his share of attention. As the Lions' safety, he had 41 tackles and two interceptions last season. Although he admittedly struggled in the West Division playoffs against the Calgary Stampeders, at 25 he is still learning the position with room for growth.
The No. 1 pick of the 2010 Canadian draft got more playing time last season in Saskatchewan than he had in the previous two. Used at linebacker, Williams turned in 59 tackles, two sacks and an interception. He also played on special teams. This is his first chance to test the free-agent market for a starter's spot.
Two years ago, the Montreal Alouettes' running back rushed for 1,381 yards. A torn knee ligament cut short his 2012 season, limiting him to 631 yards rushing. If he can make a complete recovery, the 27-year-old import has proved himself a versatile runner and receiver.
The Lions' backup linebacker is another player seeking a starter's opportunity. The 26-year-old Canadian was given spot duty last season and still managed a pair of interceptions. His true worth to the Lions was on special teams.
With files from Allan Maki