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TORONTO — This year’s upcoming crop of free agents has already garnered plenty of attention for its big-name stars like JC Sherritt, Chad Kackert, and Jovan Olafioye.
There’s something else that should make 2013 an exciting one though, and that’s the availability of Canadian talent.
It’s something that’s at a premium in this league, and many times while we focus on the quarterbacks and other big stars of the league, having a strong core of non-imports is integral when it comes to building a successful football team.
These are also the players we can expect to see fly off the shelves quickly, even before February hits, as we’ve already seen with the likes of Grant Shaw, Brian Ramsey, Corey Mace, and Rob Maver having already re-signed.
Here are some of the top remaining non-import free agents that you can bet will be in high demand should they become available in February:
He spent most of last season behind fellow non-import J.R. LaRose on the depth chart, but don’t kid yourself, Cauchy Muamba would likely be a starter in most secondaries around the league.
The 25-year-old product of St. Francis Xavier enjoyed a breakout season with the Leos last season, finishing with 41 tackles and adding a pair of interceptions and establishing himself as a playmaker early in his CFL career.
Through the first three years of his career he’s been overshadowed by other stars in what’s consistently been one of the best secondaries in the league, and in 2013 he may look to find a more prominent role elsewhere.
Should the 34th overall pick in 2010 hit free agency in February, you can bet teams will be vying for his services.
Despite just three sacks in 2012 playing in Chris Jones’ defensive system, Ricky Foley should still be considered an elite option at defensive end, especially after his performance in the Grey Cup.
The six-foot-three, 256-pound lineman has 30 sacks over his seven-year CFL career, including a league-best 12 sacks back in 2009 with BC.
Now that he’s won the Grey Cup with his hometown team, he might get the opportunity to pursue big bucks elsewhere along with a chance to play in a defensive system that better suits his skill-set as a pass-rusher.
Foley is an aggressive, physical player that can be the heart and soul of a defence, and it’s expected he’ll be a hot commodity if available.
Expectations were always high for the 27-year-old Queen’s product, but Shomari Williams enjoyed a breakout season in 2012 on a revamped Roughriders defence.
The third-year linebacker had a career-high 59 tackles, good for second on the team, to go with two sacks and an interception. He’s quickly asserting himself as one of the premier non-import linebackers in the CFL, and should be somewhere near the top wish lists across the league.
The Toronto, Ont. native quietly put together a second consecutive strong season as a receiver for the BC Lions, setting career highs with 61 receptions and five touchdowns, while leading the team with 720 yards.
Just like its secondary, the Lions’ receiving corps is loaded with talent, led by veteran mainstays Geroy Simon and Arland Bruce plus a number of other young stars battling for reps, but Gore’s been arguably the team’s most consistent receiver over the past two seasons with more than 1,500 yards over that span.
With so many options at receiver, it’s possible Gore could slip through the cracks, which would make him a very popular man come February when free agency hits.
While the likes of Chris Williams and Henry Burris enjoyed the glory in the Ticats’ league-leading offence last season, it was Peter Dyakowski doing the dirty work and keeping everything running in check.
The six-foot-five, 315-pound guard would be a welcome addition for any team needing offensive line help, not just for now but for the foreseeable future. At 28 years old, the former second-round pick is in his prime and has a lot of football left to be played.
The biggest question will be as the Ticats usher in a new front office regime, how much longer will Dyakowski go without a new contract?
The third-year native of Burnaby, BC had the biggest year of his career as a first-time starter, tying fourth on the Stampeders in tackles and contributing to a defence that helped lead Calgary to a berth in the Grey Cup.
At just 25 years old he was one of the younger members of that defence, and while there’s plenty of room to grow, he emerged as a playmaker with an interception return for a touchdown along with a fumble recovery, to go with his 48 tackles.