CFL feeding frenzy about to start

Saskatchewan Roughriders' Andy Fantuz reacts after missing a pass inside the five yard line against...

Saskatchewan Roughriders' Andy Fantuz reacts after missing a pass inside the five yard line against the Edmonton Eskimos during their CFL football game in Edmonton Oct. 10, 2011. (REUTERS/Dan Riedlhuber)

FRANK ZICARELLI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:41 PM ET

As the CFL’s free-agent window gets set to open Wednesday at high noon, teams will be looking to address needs, either by making their final sales pitch to retain a player or mull the merits of dipping deeper in the pocket book.

No matter what gets said and done in the moments following Wednesday’s noon start and in the ensuing days and weeks, the bottom line cannot be overlooked. This is a league in which every penny must be accounted and used properly.

While there’s a handful of impactful players poised to hit the market, the two most coveted are slotback Andy Fantuz and offensive lineman Brendon LaBatte, two Canadians who are said to be in the running for mega contracts, at least by three-down football standards.

Saskatchewan tried to ink Fantuz’s name to a new deal last season when the Western product returned to the prairies following his failed tryout in the NFL.

LaBatte isn’t as well-known in most CFL households, especially when compared to Fantuz, but he is nonetheless a hot commodity after he helped anchor Winnipeg’s line last year.

Regardless of nationality, both Fantuz and LaBatte are quality players. But given their Canadian designation, technically non-import status, players of their ilk will be in demand with some speculating each can earn a deal worth at least $200,000.

“Every team has to go about their business by doing what best serves their needs,” Ticats GM Bob O’Billovich said.

The Ticats have been among the busiest teams this off-season and figure to be very active in the free-agent market.

Having seen Justin Hickman sign with the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts, there’s an obvious need to upgrade the defensive line.

It’s why names such as Aaron Hunt (B.C.) and Rod Davis (Edmonton) have been linked with the Hammer, but any name that becomes available has the potential to move, based purely on money.

Those who prefer to stay with a team with which they feel comfortable have already re-signed, the latest example being Scott Flory, who was said to be close to re-upping with the Montreal Alouettes late Tuesday.

Some have seen the writing on the wall and are destined to move.

A case in point is Dominic Picard, a tough as nails centre whose three-year run in Toronto will end.

Virtually every Argo free agent knew money would be tight once the team engineered the blockbuster deal to acquire quarterback Ricky Ray from Edmonton, a move that simply had to be made.

In the case of Picard, he then saw the recent signing of Marc Parenteau, a veteran offensive lineman who started in Saskatchewan, a much-needed presence in Argoland that was a clear signal of the changes that await.

Picard has been linked with the Blue Bombers, who drafted the Laval product, and with Saskatchewan, given its need on the offensive line.

It’s why Rob Murphy, who joined Picard as much-ballyhooed free agents three years ago in Toronto, will be looking for a new home as will, in all likelihood, Taylor Robertson.

Argos GM Jim Barker is looking for players who fit the philosophy of his team’s new coaching staff and fall under the team’s salary structure.

For the record, the CFL’s salary cap is $4.35 million, which makes Barker’s job a fine balancing act.

“What’s important is that we have a plan and we’re going to carry it out,” Barker said. “If there’s something we want, we’ll react quickly and get it done.

“If we can’t get it done, we’ll move to the next option.”

On the surface, the deepest pool appears to be on the offensive line, which is why Hamilton has an opportunity to improve immediately. Then again, all eight CFL teams can get better if the right piece fits their need and salary structure.

frank.zicarelli@sunmedia.ca


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