No chasin' Jason

Although the Edmonton Eskimos reached deals with Jason Tucker, Randy Spencer and Malcolm Frank...

Although the Edmonton Eskimos reached deals with Jason Tucker, Randy Spencer and Malcolm Frank yesterday before the free-agent feeding frenzy began, Sandy Annunziata and Shannon Garrett are on the market. (Edmonton Sun File/Darryl Dyck)

JONATHAN HUNTINGTON -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 11:19 AM ET

Jason Tucker and the Edmonton Eskimos definitely have a flair for the dramatic.

The league's leading receiver has agreed to stay with the Green and Gold after reaching a deal with just hours to spare before last night's free-agent deadline.

According to a CFL source, the two sides have a verbal agreement for a new contract that will keep the perennial all-star in Edmonton.

A signed and delivered contract is the only step remaining before it becomes official with the CFL head office in Toronto.

Neither Tucker nor his Chicago-based agent Joe Coletta was available for comment late last night.

The Edmonton Eskimos didn't release any information on the new deal.

"The club can't confirm or deny the report," said Dave Jamieson, the Esks' director of communications.

TOPPING ALL RECEIVERS

Tucker was set to become the highest-profile player on the free-agent market at 10 p.m. (MT) last night.

After topping all receivers in the league last year with 1,411 yards on 89 catches, there was widespread speculation suggesting Tucker would receive $200,000 per year offers on the open market.

With his remarkable resume - three Grey Cup appearances and two championship rings in four years in Edmonton - the offers from competing teams could have even reached $250,000.

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats, Saskatchewan Roughriders, Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Ottawa Renegades were all rumoured to be in the running for his services.

With former Edmonton quarterback Jason Maas now guiding the ship in Hamilton, the Tabbies were considered the most likely destination, if Tucker didn't reach a deal with the Esks.

The Sun had also learned early yesterday that the Renegades had set aside $300,000 to sign George Hudson and Josh Ranek, but were about to lose them to free agency, meaning they had the money to sign Tucker.

By reaching a new deal with the Eskimos, the six-foot-two, 180-pound ball hawk will likely celebrate his 30th birthday by playing against the Renegades at Commonwealth Stadium on June 24.

The question now is ...what about Sandy Annunziata and Shannon Garrett, who have entered the free agent market.

Although the Esks reached deals with Tucker, Randy Spencer and Malcolm Frank yesterday before the free-agent feeding frenzy began, Annunziata and Garrett are on the market.

BACK-TO-BACK GREY CUPS

Annunziata isn't in the high-profile league, but firmly believes teams should be interested in his offensive lines services.

"I am a back-to-back Grey Cup winner and I'm going for a three-peat, so you would think a lot of teams would want to hitch their wagon to this horse," said Annunziata, who won the 2004 Grey Cup with Toronto.

Although he's sincerely interested in returning to Edmonton, he would gladly play with Maas in Hamilton.

"Hamilton is in my backyard," he remarked from his home in southern Ontario. "Jason is a great competitor and any time he was under centre, taking snaps from me, it felt very comfortable."

Hamilton only has two starting lineman from the beginning of the 2005 season under contract.

As for Garrett, coach Danny Maciocia believes competing teams will chase the veteran halfback.

"It wouldn't surprise me if other teams call him," said the coach, "asking him what it will take for them to lure him their way."


Photos