Free-agent frenzy?

JONATHAN HUNTINGTON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:56 AM ET

In the world of CFL salary caps, the Edmonton Eskimos' management team has some interesting decisions to make this off-season.

There are eight starters that are set to be free agents this winter unless the Green and Gold can get new deals signed.

That list includes five-year Eskimo Joe McGrath, starting centre John Comiskey, punter Noel Prefontaine and defensive backs Jordan Younger and Jonte Buhl.

But the club could also lose promising receiver Maurice Mann to the NFL -- again -- because he's entering the option-year escape clause on his contract.

There are many variables heading into this off-season and only so many dollars to spend under the $4.2-million cap.

What free-agents are the Eskimos targeting on their own list?

Head coach and director of football operations Danny Maciocia isn't revealing any names right now, but it appears the club wants to lock up Patrick Kabongo and Calvin McCarty as they enter their option year in 2009.

"If we are talking about nucleus and foundation, let's sit down with their representatives and see if we can get them to extend," said Maciocia.

Complicating the off-season number crunching for the Eskimos is the possibility of inking free agents from other clubs.

In Saskatchewan, OL Gene Makowsky, LB Maurice Lloyd and LB Anton McKenzie have played out their options.

In Winnipeg, there are three East all-stars about to become available: DB Kelly Malveaux, RB Fred Reid and DE Gavin Walls.

The Bombers also have five other starters -- LB Ike Charlton, OL Alexandre Gauthier, DT Jerome Haywood, OL Dominic Picard and LB Cam Hall -- set to enter the market unless the new head coach gets new contracts signed.

And then there is Hamilton running back Jesse Lumsden, who has been touted for months as being high on the Esks' priority list.

In Edmonton, McGrath didn't want any contract negotiations during the season.

"It's a little unnerving," admitted McGrath yesterday. "It's up to the Eskimos."

Voted Edmonton's most outstanding offensive line-man in 2006 and 2007, McGrath has his eyes wide open in this process.

"It's rare to see a guy like Chris Morris spend 14 years with one organization," he said.

Teams have until Feb. 15 at midnight to negotiate contracts to keep players from becoming free agents.

QUICK HIT

After Edmonton gained just three yards rushing on three attempts in Sunday's 36-26 loss to Montreal in the East final, offensive co-ordinator Rick Worman knows there is work to be done.

"We have to look at our schemes and the style of running game we go after in terms of the kind of backs and linemen," said Worman.

"What do we want to do? Do we want to be a power running team? Do we want to be a zone team? Do we want to be a stretch team?

"I don't think it is fair to the quarterback to have the onus fall on his shoulders 90-95% of the time."

FINISH LINES

Edmonton receiver Brock Ralph is not heading to the Grey Cup to watch his brother Brett play for the Calgary Stampeders on Sunday.

Instead, he is staying in Edmonton for the provincial high school football final on Saturday, when his younger brother Jimmy will play for Raymond against Sherwood Park's Bev Facey.

Brock's older brother Dustin is Raymond's coach.


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