Esks could put cap savings on the line

TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:31 AM ET

EDMONTON - Imagine. Itís the CFL season opener.

Itís a spectacular Saturday evening in Commonwealth Stadium, with 40,000 fans in the stands to offer an emotional farewell to traded-away future Hall of Famer Ricky Ray, now with the Toronto Argonauts.

Imagine. As the Argo offence is introduced for the June 25 game, out trots free agent receiver Andy Fantuz and former Eskimo free agent Jason Barnes, coached by receivers coach, ex-Eskimos quarterback Jason Mass.

And as the Eskimos lineup on the sideline for the national anthem, missing is Ray, Jerome Messam, Jason Barnes, Rod Davis and Greg Peach.

Ray, Messam, Davis and Peach might have been the four most important players on the Eskimos last year.

It all hasnít happened yet. But it could. Some of it has.

Barnes, in a bizarre bit of business at training camp last year, was told heíd failed the medical, then was brought back healthy, thus complicating his contract status and making him a free agent who the Eskimos had to release last month. With Ray gone to Toronto, Barnes chose to sign Monday to catch passes from Ray with the Argos.

Fantuz isnít an Argo yet. And Davis and Peach havenít departed the Eskimos yet. But all of that could be in play at 10 a.m. today when CFL free agency comes out of the dark ages (it used to start at midnight) and gets underway with what could be an Eskimo fanís nighmare.

Fantuz is the big name out there this year, and rumours indicate the Saskatchewan Roughriders wonít pay him the $200,000-plus heís allegedly looking to receive. Fantuz has also shown little interest in returning to the province where Fantuz Flakes were on the grocery shelves.

Thereís a relationship there with Eskimos GM Eric Tillman, who paid stupid money to obtain Canadian receiver Chris Bauman last year, but the betting is Fantuz is going to be receiving passes from either Ray in Toronto or Henry Burris in Hamilton.

The 100th Grey Cup is in Toronto and thereís an unwritten rule in the CFL that you are allowed to go over the salary cap on years when you play host to the event, much less the Centennial edition. And with the other teams in the league putting up $500,000 to both the Argos and Hamilton Tiger-Cats to spend promoting some sizzle, the idea of Ricky Ray or Henry Burris throwing to Andy Fantuz definitely has sizzle to promote.

(Those with conspiracy theories on how exactly Ray ended up an Argo would probably shift into another gear if Fantuz joined him with the Argos, as well.)

But donít count out Hamilton. In fact, maybe favour Hamilton. The Tiger-Cats have cleared out a lot of cap space and Fantuz is from Chatham, Ont., and played for Western in London, Ont.

When it comes to that list of missing Eskimos on opening day, Jerome Messam, the messed-up suspended running back the Eskimos turned into the CFLís most outstanding Canadian, signed with the Miami Dolphins on Tuesday evening and will be cannon fodder in that club's camp.

Davis and Peach have been heart-and-soul Eskimos and may be re-signed after dipping their toes in free agency to check their value.

But rumours are that the Calgary Stampeders are going to come hard after Davis and possibly Peach as well. Rumors are also that Hamilton will be targeting Peach.

And the Eskimos? What is Tillman going to do with all that money he saved by trading away Ray?

Thereís the expectation the Eskimos will be in the bidding for import receiver Greg Carr of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. But the main focus will likely be on acquiring Brendan LaBatte, the 6í4Ē CFL All-Star offensive lineman from the Bombers.

Tillman already made one big move by securing local product and former U of A Golden Bear 6í6Ē offensive lineman Simeon Rottier from the Tiger-Cats.

And at 10:01 Tillman is expected to hit LaBatte with a $175,000 deal. Labatte is from Weyburn, Sask., and will be targeted by the Roughriders as well.

Imagine. The opener. Saturday June 25, Ricky Ray standing on the Argos sideline watching ex-Argos Steven Jyles or Kerry Joseph line up behind LaBatte and Rottier and a first-rate offensive line after six seasons taking all those hits playing behind some of those turnstiles on the Eskimos offensive line Ö

Follow me on Twitter.com/sunterryjones

terry.jones@sunmedia.ca


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