Jim Barker doesn’t believe that a football team can be built properly through free agency.
But the general manager/head coach of the Argonauts likely couldn’t help but start kicking a few tires at
12:01 a.m. Wednesday morning, when free agency in the Canadian Football League opened.
Barker spent much of the day on Tuesday trying to get his remaining potential free agents under contract and succeeded with all-star halfback Lin-J Shell, signing him to an extension through 2013. But as of 10 p.m. on Tuesday, defensive tackle Kevin Huntley had not been re-signed and was expected to get plenty of attention on the market.
Huntley had shoulder surgery in January and Barker said during the day that it was “50/50” that Huntley would re-sign prior to becoming a free agent.
The Argos want him back, but there is a concern Huntley will not be healthy in time for training camp.
Other Argos who had the potential to go free were defensive tackle Adriano Belli, defensive lineman Eric Taylor and offensive lineman Jeff Keeping.
One of the more intriguing situations is that of Belli.
The 33-year-old told the Toronto Sun that he is leaning toward returning for his 11th CFL season rather than retire. And as he has been recovering from a foot injury, Belli has found that other teams are curious to know where his health stands.
“There is interest, but I’m in no rush to make anything happen,” Belli said. “My foot feels 100%. I’m going to listen to what other teams have to say, but I believe in what Jim is selling. I like the direction (the Argos) are going in.”
There are plans for Belli and Barker to meet sometime around March 1.
Speculation was high that Barker would put out a feeler to B.C. Lions quarterback Jarious Jackson, who conceivably could come in as a backup to Cleo Lemon, Dalton Bell or whoever emerges as the Argos starter. But Jackson is brittle and Barker would not be willing to give him much money up front. If any player with injuries signs, expect that his contract will be incentive-laden and not front-loaded.
Other players who might be of interest to the Argos are defensive tackle Tearrius George and safety Wes Lysack, both formerly of the Calgary Stampeders. Some depth on the offensive line would help and among those available were centre George Hudson (Hamilton), lineman Wayne Smith of (Saskatchewan) and lineman Ibrahim Khan (Winnipeg). The other quarterback available is Chris Leak, most recently of Montreal.
The biggest names available were running back Avon Cobourne (Montreal), cornerback Dwight Anderson (Calgary) and receiver Kelly Campbell (Edmonton).
Barker made it clear, as he has in recent weeks, that if he went through the free-agency period without adding a new player, he would be happy with that. That should be easy to swallow for fans of the Boatmen, because there really is not much out there. And there’s no point in throwing money around just to make it look like you did something.
“Absolutely,” Barker said. “I’m ecstatic with what we have done so far in getting our own (potential free agents) back, and that’s the biggest priority, not overpaying free agents.”
The Argos have re-signed five others who would have been eligible for free agency — slotback Jeremaine Copeland, running back Bryan Crawford, offensive lineman Shannon Boatman, defensive end Ronald Flemons and receiver Chad Rempel.
Special teams whiz Chad Owens was signed to a contract extension.
The Argos last year signed two free agents — cornerback Byron Parker and offensive lineman Cedric Gagne-Marcoux. But Barker had specific roles he wanted filled.
“There are some players that could help us, sure, but it’s the age-old question,” Barker said. “You only have so much money to throw around, and a lot of these players want (a chunk) up front.”