The Backfield Big Fish of CFLFA
Updated: Jan 27
Every year as CFL free agency nears, teams prioritize their pending free agents and work to sign them back well before the flood gates open in early February.
By nature of the overwhelming number of players involved there are always marquee names from the backfield available. From power backs to touch passers and everything in between the face of a team is often found in the backfield.
This year we began pending free agency with 14 quarterbacks, 24 running backs and 10 fullbacks who could choose to re-sign before February or enter the open market.
48 players, in a nine team league. The possibilities are endless as always, but in 2021 the impact moves are limited to a few major names.
Take the running backs. There is a distinct difference from 2019 between elite workhorse runners, and those working by committee (Hamilton, Ottawa, Calgary). Stanback, Gable, White and Powell all carving out a tier of their own with Stanback a free agent after his NFL release choosing to sign back in Montreal, Powell returning to Saskatchewan well before reaching free agency and Harris agreeing to terms with the Bombers.
In a class of his own in workload and production, Harris who consistently eclipses the previous ceiling of 32.0% targeted touch percentage (how often a pass is thrown to, or run is called for a player) lives in his own stratosphere on the usage vs. production scale above
All five of the top running backs from 2019 were up for 2021 Free Agency in December with Gable still available after remaining un-signed in 2020 free agency. He and BC Lions John White remain the best available ball carriers from the ‘high volume’ RBs of 2019 with plenty of names in the mid-pack waiting for a chance to join the elite.
Harris signing back in Winnipeg is arguably the biggest news in all 2021 CFL Free Agency regardless of who signs anywhere moving forward into February, but there is one name that could have matched Harris’ ability to instantly change his backfield, and league complexion if he signed elsewhere.
For the quarterbacks this year their are plenty of young, unproven names such as Cozart, Kraemer, Arndt and McGuire. A pivot who used to live in the same obscurity these young names looking for a shot do now is Masoli.
Through the ups and downs of a now eight year CFL career, Masoli has risen past the third stringers, beyond the backups hoping for their shot and into the upper tier of CFL starters.
When healthy, Jeremiah is one of the more productive and creative quarterbacks in the CFL over the past two seasons which placed him on a pedestal far above the rest of his 2021 CFL Free Agency QB company pictured above.
Masoli's decision to re-sign in Hamilton shows a strong connection to the Ticats organization and secures Hamilton's most important position for at least one more year with Dane Evans and Masoli set to compete for the starting job in a showdown that I believe begins slanted Masoli's way based on previous experience and trust shown in Jeremiah by not only Head Coach Orlondo Steinauer, but Offensive Coordinator Tommy Condell who has a long working relationship with Jeremiah over two stints in Hamilton.
Masoli deciding to stay in Hamilton prevents - for now - what could have been a wild spin of the CFL East QB wheel with Argos Matt Nichols and Redblacks Nick Arbuckle not yet cemented in their new homes from last offseason.
Until the complete quarterback market shakes out, expect all parties involved to make only patient and methodical moves, but Masoli re-signing certainly opens up the market for every team to know where and how to spend their remaining CFLFA money.
Executives know how important the backfield is in shaping success. With Harris returning to Winnipeg and Masoli to Hamilton, the last Grey Cup competitors have solidified their short term future in hopes of a rematch come November 2021 in Hamilton.
Now all that's left to do is wait for the remaining names to sign, then wait for kickoff. Fitting that after so much time waiting, we watch and wait again to see how the league will look once returning to play.
Marshall Ferguson is a former U SPORTS Quarterback, now serving as TSN 1150 Hamilton morning show host, voice of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and CFL.ca analyst.