CFL free agent season begins

Amidst the workouts and the waiting, Byron Parker has been watching. From his off-season home in Atlanta, the veteran CFL cornerback stumbled across an Olympic biathlon broadcast over the weekend and was astonished to learn that “guys are getting medals for skiing and shooting BB Guns.”

Amidst the workouts and the waiting, Byron Parker has been watching. From his off-season home in Atlanta, the veteran CFL cornerback stumbled across an Olympic biathlon broadcast over the weekend and was astonished to learn that “guys are getting medals for skiing and shooting BB Guns.”

Parker has spent the winter wondering what kind of reward he might receive when he became a free agent.

The 28-year-old was set to find out just after midnight ET on Tuesday, when a modest group of established free agents would be free to sell their services to the highest bidder.

Some of the biggest names had already re-signed with their teams before the deadline, including Calgary running back Joffrey Reynolds and Saskatchewan receiver Andy Fantuz. Only two established running backs (Toronto’s Jamal Robertson and Saskatchewan’s Wes Cates) and one quarterback (Saskatchewan’s Steven Jyles) were left on the market shelves heading into the free-agent period.

“I think my phone should be ringing,” Parker said.

Some teams had more pending free agents than others, but none more than Saskatchewan and Toronto. The Argos, following a CFL-worst 3-15 season, were not planning to re-sign receivers Reggie McNeal or PK Sam, nor did they expect to retain Robertson, their running back.

“Most teams have done a good job of signing their guys,” Toronto general manager Adam Rita said. “You’ve got to kind of worry about a guy who’s not been signed yet.”

The Argos have been in talks with return specialist Dominique Dorsey, but had not reached an agreement as of Monday afternoon. The team might have interest in Parker, who was twice named a CFL all-star when he played in Toronto.

Parker was traded to Edmonton last year in one of many questionable moves made as Bart Andrus fumbled through his rookie season as head coach in Toronto. Andrus was fired in December.

On Monday evening, the Argos announced they had re-signed linebacker Raymond Fontaine and receiver Obed Cetoute through the 2011 season.

Not every team embraces the free-agent market. Montreal general manager Jim Popp has historically been among the least active in free agency, opting instead to groom and retain his own players. The Alouettes had already re-signed pending free agents such as linebacker Diamond Ferri and centre Bryan Chiu.

Late Monday, the team announced it had re-signed wide receiver Kerry Watkins a two-year deal, plus an option.

“I don’t think that’s the grounds for having long-term success,” Popp said of free agency.

“You may have one good year, and you may not have it for the next two or three years.

“If you want to have long-term success, you’ve got to build, and you have to hope your fans are patient with you.”

Some teams might be looking for a quick fix, though. The B.C. Lions are said to be in the market for a pass-rusher, while the Winnipeg Blue Bombers could use a quarterback.

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats might be one of the more active teams. The Ticats hosted their first playoff game in eight years last fall after finishing second in the East Division with a 9-9 record, and could be in the market for a veteran defensive back.

“I think we’re in pretty good shape to take a run at some guys who might be guys we’re interested in,” Ticats general manager Bob O’Billovich said. “In the morning, there will be more things going on in regards to finding out what some of this stuff is all about.”

Parker, who does not expect an offer to stay in Edmonton, would prefer to return to Southern Ontario. He spent the first four of his five CFL seasons in Toronto, where he collected most of his 21 interceptions.

“I would love to play in Hamilton,” Parker said.

“I know the area. And I’m trying to set myself up for after football, and I think being in Hamilton or Toronto would benefit me just because of the connections and the relationships I have there.”

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