The Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Toronto Argonauts were the big winners on the first day of CFL free agency.
The clubs each added a key Canadian, with the Tiger-Cats signing defensive back Craig Butler and the Argonauts inking linebacker Shea Emry.
The 25-year-old Butler spent the first three seasons of his career with the Saskatchewan Roughriders, who selected him 12th overall in the 2011 CFL draft.
The London, Ont., product registered 135 tackles, 11 interceptions, four sacks and six fumble recoveries during his time in Saskatchewan. He led the Riders with 60 tackles last season to go along with four interceptions.
Emry, meanwhile, joins the Argonauts after six seasons with the Montreal Alouettes. The seventh pick in the 2008 draft had 261 tackles, 13 sacks, three fumble recoveries and four interceptions in his career with Montreal, which included Grey Cup victories in 2009 and 2010.
Argonauts general manager Jim Barker said the addition of the expansion Ottawa Redblacks increased the importance of dipping into the free-agent market this off-season.
“It is what it is. We’re not a big free-agent team … I don’t believe in building teams through free agency but I think this year with Ottawa coming in, it changed the landscape a bit,” Barker said on a conference call. “We lost two really good Canadians and a good American and I think it became more apparent that free agency was going to be a part of what we’re doing.”
A 27-year-old from Richmond, B.C., Emry’s best season came in 2012 when he totalled a career-best 87 tackles, including seven sacks, and was named the East Division’s top Canadian and defensive MVP. He was also an East Division and CFL all-star.
Alouettes general manager Jim Popp was resigned to the fact that Emry would be leaving Montreal.
“He wasn’t happy with the scheme he was playing in,” said Popp. “He felt it was better to go elsewhere.”
Emry’s contract with Toronto is for three years, while the terms of Butler’s pact with Hamilton were not disclosed.
The Alouettes were able to re-sign four players, including veteran non-import offensive lineman Josh Bourke. The Windsor, Ont., native is a two-time CFL lineman of the year and was expected to be among the most attractive free agents on the market.
“There’s no question he was a much-coveted player,” said Popp. “But we wanted him and he wanted to be here.”
The Alouettes also re-signed linebacker Kyries Hebert, long snapper Martin Bedard and kicker Sean Whyte.
Apart adding from Butler, Hamilton re-signed non-import linebacker Marc Beswick. The 31-year-old Vancouver native was named the East Division’s special team’s player of the year in 2013 after making 24 special teams tackles while adding a forced fumble and a touchdown scored on a fake field goal.
Hamilton also signed offensive lineman Steve Myddelton of Barrie, Ont., away from the Calgary Stampeders, while import linebacker Abraham Kromah (Saskatchewan) and import defensive back Brandon Stewart (Winnipeg) will also be with the Tiger-Cats in 2014.
Meanwhile, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers signed free-agent import wide receiver Nick Moore. The 27-year-old spent the past three seasons with the B.C. Lions, where he finished third in the CFL in receiving in 2013. Winnipeg also signed non-import receiver Rory Kohlert, who spent the past two seasons with the Blue Bombers, but was chosen by the Redblacks in December’s expansion draft.
The Grey Cup champion Roughriders lost Butler but re-signed non-import kicker Chris Milo. The 27-year-old from Montreal connected on 46 of 52 field goal attempts in 2013, including a string of 28 consecutive field goal attempts to start the season, which tied a franchise record.
Apart from Emery, the Argonauts also added non-import offensive lineman Scott Mitchell after three seasons with the Edmonton Eskimos.
The Eskimos signed a pair of non-import offensive lineman to help lessen the blow of Mitchell’s departure with the addition of Andrew Jones (Toronto) and Justin Sorensen (Winnipeg).