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Jeremy O’Day opened CFL free agency with a huge bang.

The Saskatchewan Roughriders general manager signed seven players on Tuesday. Included was running back A.J. Ouellette, who ran for more than 1,000 yards last season with the Toronto Argonauts after helping them win the 2022 Grey Cup.

Ouellette, who signed a two-year deal, certainly addresses a need. Last season, Saskatchewan (6-12) boasted the league’s second-worst ground game (84.4 yards per game) in missing the playoffs for a second straight year.

To help with that, Saskatchewan also signed tackle Jermarcus Hardrick, the West Division’s top lineman last season with Winnipeg. O’Day also looked to shore up new head coach Corey Mace’s defence by adding defensive back Jalon Edwards-Cooper, linebacker Jameer Thurman, defensive lineman Malik Carney and Canadian twin linebackers Justin and Jordan Herdman-Reed.

Ouellette, Edwards-Cooper, Thurman, Hardrick and Carney are all Americans.

Seven of the CFL’s nine teams announced deals. Only the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Ottawa Redblacks did not.

But many of the moves were expected as teams secured agreements in principle with pending free agents last week during the CFL’s negotiation window. However, one that wasn’t finalized was the Calgary Stampeders’ agreement with American defensive lineman Ricky Walker.

According to a CFL source, the 27-year-old Walker didn’t sign the contract for personal reasons after recording 37 tackles and five sacks in 17 regular-season starts last year with Winnipeg.

The B.C. Lions lost Canadian defensive lineman Mathieu Betts. The CFL’s 2023 top defensive player opted to sign with the NFL’s Detroit Lions upon becoming a free agent.

The 5-foot-10, 210-pound Ouellette was a 2023 East Division all-star after a career-best 1,008 yards rushing. The 28-year-old averaged 5.7 yards per carry and tied for the league lead with 10 runs of 20-plus yards.

He scored 10 touchdowns, eight on the ground and two catches. He also had a 26-yard TD pass.

Ouellette signed with Toronto in September 2019 after spending time with the NFL’s New Orleans Saints and Cleveland Browns. He became an Argo starter in the latter half of the 2022 season when he rushed for 516 yards and two touchdowns and caught 38 passes for 350 yards and one TD.

His five-yard TD run in the ‘22 Grey Cup tied the game with 3:40 to play. The ensuing convert proved to be the winning margin in a 24-23 decision over Winnipeg.

The 5-foot-11, 175-pound Edwards-Cooper appeared in 14 regular-season games with B.C. last year. The 26-year-old had 36 tackles (three for a loss), one special-teams tackle and one forced fumble while returning a blocked field-goal 62 yards for a touchdown.

The hulking 6-foot-5, 317-pound Hardrick was a CFL all-star last season and helped paved the way for CFL rushing leader Brady Oliveira – the league’s top Canadian in 2023. He also anchored a front wall that allowed 33 sacks, tied for second-fewest in the league.

This will mark Hardrick’s second stint in Regina, having played with the Riders in 2015. He also spent time with B.C. (2014) before joining the Bombers in 2016, earning league all-star honours in 2021 and ‘23.

Hardrick helped Winnipeg reach the Grey Cup the last four years, winning twice.

The 6-foot-3, 245-pound Carney spent the last three seasons with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Last year, he had a career-high 52 tackles (four for a loss) with five sacks, an interception and forced fumble.

Saskatchewan extended Justin Herdman-Reed’s contract while signing his brother. The two become teammates for the first time since their days at Simon Fraser.

The 6-foot, 227-pound Thurman had a career-best 98 tackles and five sacks last season with Hamilton, adding two interceptions, a fumble recovery and two forced fumbles. Thurman also spent four seasons with Calgary, winning a Grey Cup in 2018.

Calgary signed four players, including all-star cornerback Demerio Houston to a two-year deal. Houston had a CFL-best seven interceptions and 10 defensive take-aways last season with Winnipeg.

The Stampeders also added quarterback Matt Shiltz and offensive lineman Trevon Tate – both Americans – and Canadian linebacker Micah Teitz.

The Grey Cup-champion Montreal Alouettes secured deals with four players – defensive linemen Derek Wiggan and Isaac Adeyemi-Berglund, running back Sean Thomas Erlington and receiver Tevin Jones. Wiggan, Adeyemi-Berglund and Erlington are Canadians while Jones is an American.

Wiggan and Adeyemi-Berglund come to Montreal following seven and three seasons, respectively, in Calgary. Erlington returns to his hometown following six seasons with Hamilton, having played at the University of Montreal under head coach Danny Maciocia, currently the Alouettes GM.

Other moves include:

  • Edmonton signed American kick-returner Javon Leake, the CFL’s top special-teams player last season with Toronto.
  • B.C. signed American quarterback Dakota Prukop and Canadian receiver Jake Harty to one-year deals. Prukop fills a need as veteran backup Dane Evans retired following the 2023 season.
  • Hamilton signed free-agent defensive back Jamal Peters and re-signed receiver Terry Godwin II. Peters spent three seasons with Toronto, earning league all-star in 2022 when he helped the Argos win the Grey Cup. Godwin started 19 games last season (18 regular season, one playoff), registering 68 catches for 864 yards and six TDs.
  • Toronto signed defensive backs Tunde Adeleke, Kerfalla Exume and Quincy Mauger, linebacker Fraser Sopik and fullback Albert Awachie. All but Mauger are Canadian. The Argos also added global defensive lineman Thiadric Hansen, who spent the last four years with Winnipeg, earning two Grey Cup rings.

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