Top 5 CFL Free Agents Who Could Help the New York Jets

Philip Schawillie@@digitaltechguidContributor IIIFebruary 15, 2013

Top 5 CFL Free Agents Who Could Help the New York Jets

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    Should the New York Jets’ efforts to get more salary cap space fall short, there is a source of free-agent professional talent whose low salaries make the NFL’s minimum wages sound princely. It’s the Canadian Football League.

    Per the CFL CBA, each CFL team’s 2013 cap is $4.4 million. That’s about $200,000 more than Jets’ linebacker Bart Scott’s 2012 base salary. (Currency exchange rates at this article's publication date are roughly at par.)

    Minimum annual salaries in the CFL will be $45,000 in 2013. An NFL rookie will earn $405.000.

    This is no surprise to the Jets. They’ve shopped the CFL before.

    Outside linebacker Garrett McIntyre joined the Jets in 2011. From 2009 to 2010, McIntyre played as a defensive lineman with the CFL’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

    In 2012, McIntyre consumed $470,000 of the Jets' salary cap. That would have been over 10% of Hamilton’s cap. With the Jets, McIntyre’s compensation used less than 0.5%.

    And the Jets are not alone.

    Miami running back Marcus Thigpen played two seasons for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats before making his NFL debut in 2012.

    New England is signing two free agents from the CFL: Toronto Argonauts’ defensive end Armond Armstead and Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ defensive end and linebacker Jason Vega.

    CFL players reputedly are undersized by NFL standards. However, the faster pace of the CFL game, with its 20-second play clock, emphasis on passing and three downs to advance 10 yards instead of four, makes its players ideal prospects for teams looking to quicken their games. Plus, the CFL’s 18-game schedule, colder climates and coast-to-coast travel make it an endurance test as well.

    Even if the Jets don’t need bargains, they should continue scouting the CFL.

Honorable Mention

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    QB Adrian McPherson, Montreal Alouettes: For five years, McPherson has backed up Canadian quarterbacking institution Anthony Calvillo. In his article "Top CFL free agents for 2013," Winnipeg Sun reporter Kirk Penton writes, "It might be time for McPherson to take the plunge elsewhere." The 6’3”, 220-pound McPherson has only accumulated 1,505 career passing yards. However, he has displayed flashes of the mobility required in the West Coast offense, averaging 4.7 yards per carry. Wouldn’t he relish the chance to emerge from Calvillo’s shadow under the bright lights of MetLife Stadium?

    LB Tristan Black, Toronto Argonauts: His special teams’ play makes Black worthy of notice. This 6’2”, 221-pound, linebacker’s 17 special teams’ tackles were 10th best in the CFL. On the other hand, while the Jets' special teams showed need of improvement in 2012, signing a special teams specialist may not be high on the team's list of financial priorities. Black would need to contribute on defense as well as on special teams to stick with the Jets.

    DE Odell Willis, Saskatchewan Roughriders: Willis' six sacks equaled the number tallied by Armond Armstead, recently signed by the Patriots. The 6’2”, 255-pound Willis added 23 tackles, a special teams’ tackle and a fumble recovery to his accomplishments. However, he is undersized by NFL standards and would need to either bulk up or convert to outside linebacker.

5. LB Tyron Brackenridge, Saskatchewan Roughriders

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    Tyron Brackenridge emerged as a top 10 tackler in his first complete CFL season.

    This 6’0”, 189-pound linebacker finished the 2012 season with 77 tackles. He added two special teams tackles, two interceptions and two fumble recoveries, returning one recovered fumble for a touchdown.

    How he could help: The CFL's larger field puts a premium on playing "in space." Brackenridge's emergence as a top tackler indicates his potential in the open field.

    Why he's not ranked higher: The Jets signed Brackenridge in 2009 but waived him before training camp began. Brackenridge is too light to play linebacker in the NFL. He played cornerback for the Jacksonville Jaguars and would have to play cornerback or safety in the NFL.

    What might happen: The Jets might be interested in Brackenridge if they trade Darrelle Revis or Antonio Cromartie.

4. RB Chad Kackert, Toronto Argonauts

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    This 5’9”, 198-pound running back increased his workload significantly in 2012, his sophomore year. Chad Kackert placed eighth in the CFL with 638 rushing yards on 100 carries. He added 212 more yards of offense with 23 receptions for a combined total of 850 yards.

    How he could help: Kackert's 6.4 yards per carry and 9.2 yards per catch in 2012 indicate he could be a feature back in a West Coast offense. Kackert also displayed a knack for clutch postseason performances. His combination of 20 carries for 133 yards and eight catches for 62 yards earned him the MVP award in the Grey Cup final.

    Why he's not ranked higher: Kackert is slightly undersized for an NFL running back. He also has yet to shoulder the load of 25 touches per game, which is typical of an NFL feature back.

    What might happen: Kackert could play in the NFL as a third-down back or change-of-pace back. However, the Jets already have Bilal Powell and Joe McKnight. For Kackert to stick with the Jets, he'll have to replace Shonn Greene.

3. RB Brandon Whitaker, Montreal Alouettes

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    Brandon Whitaker boasts the running and receiving skills to flourish in the West Coast offense. Despite ending his 2012 season prematurely with a knee injury, this 5’10”, 200-pound running back finished ninth in rushing with 631 yards on 123 carries.

    In 2011, Whitaker gained 1,381 yards on 226 carries to lead the CFL. Plus, Whitaker gained over 500 yards receiving in both 2011 and 2012. His 638 receiving yards in 2011 enabled him to surpass 2,000 yards in total offense.

    How he could help: Whitaker's 2011 performance is just what the Jets need from a West Coast offense feature back. What's more, his yards per reception have improved each year. Despite an abbreviated 2012 campaign, his receiving yardage was only 122 yards less than 2011. His yards per catch improved from 8.9 to 10.5.

    Why he's not ranked higher: There's always an element of doubt about a player returning from season-ending surgery. Plus, Whitaker's ever so slightly undersized.

    What might happen: Whitaker deserves a chance to be an NFL feature back. He could upgrade several NFL teams' running games affordably, such as Arizona's or Jacksonville's. Why not the Jets?

2. LB Solomon Elimimian, B.C. Lions

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    The Jets will need help at inside linebacker if Bart Scott leaves. Perhaps they should consider 2010 CFL rookie of the year Solomon Elimimian.

    Elimimian made 77 tackles, 11 special teams tackles, five sacks and a fumble recovery in his rookie season. He followed up with 98 tackles, two special teams tackles, four sacks, two interceptions and a fumble recovery in 2011.

    Those two seasons earned the 6’0”, 225-pound Elimimian a reputation as the CFL's "hardest hitter."

    However, an injured thigh hampered Elimimian in 2012. He failed to make either the Cleveland Browns or the Minnesota Vikings.

    Elimimian returned to the Lions, where he found himself backing up Adam Bighill. Bighill took advantage of his opportunity by compiling 104 tackles, 14 special teams' tackles, nine sacks, four interceptions and a fumble recovery.

    Elimimian's production slipped to 12 tackles and four special teams tackles.

    How he could help: Elimimian could either start at inside linebacker or back up either David Harris or Demario Davis. He can also contribute to special teams.

    Why he's not ranked higher: Elimimian must put his injury behind him and return to his form of 2010 and 2011. He'd have to adjust from playing middle linebacker in a 4-3 to inside linebacker in a 3-4.

    As if that weren't enough, teammate and top CFL offensive lineman Jovan Olafioye tops this list.

    What might happen: Elimimian assumes a backup role while adjusting to the Jets' 3-4. Eventually, he replaces David Harris.

1. OL Jovan Olafioye, B.C. Lions

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    According to Kirk Penton, Jovan Olafioye allowed one sack in 2012 and was named the CFL’s top offensive lineman. Penton thinks he could upgrade any team in the CFL.

    Olafioye originally signed with the Saint Louis Rams but came to British Columbia after failing the Rams' physical. However, surviving the rigors of an 18-game season plus a postseason game indicates that the 6’6”, 325-pound tackle has the endurance to handle the NFL.

    How he could help: The Jets' pass protection was inconsistent in 2012. Should he not assume a full-time role, Olafioye could play in likely passing situations.

    What could go wrong: He did fail one NFL physical. However, he endured the rigors of a CFL season. The important thing is that Olafioye passes the Jets' team physical.

    What might happen: Olafioye could initially replace Jason Smith on the roster at considerably less expense. From there, Olafioye's options range from replacing Austin Howard, should Howard pursue free agency, to backing up D'Brickashaw Ferguson.