Brendan Taman still has plenty on his plate less than three weeks before the start of CFL free agency.
The Saskatchewan GM has signed four pending free agents — including starting defensive linemen Tearrius George and Canadian Ricky Foley — but still has 19 players slated to hit the open market at noon ET on Feb. 10. That includes slotback Weston Dressler, offensive lineman Ben Heenan and safety Tyron Brackenridge, all major contributors to the Roughriders' 2013 Grey Cup-winning team.
Taman is hopeful he can re-sign one of those players before the deadline, possibly two. But Taman doesn't believe he'll get all three before then because Heenan, a 24-year-old Regina native, has attracted "significant" NFL interest and Taman expects the six-foot-four, 310-pound tackle to test free agency.
"Two would be nice and one would be acceptable, I think, but there's a chance it could be zero," Taman said during a telephone interview Thursday. "It all depends on how the whole business side works out in the next two weeks of negotiations.
"We're not going to get every guy back, we know that. We're just trying to minimize the hits on how many we lose and who it is."
According to the CFL website, 30 of the 136 potential free agents have re-signed with their clubs. Nine have been released outright, with Toronto Argonauts cornerback Kalil Carter and Calgary Stampeders defensive lineman Shawn Lemon going on to sign NFL deals with Minnesota and Pittsburgh, respectively.
On Thursday, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers released linebacker Ian Wild so he could pursue NFL opportunities.
Montreal receiver Duron Carter (75 catches, 1,030 yards, seven TDs) and Hamilton all-star cornerback Delvin Breaux are among the remaining 97 pending free agents but both have worked out for multiple NFL clubs and are expected to sign in the U.S. Also garnering interest south of the border is Calgary centre Brett Jones, the league's top lineman in 2014 whose CFL deal also expires next month.
Saskatchewan leads the CFL with its 19 pending free agents. Taman said the Riders and Brackenridge's camp have "narrowed the gap" in their talks but another factor in the process is determining how Brackenridge fits into new defensive co-ordinator Greg Quick's scheme.
The six-foot, 189-pound Brackenridge had 64 tackles and three interceptions last season after earning CFL all-star honours in '13 .
Taman said the Riders have made the 29-year-old Dressler a contract offer his representatives are currently mulling over. The five-foot-seven, 179-pound native of Bismarck, N.D., has spent his entire seven-year CFL career in Saskatchewan and the five-time 1,000-yard receiver is a huge fan favourite.
Dressler had 27 catches for 320 yards and a TD last season, rejoining the Riders after being released by the NFL's Kansas City Chiefs.
"We've made an offer, they're going to sit on it for a while and take their time to go over their strategy and plan things out," Taman said. "At the end of the day they'll let me know where they're at but we've thrown it out at them.
"I think every year we go through this, we have two or three guys that are pretty significant guys who can hit the market. Some we've kept, some we haven't and this year is no different. If we lose all three, we just have to move on and figure out how to win games without them. We're hoping we don't get to that point with all three of them but if we do, we do."
Another interesting potential free agent is running back Jerome Messam. The 29-year-old Toronto native, who grew up in Brampton, Ont., averaged a solid 5.5 yards per carry last season but only had 70 rushing attempts.
The six-foot-three, 245-pound Messam was the CFL's top Canadian in 2011 when he ran for 1,057 yards with Edmonton. He has rushed for 1,115 yards the last three seasons combined with the Eskimos, Montreal and Saskatchewan but has averaged a solid 4.8 yards per carry.
Last year, the Riders used multiple running backs as Anthony Allen rushed for a team-high 930 yards. Will Ford (452 yards), Messam and Hugh Charles (86 yards) also saw action in former offensive co-ordinator George Cortez's scheme.
Fortunately for Saskatchewan, new offensive co-ordinator Jacques Chapdelaine is familiar with Messam from their days together with the B.C. Lions.
"Jerome is a talented kid and he's Canadian," Taman said. "He's got a lot of value but some teams might think that to.
"When he did play significant time I thought he did pretty well but there were reasons why he didn't play in the other games. That's obviously a coaching thing we've got to sort through.
"Jacques has some familiarity with him from B.C. so I think there's some comfort there but again it's up to me to try and get him back."