Centre Brett Jones of the Grey Cup-champion Calgary Stampeders is scheduled to become a free agent at noon ET on Tuesday. The six-foot-two, 310-pound Jones was the CFL's top lineman last year and anchored a unit that allowed a league-low 26 sacks.
On Monday, Calgary GM/coach John Hufnagel said Jones, a 23-year-old native of Weyburn, Sask., was weighing his NFL options. Hufnagel wouldn't say if a deal was done but the expectation is Jones will sign south of the border.
"Right now he's making a decision (regarding) what avenue to take," Hufnagel told reporters. "He has NFL interest and that's what we're dealing with."
Some CFL officials suggest Jones could've commanded between $225,000 and $300,000 annually on the open market. But he also stands to do well financially if he cracks an NFL roster with the league minimum for 2015 being US$435,000.
Calgary does have a potential replacement currently on its roster after selecting Laval's Pierre Lavertu first overall last year. But the absence of Jones would further dilute a CFL free-agent pool that's seen many perspective candidates either remain with their clubs or be released to sign NFL contracts.
American receivers S.J. Green (Montreal) and Weston Dressler (Saskatchewan), receiver/returner Brandon Banks (Hamilton) and Canadian offensive lineman Tyler Holmes (Toronto) were among the potential free agents to stay put. Players granted releases to sign NFL deals included Canadian offensive linemen Ben Heenan (Saskatchewan) and Matt O'Donnell (Edmonton), American receivers Duron Carter (Montreal) and John Chiles (Toronto), defensive lineman Shawn Lemon (Calgary) and cornerback Delvin Breaux (Hamilton).
On Monday, American defensive back Tristan Jackson and Canadian linebacker Kevin Regimbald re-signed with Saskatchewan rather than test free agency.
"A lot of the options are gone already," Desjardins lamented. "That makes it a little more lean out there."
But Desjardins said the absence of the big names could give clubs more bang for their buck in a free-agent pool the Ottawa GM feels still features quality talent.
"There's probably four-five guys and if we got three or four of them we'd be very happy," Desjardins said. "If we got two or three we'd be OK."
Another team expected to be active is Winnipeg (7-11), which finished last in the West Division. The Bombers allowed a league-high 71 sacks while averaging a CFL-worst 291.7 yards offensively per game.
Winnipeg was reportedly very interested in Heenan and is expected to pursue receiver Ernest Jackson (49 catches, 813 yards, three TDs with B.C.). Jackson played with Bombers starter Drew Willy at the University of Buffalo.
Desjardins' priority is upgrading Ottawa's offence. The Redblacks (2-16) were ranked last in scoring (15.4 points per game), TDs (24), passing touchdowns (14) and rushing (82.4 yards) and allowed 56 sacks.
With Heenan, Holmes and Jones unavailable, Desjardins will likely have to look at an American tackle like Calgary's Stanley Bryant to improve his offensive line. Among the available receivers are Calgary's Brad Sinpoli, an Ottawa native, and Hamilton's Sam Giguere, who's from Sherbrooke, Que.
Also expected to be available is slotback Nik Lewis, who has spent his entire 11-year career with Calgary. Lewis broke the 1,000-yard plateau his first nine seasons but has combined for 777 yards the last two years.
Two defensive players expected to garner attention are Hamilton defensive lineman Justin Hicks and Edmonton linebacker Rennie Curran. Hicks had 13 sacks in 2013 before heading to the NFL while Curran recorded 123 tackles, two sacks and two interceptions the last two seasons with the Eskimos.
Also available are running backs Nic Grigsby of Hamilton and Edmonton's Kendial Lawrence. Grigsby was the CFL's third-leading rusher with 890 yards (4.6-yard average) with nine TDs splitting his season between Winnipeg and the Ticats while Lawrence presents a threat offensively as well as on special teams.
Teams needing quarterback depth can look at Dan LeFevour of Hamilton and B.C.'s Kevin Glenn. The six-foot-three, 230-pound LeFevour, 27, was a solid 67.8 per cent passer during starter Zach Collaros's absence (concussion-like symptoms) before suffering a season-ending knee injury.
Glenn, 35, a 14-year CFL veteran, had a 63 per cent completion average with 17 touchdowns and 17 interceptions at B.C. But Glenn was just 6-of-18 passing for 64 yards with two interceptions in B.C.'s 50-17 road loss to Montreal in the East Division semifinal.