With some work done already, Edmonton Football Team GM Brock Sunderland ready for CFL free agency

Trevor Harris and Brock Sunderland at Harris' first news conference as an Edmonton Eskimo at Commonwealth Stadium on Feb. 14, 2019. Morley Scott/630 CHED

Check the transaction page. The official start to CFL free agency is Wednesday at 10 a.m. MT, but for Edmonton Football Team General Manager Brock Sunderland it began several weeks ago.

Sunderland has signed several of his own pending free agents, plus leftover free agents from 2020 and in the case of former EE defensive back Aaron Grymes — a player who was released by his old club before Tuesday’s deadline — Sunderland feels that he is on the way to fielding a strong team in 2021.

“We’re pretty happy with what we have done so far. I think we have a good talented group on both sides of the ball.”

Because of that, the fifth-year GM doesn’t expect to be really busy when the the free agency begins.

“I don’t anticipate us being extremely aggressive, but it’s a unique year and you just don’t know who officially is going to be out there.”

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Teams across the league are trying to nail down deals with players they want to keep before other teams can sign them on Tuesday. For the Double E, that would be eight-year veteran offensive lineman Matt O’Donnell and running back Shaq Cooper, who are both asking more than the EE is willing to pay.

Look for both to hit the open market on Tuesday.

Read more: Edmonton Football Team calls on fans to vote on 7 possible names

Defensive tackle Almondo Sewell and the team have already parted ways. After nine years in Edmonton, Sewell says he will sign in the East. It’s rumored to be in Montreal moments after free agency opens.

If both Sewell and O’Donnell leave, the team would lose its two longest serving players.

Quarterback Trevor Harris’ new contract extension and restructured deal was announced on Boxing Day and that started the ball rolling for dozens of signings of both established and rookie players.

On defense, Kwaku Boateng, Mike Moore, Jake Ceresna and Vontae Digg all got new deals. The offence welcomed back Greg Ellingson and offensive linemen David Beard, Colin Kelly and Jacub Ruby. Kickers Sean Whyte and Hugh O’Neill also return.

The biggest surprise was receiver Derel Walker, a free agent left over from 2020 coming back to Edmonton after a year in Toronto.

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Read more: American receiver Derel Walker returns to EE Football Team

Also left over from 2020 are defensive end Shawn Lemon, O-lineman Derek Dennis, DB Jonathon Rose and receiver Mike Jones. They are all now under contract to Edmonton.

The missing pieces are still at middle linebacker, where Justin Tuggle is not expected to return. Diggs is more than capable of playing there and at running back. Signed as a returner, Terry Williams could get a chance after posting a 5.9 yards per carry average in three seasons with the Stampeders in a limited role.

Don’t forget the rookies. There are always surprises with one or two earning starting jobs with strong training camps. After 2019 when he made sweeping changes after the departure of Mike Reilly, Sunderland should never be counted out on free agency day.

“If there is someone out there that we feel will can upgrade us, then we will be aggressive. That’s always been my approach. If you think there is a piece or pieces that will help us attain our goal to win a Grey Cup, we’re going to go after it as hard as we can.”

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