Edmonton Football Team GM chose quality over quantity on Day 1 of CFL free agency

Edmonton Football Team GM Brock Sunderland speaks with 630 CHED on Feb. 11, 2020 after free agency opens. Dave Campbell/630 CHED

Edmonton Football Team general manager and vice-president of football operations Brock Sunderland did much of his work before CFL free agency began on Tuesday morning.

The team did sign American running back James Wilder Jr. and American linebacker Kevin Brown. Overall, it was a lower key free agency for Sunderland compared to the previous two years.

“Yeah we knew going into today that it was going to be pretty quiet,” Sunderland said.

“We knew we were probably going to get Kevin Brown and there was a high probability we were going to get James and we got finalized (yesterday) morning.

“We signed a lot of people ahead of time, whether we were bringing them back or whether it was Derel Walker, Jonathon Rose, Derek Dennis, Mike Jones, Aaron Grymes. We did a lot of our heavy lifting ahead of today.”

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Wilder Jr. is a former 2017 CFL Most Outstanding Rookie. He played three seasons for the Toronto Argonauts, helping them win a Grey Cup in 2017. In that season, Wilder Jr. rushed for 872 yards and scored five touchdowns.

In 44 career CFL games, Wilder Jr. has recorded 2,027 rushing yards, a 5.6-yard rushing average, and has scored eight touchdown. He’s also recorded 1.487 receiving yards while recording over 500 yards twice in 2017 and 2018 while scoring five touchdowns.

His numbers over the last two seasons have fallen off but Sunderland believes he can regain his form in green and gold.

“He’s a big back, he’s 6’3 and 230 pounds, he’s a load,” Sunderland said. “He’s been at the top or near the top in leading the league in yards after contact.

“We have a lot of other running backs on our team that can be a dual threat with him, whether that’s Terry Williams being our returner and we got two running backs in the backfield.

“However we want to deploy him he’s capable whether as a receiver out of the backfield or carrying the load as a feature back.”

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Sunderland more than once has had help in recruiting free agents from his starting quarterback Trevor Harris. Sunderland says it was Harris sellling Wilder Jr. on the organization and the team that really sealed the deal.

“He was really fired up about the thought of coming up here, joining the organization, and all of the things we have done,” Sunderland said.

“I think James was really fired about a franchise quarterback went out of his way to contact him and just get the pulse about where he was at playing football.”

Kevin Brown played three previous seasons with the Ottawa Redblacks and enjoyed his best two seasons as a pro in 2018 and 2019, recorded 55 and 42 defensive tackles respectively.

Brown played under current Edmonton Football Team defensive coordinator Noel Thorpe, who held the same position in Ottawa.

Brown is an option to start at either weak-side or middle linebacker, joining Vontae Diggs who can also play either position in the linebacking core. Brown has also been a good contributor on special teams, recording 37 tackles in three seasons.

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There are not many holes to fill on the Edmonton Football Team heading into the 2021 CFL season but that doesn’t mean Sunderland is finished tinkering with his roster.

“You’re never completely content with what you have so there’s still some younger guys on our negotiation list that we are going to try and get under contract and bring in.

“Immediately we have to switch hats and get ready for the Global Draft and the CFL draft so it never slows down completely.”

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