Chad Kackert was instrumental in the Toronto Argonauts capturing the 100th Grey Cup. Now he'll play a pivotal role in the club's title defence.
The five-foot-11, 201-pound running back returned to the CFL club Friday shortly after becoming a free agent. Kackert signed a two-year contract with the Argos.
"Free agency is about finding the right guy, here and there," Argos GM Jim Barker said. "We know Chad Kackert, we know what kind of guy he is in the lockerroom, we know effort we're kind of effort we're going to get.
"Free agency can be a gamble when you don't have guys you know. Obviously this is an exciting day for us because Chad is a young player that has been developing nicely and is just now coming into his own."
The B.C. Lions also figured prominently on what was busy opening day of CFL free agency, re-signing offensive tackle Jovan Olafioye — the league's top lineman last year — and all-star linebacker Solomon Elimimian. The club also signed former Edmonton defensive end Julius Williams.
B.C. also re-signed veteran receiver Paris Jackson and defensive back Korey Banks to contract extension.
The Hamilton Tiger-Cats, who surrendered a CFL-high 576 points last year, went shopping for defensive help and landed defensive end/linebacker Shomari Williams, defensive tackle Brian Bulcke and defensive back Evan McCollough.
Williams went first overall to the Saskatchewan Roughriders in 2010 while Bulcke went sixth overall that year to Edmonton before being dealt to Calgary.
McCollough spent the last three seasons with Toronto, starting 47-of-48 games he appeared in while registering 159 tackles, five interceptions and four fumble recoveries.
The Eskimos officially kicked off the free-agent period by signing defensive end Odell Willis, who played last year with Saskatchewan. Edmonton announced the move just four minutes after the start of free agency at noon ET on Friday.
Other notable moves included:
— The Montreal Alouettes re-signed cornerback Seth Williams, Canadian fullback Dahrran Diedrick and defensive tackle Moton Hopkins, signed former Hamilton defensive back Geoff Tisdale and released defensive back Jerald Brown.
— Winnipeg re-signed defensive tackle Bryant Turner and slotback Clarence Denmark. The Bombers also signed former Calgary offensive lineman Mark Dewitt.
— Saskatchewan re-signed linebacker Tyron Brackenridge and added former Montreal defensive back Dwight Anderson.
— Edmonton signed former Hamilton defensive back Marcell Young.
— Calgary re-signed offensive lineman Stanley Bryant.
Following Toronto's Grey Cup victory, Kackert worked out for the New York Jets and was given the impression by the organization he figured in their plans. However, Kackert's situation became much more uncertain after Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum was fired.
Kackert said the Jets were still pondering as late as Friday whether to sign him when he opted to take the Argos' much more concrete offer instead.
"Everything kind of fell into place and I really couldn't feel better about signing again with Toronto," Kackert said from Los Angeles during a conference call. "I feel like anywhere else I might've had some regrets thinking about what would've been.
"What we did last year, I think we can do a lot more and are just getting started."
The Argos also signed linebacker James Yurichuk, a native of Brampton, Ont., as a free agent Friday. The six-foot-three, 233-pound Yurichuk went fourth overall in the '09 CFL draft to B.C.
Kackert became Toronto's starting running back in August after CFL rushing leader Cory Boyd was released. Kackert finished the regular season running for 638 yards on 100 carries with five TDs.
He was especially effective in the playoffs, rushing for more than 100 yards in two of Toronto's three contests. Kackert capped his season impressively, running for 133 yards and adding eight catches for 62 yards in Toronto's 35-22 win over Calgary in the 100th Grey Cup game at Rogers Centre.
At age 26, Kackert's decision to remain in the CFL would seem to have effectively closed the door on his ever playing in the NFL. If that's the case, Kackert said he'd be fine with that.
"A lot of people say this was probably my best window because the next time I go into free agency I'll be 28 and probably beat up," he said. "Is the door closed? I don't really care if it is or it isn't.
"Sure, it's a kid's dream to play (in the NFL) being an American and there's a lot more recognition. But the genuine happiness of just playing football and being part of a successful team, I think there's a lot more to be said about that than the lucrativeness of the business."
Re-signing Elimimian and Olafioye was huge for B.C. because both are proven performers. GM Wally Buono admitted he wasn't positive when free agency began that he'd be able to keep both.
"I was hoping, let's put it that way," Buono said. "When you look at it, I'm very pleased with the guys we announced today but obviously Jovan and Solomon were big guys for us."
Especially considering both had garnered recent NFL attention.
Olafioye was expected to sign with the NFL's St. Louis Rams last year but failed his medical. He has a family history of hypertension and had not taken his prescribed medication. This off-season the Green Bay Packers were interested in Olafioye but had questions about his condition.
That's not a concern for the Lions, who feel Olafioye has his medical issue under control.
The six-foot, 227-pound Elimimian spent time with the NFL's Minnesota Vikings and Cleveland Browns last year before returning to B.C. The 26-year-old began his CFL career with the Lions in 2010 and captured the league's top rookie award that year before being named its hardest hitter in a 2011 TSN poll.
Elimimian's return further solidifies a Lions defence that last year was the CFL's best and also features all-star linebacker Adam Bighill.
"Guys like Solomon and Bighill intimidate you because of their ability to hit people . . . it gives your defence a characteristic, an identity and that's what you need. And I think that identity helps you to market your team."