13 returning Global players under contract ahead of CFL free agency

The CFL Global initiative is set to expand in 2021 despite a canceled 2020 season, growing the number of active roster players from outside Canada and the US from one in 2019 to two this season. New talent will be selected by teams during the Global Draft on April 15th, following the completion of virtual combines, and there is plenty of bright new prospects to choose from, but the first class of Global players isn’t gone just yet.

CFL free agency opens on February 9th but as of right now, 13 returning Global players have already been locked up by their clubs ahead of 2021. They represent the best of CFL 2.0’s inaugural class and each hopes for a chance to extend their pro football dreams another year. Take a look at what each player has already accomplished ahead of their second CFL training camp.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers 

Thiadric Hansen, DE, Germany

There was no disputing who the best Global player was in 2019, as the second overall European selection became a key part of the defensive rotation during Winnipeg’s Grey Cup run. Finishing with five defensive tackles, two special teams tackle, a sack and two forced fumbles, Hansen had a penchant for big plays including a thunderous momentum grabbing hit in the title game and a crucial goal line stand in the West Final. He was spectacular in 2020 as well, earning AFI All-Pandemic team honors for a virtually unblockable stint with the Wroclaw Panthers that saw him add a Polish Bowl to his Grey Cup ring. Before making a name for himself in Winnipeg, Hansen spent six years with the Kiel Baltic Hurricanes and amassed 527 tackles, 62 tackles for loss, 8 sacks and 7 interceptions.

BC Lions

Benjamin Plu, REC, France 

Recently re-signed by the Leos, Plu dressed for the club’s final four games in 2019 without recording a catch. The 7th overall pick in the first ever European draft had prior Canadian experience as a receiver for McGill University before racking up 450 yards and seven touchdowns in four games for the Thonon Black Panthers in 2018.

Gerardo Alvarez, REC, Mexico 

Alvarez was the 25th overall selection in the 2019 CFL-LFA Draft, but he still found his way onto the active roster for seven games in his first CFL season. Alvarez did not record a statistic in CFL action, but he did return to the Saltillo Dinos of the LFA before their 2020 season was stopped short by the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, making nine catches for 131 yards. The 32-year old was the LFA’s top receiver in 2017, and hauled in 20 catches for 331 yards and a touchdown in 2019.

Fernando Richarte, REC, Mexico 

The Lions spread out their Global reps between their contingent and Richarte also dressed for seven games in 2019 without seeing meaningful snaps. He returned to Mexico in 2020 for the shortened season, catching 17 passes for 271 yards and one touchdown with the Dinos before the cancellation. He had 26 receptions for 275 yards and three touchdowns with the team in 2018 and 13 catches for 150 yards and two touchdowns in 2019.

Edmonton Football Team

Maxime Rouyer, LB, France 

The fourth overall pick in the inaugural European Draft was one of just a handful Global players to make a meaningful impact in 2019, suiting up in 17 regular season games and two playoff contests, recording four special teams tackles. A native of Troyes, Rouyer arrived in Edmonton after a four year stint at McGill University where he amassed 103 tackles and 4.5 sacks in 23 college games.

Diego Viamontes, REC, Mexico 

Viamontes was the first overall selection in the Mexican Draft and earned the unique distinction of being the first Global player to be listed as a starter on a team’s pre-game depth chart. In two games, Viamontes returned three kickoffs for 44 yards and had one missed field goal return for 25 yards. The former Mayas CDMX player has now settled in Edmonton and opened his own chocolate shop and cafe.

Genaro Alfonsin Romero, DB, Mexico 

The pint-sized defensive back was selected 19th overall in the 2019 CFL-LFA Draft and spent all of his first CFL season on the practice squad. Alfonsin Romero had two interceptions and three pass breakups with the Artilleros de Puebla in his last LFA season.

Calgary Stampeders

Andres Salgado, REC, Mexico 

Taken with the final pick in the first round of the Mexican Draft, Salgado saw limited snaps in 15 games with the Stampeders and was targeted just once in 2019. He spent the long gap between 2019 and 2021 in Calgary to train and should be much improved next year. Salgado had 31 catches for 586 yards with the Condors CDMX in 2018 and followed it up with 21 catches for 367 and a touchdown in 2019.

Saskatchewan Roughriders

Rene Brassea, OL, Mexico 

The 31-year old product of the Aztecas UDLAP suited up for 17 games and the West Final in his first Riders season, seeing limited snaps on special teams. Prior to his sixth overall selection in the LFA Draft, Brassea was a standout with the Fundidores Monterrey.

Max Zimmermann, REC, Germany 

Taken sixth in the European Draft, Zimmermann dressed in the Riders first game of the season before being relegated to the practice squad for the rest of the year. Zimmermann took advantage of the canceled 2020 season and headed to Finland. Though only healthy for two games, the German caught 15 passes for 152 yards and three touchdowns, helping the Kuopio Steelers to a Maple Bowl title. Prior to the CFL, the German recorded 60 receptions for 1,242 yards and 18 touchdowns in two seasons with the Potsdam Royals.

Hamilton Tiger-Cats

Valentin Gnahoua, DE, France

Only one player was selected  higher than Hansen in the European draft and that was Valentin Gnahoua, who played an under the radar role in his own team’s Grey Cup run. A core special teamer who earned nothing but praise from former European talent scout Jeff Reinbold, Gnahoua made one defensive tackle, four special teams tackles, a forced fumble, recovered a blocked punt and an onside field goal, all while making some big time blocks in the return game. The Frenchman played one season with McGill in 2016 before spending two seasons with the berlin Rebels, recording 67 tackles, nine sacks and four QB hits in 13 games.

Ottawa Redblacks

Jose Maltos, PK, Mexico

The second overall pick in the Mexican draft, Maltos was the only Global player with previous pro football experience, having briefly signed with the New Orleans Saints in 2013 and having training camp with the BC Lions in 2018. The kicker dressed for 10 games in Ottawa but did not get a chance to use his leg. In 2019 with the Fundidores Monterrey, Maltos was a perfect 8-for-8 on field goals and did not miss any of his nine extra point attempts.

Guillermo Villalobos, REC, Mexico

The 2019 LFA MVP, Villalobos somehow fell to eleventh in the LFA Draft and while he recorded one highlight reel grab in preseason, he was not targeted during eight games with the Redblacks. The sticky handed receiver spent considerable time training in Ottawa before the 2020 season and has plenty of potential potential, as demonstrated by his 921-yard, seven touchdown season in 2019 for the champion Mexicas CDMX.

Only two CFL teams do not currently have a returning Global player signed for 2021: Montreal and Toronto, though the Argonauts have re-signed veteran French kicker Boris Bede who pre-dates the Global program and therefore does not qualify. Two Global players, French RB Asnel Robo with Calgary and Mexican OL Diego Kuhlmann with Montreal, remain pending free agents and their contracts will expire on February 9th.

J.C. Abbott is a student at the University of British Columbia and amateur football coach in Vancouver, Canada. A CFL writer for 3DownNation, his love of travel has been the root of his fascination with the global game.