The 2019 free agent crop in the CFL is unprecedented in terms of both quality and quantity of players available (over 200). The most intriguing storylines heading into CFL free agency will, of course, be at the quarterback position. While some teams are seemingly secure at the quarterback spot, there could be a lot of quarterbacks relocating when free agency kicks off on Tuesday.
The three names atop the quarterback free agency list are Mike Reilly (Eskimos), Bo Levi Mitchell (Stampeders), and Trevor Harris (Redblacks).
The Big Three
Bo Levi Mitchell would arguably be at the top of the free agent list if it wasn’t for his desire to play in the NFL. Out of all the free agent quarterbacks in the CFL, Mitchell is the one who has garnered the most interest south of the border. It would be somewhat surprising if he doesn’t take a shot at cracking an NFL roster.
Mike Reilly sits atop most teams radar in terms of bringing experience and stability to their quarterback position. Not to mention his tremendous ability and leadership traits that make him an elite CFL pivot. The 34-year-old quarterback has his CFL future in his hands and isn’t making his decision lightly as to where to sign. Reilly would have his pick of where to play considering the number of teams looking for a starting quarterback currently.
Trevor Harris is another solid CFL quarterback. While he doesn’t have the same cache and hardware as a Reilly or Mitchell, he is viewed as one of the leagues premier passers. Harris’ time appears to be ending in the Nations capital and any team would be lucky to grab him in free agency.
Free Agent Quarterbacks
It wouldn’t be a surprise to see as many as 5-6 teams with a new starting quarterback in 2019. Once Mike Reilly signs on the dotted line of his next deal, expect the other quarterback dominos to fall quickly. Below is how I think this will all shake out as I list the starters of each team for the beginning of the 2019 season.
But first, here is the list of quarterbacks set to hit the market in 2019 and their current respective teams.
|Willy, Drew||QB||Free Agent/ Released|
|Durant, Darian||QB||Free Agent/ Retired|
|Mitchell, Bo Levi||QB||Stampeders|
This year’s top CFL free agent target is current Edmonton Eskimos quarterback and 2017 MOP Mike Reilly. Should Reilly hit free agency when it opens up on Tuesday, there is growing speculation across the league that he will sign in BC. The reasons why this would be an ideal situation for Reilly are well documented but bare repeating.
Lions current GM Ed Hervey traded for Reilly when he was the GM of the Eskimos and was the first to give him a shot as a starter in the CFL. Hervey and Reilly also won a Grey Cup together in 2015 so there is familiarity and trust built on past successes. Most importantly, however, is that Reilly and his family make Seattle their off-season home. Geographically speaking, this move makes a lot of sense for the Reilly camp assuming the money offered is negligible from any other prospective club.
Should Reilly decide to sign with the BC Lions, this would set off a chain reaction in terms of free agent quarterback signings for the rest of the league.
Jonathon Jennings has spent the last four seasons as a member of the B.C. Lions. However, his days in Vancouver appear to be coming to a close as both parties are likely to be moving on. Enter the Edmonton Eskimos.
While the Eskimos will most certainly make a big play for all three of Mike Reilly, Bo Levi Mitchell and Trevor Harris, they will likely strike out in this regard. Next on the list of desirable quarterbacks would be Jonathan Jennings. Jennings would bring an interesting dynamic to the Eskimos offence. Jennings can certainly throw the ball but it’s his ability to run that could provide play calling options for rookie offensive coordinator Jordan Maksymic.
2016 was Jennings best statistical season when he threw for 5226 yards, 27 touchdowns and 15 picks. In addition, he added 363 yards on 68 carries and 4 majors. If Jennings can bring that calibre of play to this proud franchise, it would certainly be money well spent by the Eskimos.
It is no secret that Stampeders pending free agent QB Bo Levi Mitchell is exploring all of his options. This includes opportunities both in the CFL and NFL. Mitchell has worked out for numerous NFL teams this offseason and has not closed any doors to any potential CFL suitor as well. If Mitchell decides to stay in the CFL, then expect the two time Grey Cup champion to return to the city of Calgary as the Stamps QB.
However, it would not be surprising at all to see the 2018 Grey Cup champion and CFL MOP Bo Levi Mitchell head to the NFL. After all, at just 28 years of age, Mitchell has the opportunity that he has likely been dreaming about his entire life. An opportunity to be an NFL quarterback.
If Mitchell does go south then I would expect the Stampeders to sign a veteran quarterback that they are familiar with. Kevin Glenn fits the bill perfectly. Glenn previously played for the Stampeders from 2012-2013 with some regular season success.
Glenn (39) spent last season in Edmonton as the back-up to Mike Reilly. With Reilly at the helm, Glenn did not record an offensive statistic for the entire season. One can only imagine that Glenn, the 18-year veteran, will be itching to take another shot at that elusive first Grey Cup ring. Glenn would also provide valuable mentorship to current back-up Stamps QB Nick Arbuckle should he be anointed as the “next one” in Calgary.
For the Stampeders, the signing of Glenn wouldn’t break the bank and would be helpful in leaving appropriate cap space should Mitchell return to the CFL mid-season.
If Reilly and Mitchell are off the board, then expect the Roughriders to turn their attention to Trevor Harris. The Ottawa Redblacks quarterback has enjoyed a couple of back to back solid CFL seasons. In his last 2 seasons (including playoffs), Harris has completed 69.5% of his passes for 10,907 yards, 61 touchdowns and 27 interceptions.
Harris is still property of the Ottawa Redblacks, but for how much longer? If Ottawa cannot re-sign Harris before free agency opens on Tuesday, there will be plenty of suitors for the experienced quarterback. While Harris has publicly stated he would like to stay in Ottawa, he will be a hot commodity once free agency begins.
The signing of Harris for the Riders would provide stability at the quarterback position heading into 2019 and likely beyond. Something that this organization has been lacking since the conclusion of the 2013 season.
Winnipeg Blue Bombers
There is little doubt as to who the starting quarterback for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers will be in 2019. Matt Nichols has been the go-to guy for the Bombers since his mid-season arrival to the team in 2015. This year will be no different.
Despite having a tough stretch of games last season, Nichols was able to shake it off and finish as a top 5 quarterback in terms of both passing yards and touchdown passes. While 2018 was not Nichols best season, he does have the ringing endorsement from head coach Mike O’Shea. If Nichols can return to his 2017 form where he passed for almost 4500 yards and 28 touchdowns, the Bombers will have an excellent chance to compete for the Grey Cup.
When Alouettes GM Kavis Reed traded for QB Johnny Manziel last summer, it was evident that the Als were going all in on the former Texas A&M star. Reed traded DE Jamaal Westerman, receiver Chris Williams and two first-round picks to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats for Manziel and offensive linemen Tony Washington and Landon Rice.
With eight CFL starts under his belt, Manziel’s stats are hardly anything to write home about. He threw for just five touchdowns, seven interceptions and a paltry 1,290 yards. While Manziel certainly experienced a fairly steep learning curve in his initial CFL season, the Alouettes are expecting more from him this year. Manziel will almost certainly be the starter on opening day for the Al’s.
Without a doubt, the easiest prediction in terms of a starting quarterback belongs to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. The Tabbies have found their number one quarterback in Jeremiah Masoli. The 30-year-old San Francisco native broke out in 2018 and earned himself an Eastern All-Star nomination.
Masoli played in 17 games last season and finished with a 66.1% completion percentage while throwing for over 5200 yards and 18 touchdowns. Without a doubt, this is Masoli’s team and right now, he is the best-signed quarterback in the CFL.
In the scenarios provided above, it seems inevitable that Reilly will sign in BC and take over as the Lions starting quarterback. If this were to be the case, Lulay may not get the opportunity to sign back with the Lions. Lulay has been a member of the BC Lions since he came into the league in 2009. Despite being good friends with Mike Reilly, one could certainly see a scenario where Lulay leaves BC for an opportunity to be a starting QB elsewhere should he decide to play another year.
That team could be the Toronto Argonauts. The Argonauts could certainly be looking for a starting QB as current pivot Ricky Ray decides on his future. If he does retire, then 27-year-old James Franklin would be the next man up. This possibility seems unlikely given the struggles that Franklin had in his first year as a starter in 2018.
That’s where Lulay comes in. Lulay would be an excellent mentor for James Franklin and would possibly even pass the reigns over to him as the season progresses. In addition, there is a familiarity between Lulay and recently hired Argos offensive coordinator Jacques Chapdelaine. Some of Lulay’s best statistical seasons were under Chapdelaine from 2010-2013 when they were both members of the Lions.
With the Redblacks potentially moving on from Trevor Harris, there is a buzz in Ottawa that current backup QB Dominique Davis could slide into the starting role. The only issue with this scenario is that in his 4 seasons in the CFL, Davis has thrown less than 100 times in game action. The 29-year-old Florida native could benefit from veteran QB presence as he continues to look to gain more reps and playing time in Ottawa.
With almost 100% certainty, Zach Collaros will not be back in Saskatchewan for the 2019 season. He had a difficult season in Roughrider green and just didn’t seem to be the right fit in their offensive scheme. And while this may not be a flashy signing for the Ottawa Redblacks, it is one that could certainly help fill the void in Ottawa if Harris leaves. Collaros does have a problematic injury history, but if he can return to his 2015-16 form, he could be a good stop gap quarterback solution in the nation’s capital.
The Last Word
In the wonderful world of 2019 CFL free agency quarterbacks, one thing is for certain- there will be plenty of change. Expect to see a lot of familiar names in unfamiliar places. However, it all hinges on Mike Reilly and where he decides to go. Once that happens, expect other free agents to sign quickly with their new/old teams. Whatever happens and however it shakes out, quarterback free agency will be exciting.
And so we wait…
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