CFL free agency wasted no time sending Twitter into a frenzy when it kicked off at 12:00 P.M. Eastern time. The fireworks got off to an early start. News of Mike Reilly signing a four-year deal with the B.C. Lions leaked a whole 15 hours before free agency. The day appeared to belong to the Lions early on until Edmonton swooped in and stole the show (and evidently a majority of difference makers from the Redblacks). There’s lots to dissect here. As I’m writing this article, I’m sure there are still transactions ongoing. Without further ado, here are the winners and losers of CFL free agency, day one.
Although news of Mike Reilly signing a four-year deal with B.C. broke last night, Reilly didn’t put pen to paper until today. Reilly’s deal is worth $2.9 million over four years ($725,000/year). On a side note, I like the fact that that they released the contract details, and I hope that’s the case going forward. Obviously signing the best quarterback in the CFL would automatically qualify the Lions for being day one winners. But general manager Ed Hervey didn’t stop there, signing Sukh Chungh, Lemar Durant, Aaron Grymes, Chris Edwards, Josh Woodman, and John White. Though not official yet, Duron Carter could be on his way to the west coast as well.
While the Lions lost difference makers on offence in DeVier Posey, Ricky Collins Jr. and Chris Rainey as well as DyShawn Davis, Anthony Orange and Bo Lokombo on defence, you can chalk this up as a significant net gain for the Lions who are looking to make an immediate impact post-Wally Buono.
— BC LIONS (@BCLions) February 12, 2019
If you would’ve asked me the night before free agency if I would be pencilling in the Eskimos as free agent winners day one after Mike Reilly’s departure, I would’ve assumed they somehow managed to acquire prime Ricky Ray. While that obviously isn’t the case, Brock Sunderland went to work, ensuring that Eskimo fans wouldn’t be cancelling their season tickets. The Eskimos acquired (deep inhale), Trevor Harris, Greg Ellingson, Larry Dean, SirVincent Rogers, Jovan Santos-Knox, Don Unamba, DaVaris Daniels, Anthony Orange, Ricky Collins Jr. and Travis Bond (exhale).
Lots to unpack here. Let’s start with the fact that Edmonton absolutely decimated Ottawa’s offensive core in bringing over Harris, Ellingson, and Rogers. Beyond that, Edmonton fortified the heart of their defence in bringing over Dean and Santos-Knox. In a span of 12 hours, the Eskimos went from a team who I would’ve had pencilled in for last in the West to perhaps fielding a better team than they had last year.
Edmonton saves the season with this move. Losing Reilly is a lot less crushing when you add (for me) the 4th-best QB in the league.
Time for a new offensive attack in Edmonton. https://t.co/k5dhJJep8n
— Derek Taylor 🇨🇦🏈 (@DTonSC) February 12, 2019
Hamilton had a quiet day but it was of great benefit. The re-signing of Adrian Tracy and Mike Jones was a good start. Adding Nationals Tunde Adeleke and Brian Jones was just icing on the cake. Of course, losing Larry Dean, Don Unamba, John White, and Mercer Timmis wasn’t ideal; however, Hamilton being winners today has more to do with what happened in their division than what they did themselves. As mentioned earlier, Ottawa was absolutely decimated, while Toronto was relatively quiet and missed out on the Bo Levi Mitchell sweepstakes, and lastly, Montreal has lots of work to do.
Yes, the games must still be played and anything can happen in the CFL, but Hamilton now finds itself with a fast track to first in the East and that has to feel pretty good in February.
After unveiling a new logo, uniform, and identity, the Alouettes went to work day one. Re-signing B.J. Cunningham and John Bowman was just the start. Adding Spencer Wilson on the line was a big acquisition along with playmaker DeVier Posey. Patrick Levels, Taylor Loffler, and Bo Lokombo are massive additions to the defence too. Fullback Christophe Normand may end up contributing on offence as well.
The Alouettes still have lots of work to do before returning to contender status, but they appear to have taken the first step in righting the ship. It was rumoured they were interested in Jonathon Jennings, though that seems unlikely from happening as the Alouettes are already dealing with a crowded quarterback room.
I’m going to cheat a little bit here. Depending on your outlook, these next teams (Riders included) have either lost or won the first day of free agency. Go on Twitter and see for yourself in the array of
overreactions. In Saskatchewan’s case, I think they can look at today with a glass-half-full mentality. The signing of William Powell and Micah Johnson says they plan on carrying out their plan from last season: establishing the run and leaning on the defence. DyShawn Davis is an underrated signing who can contribute on special teams. Losing Willie Jefferson hurts, there’s no getting around that, but the signing of Johnson helps it sting a little less.
The thorn in the Riders side was missing out on the “big three” sweepstakes (Reilly, Mitchell & Harris), which prevents them from being “winners” here. However, allocating that amount of cap space ($550,000+) may not have played well into the Riders plans. Bringing back Collaros was a solid move and while not a fan favourite, a sense of continuity in an off-season full of anything but could be of great benefit for the Riders. There’s still lots of work to be done in re-signing Roosevelt and adding another receiver. However, today can be considered a good day by the Rider faithful.
Winnipeg Blue Bombers
Extending Brandon Alexander and Nic Demski were great ways for the Bombers to kick-off free agency. Adding Willie Jefferson to a defence that already includes Adam Bighill and Jackson Jeffcoat makes for even more hype. The losses, however, cannot be understated. Jovan Santos-Knox, Kevin Fogg, Sukh Chungh and Taylor Loffler are all big losses.
That being said, the Bombers still have their nucleus intact with Matt Nichols, Andrew Harris, Adam Bighill, and Stanley Bryant all still dawning blue and gold. And while the West became much more competitive, they probably have the least amount of turbulence entering the 2019 season in terms of drastic change.
Strictly in terms of net gains and losses, the Stampeders lost today, re-signing just three players to the six they lost. However, the three they managed to keep just happen to be very, very important pieces of the 2018 Grey Cup winning team. With much uncertainty regarding his professional future, Bo Levi Mitchell opted to return to the Calgary Stampeders over the NFL, Toronto Argonauts, and Saskatchewan Roughriders. Losing Mitchell would’ve left Calgary scrambling (like Saskatchewan and others are) for a stopgap quarterback or giving the reigns to Nick Arbuckle.
Bringing back receiving threats Eric Rogers and Juwan Brescacin is nothing to scoff at either. Where Calgary lost today was with the departure of young talent coming into their own. DaVaris Daniels, Tunde Adeleke, Patrick Levels, and Lemar Durant are all significant as well as veterans Micah Johnson and Spencer Wilson, the former being a massive contributor on defence. Toss day one up as a 50/50, Stampeder fans can breathe a sigh of relief they have their franchise quarterback.
It took some time but the Argonauts finally made some moves later in the first day of free agency. Before that, they had been informed they would not be gaining the services of Bo Levi Mitchell. A massive blow for a team with two quarterbacks on the roster with much to prove and Ricky Ray’s career seemingly over. This hurts off the field as well as Mitchell could have effectively become the face of the franchise in Toronto overnight.
The Argos re-signed Tyler Holmes, Jamal Campbell, Cameron Walke, and Troy Davis as well as adding Chris Rainey, Mercer Timmis and Kevin Fogg. The bar had been set much higher for Jim Popp and company to make a splash.
Where do I start? Typically, losing your franchise quarterback, starting running back, left tackle and best wide receiver isn’t ideal. That’s exactly what happened when Ottawa said good-bye to Trevor Harris, William Powell, SirVincent Rogers and Greg Ellingson. Maintaining the services of running back Mossis Madu, the Redblacks were clear cut losers the first day of free agency.
The good news is the coaching staff and upper-management are intact and have experience with this (they were an expansion team after all). The Redblacks are currently in the hunt for Jonathon Jennings. Who many still feel has much to offer and could use a change of scenery. There’s lots of time to get back on track for Ottawa.
Brad Sinopoli showing up to camp with the offense pic.twitter.com/fXwgNNLazd
— #RNATION®️ (@REDBLACKSnation) February 12, 2019
The Last Word
So what does this all mean? Do we give the Grey Cup to the Lions? How about Edmonton? No, it’s not quite that simple, there’s still a draft to be held, a CBA to be negotiated and multiple free agents to be signed. It’s cliche, but they still have to play the games. The first day of free agency in the CFL brought as much excitement as I can remember in recent memory. The real winners were the fans. Mike Reilly and Bo Levi Mitchell are still in the league and new faces in different places offer up a certain level of excitement leading into June. There’s still plenty of off-season ahead and snow to be melted, but many can hardly wait.
Main image credit:
Embed from Getty Images