Every team is going to be forced to make a tough decision or two with the looming 2013 Ottawa REDBLACKS Expansion Draft. For the Calgary Stampeders, their toughest choice revolves around the game’s most important position.
The Stamps survived, and thrived, with three different quarterbacks during 2013 but can only protect one prior to the Dec. 16 Draft. That means Calgary will leave two of Kevin Glenn, Drew Tate, or Bo Levi Mitchell exposed to Ottawa, and many believe at least one will be selected.
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It’s been the topic of much debate in Calgary, and that debate intensified as Mitchell forced his name into the mix mid-season. All three of the aforementioned pivots won football games this year, and you could make a case that any of them could be starters next year.
So how should the Stampeders make their very important choice? To me, it’s simple: It comes down to age and ceiling. That’s why the only choice to protect is Bo Levi Mitchell.
Mitchell will be 24 for the duration of the campaign, which will make him five years younger than Tate and 10 years the junior of Glenn. The undrafted product of Eastern Washington was mostly solid, and sometimes outstanding during the 2013 season, seeing the most playing time in his young pro career.
Mitchell completed 69.6 per cent of his passes, throwing for 10 touchdowns against just three interceptions to finish with a 111.2 quarterback rating. He also ran for a pair of touchdowns and averaged 4.3 yards per carry.
At the age of 23, Mitchell showed poise and composure beyond his years, and showed a very impressive grasp of a CFL offence. It’s not always easy to learn in an unfamiliar league when you’re only getting third string reps during practice, which has been the case for most of Mitchell’s tenure in Calgary.
Yet, in his first CFL start on July 26, he looked like a league vet, throwing for 376 yards and three touchdowns in a win over Winnipeg. Mitchell threw just four incomplete passes that day, stating his case in an emphatic way.
There’s no doubt we’re talking about a relatively small sample size, but Mitchell’s tools and upside cannot be ignored. He possesses a big league arm, with the ability to power balls into coverage while on the run.
He has long strike ability as well, as his arm strength allows him to stretch the field very effectively. Mitchell has come leaps and bounds in terms of how he reads opposing defences, and commands an offence very well for someone of his experience. And most importantly, he has the thing that sets quarterbacks apart: Presence.
Mitchell is an extremely confident young man, and that carries over on to the field in a very noticeable way. Rarely has he shown any tentative nature, showing an ability to step up into the pocket with authority.
Most importantly, Mitchell has the confidence of his teammates. Many fellow Stamps talked about how commanding a presence he is in the huddle, which is exactly what you need from your offensive leader.
Yes, he’s only two years into his professional career, and yes it might not be ideal for him to be a starter next year. But the potential for great things is right there, and for that reason, Calgary simply cannot afford to leave him exposed to Ottawa.
The decision becomes easier when you think about the circumstances of the other two gentlemen in the equation. Tate has shown the ability to be one the league’s most dynamic passers when healthy, but at this point, he just hasn’t been healthy enough.
There’s still time for him to shake his injury prone reputation, but he’s only been able to start six games (three per season) in the two years he’s been handed the starting reins.
With so much uncertainty surrounding Tate’s health going forward, you have to take the risk and leave him unprotected. If he was a 25-year-old quarterback, we’d be talking about a different situation, but we’re not.
At 29, Tate still has plenty of time left, and if things align for more durability, he could be a top pivot in this league for a nice stretch of time. However, there are so many questions surrounding whether things will actually align for that to happen. In this case, the questions are too plentiful to sacrifice Mitchell’s roster safety.
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Make no mistake; Kevin Glenn has been one of Calgary’s most important players since arriving in 2012. The CFL veteran has done nothing but give the Stampeders reliability and stability at the position, helping them to the 100th Grey Cup and to the top of the West Division in 2013.
In his two seasons with the Red and White, Glenn has completed almost 67 per cent of his passes and given the team something they had when they were lead by Henry Burris: The confidence of knowing who is going to take snaps on a week-to-week basis.
There is very little negative you can saw about Glenn’s tenure in Calgary, but unfortunately, there is just no way the team can protect him.
Glenn will turn 35 a few weeks prior to the start of the 2014 campaign, and it would be difficult to protect him under any circumstances. But knowing there are two younger pivots in the system that also won games in 2013 makes the 13-year CFL veteran a victim of business and a numbers game.
The best-case scenario would be for the Stampeders to see none of their quarterbacks selected and see Ottawa go with someone else, but I just can’t see it happening. I’d be slightly surprised if Tate was taken, but wouldn’t bat an eyelash if we saw Glenn in our Nation’s Capital come the Canada Day weekend.
What Glenn did in his two years in Calgary makes him a perfect choice to help kick start a fledgling franchise. He can win football games, but more importantly, he can manage an offence effectively. Ottawa is starting on the ground floor, so having a reliable quarterback who can move the football in an effective, if not spectacular, manner may be exactly what the doctor ordered.
On top of that, he’s a great teammate who never whined or complained when he wasn’t getting number one minutes. Remember, this is a guy who helped the Stamps overcome so much in 2012 only to be replaced by Tate in the Western Semi-Final that same year.
Yet he was the consummate teammate and was ready to rock when he was called upon a week later in the Western Final at BC Place. And we all remember how resounding a performance that was. A teammate and leader like that is a perfect fit for an expansion franchise that’ll be looking to groom a quarterback of the future.
When it comes down to it, the decision looks pretty clear from a Calgary perspective. The Stampeders can’t allow Mitchell to be taken, because I’d put a good chunk of money on exactly that happening. As such, Tate and Glenn will have to be exposed to Ottawa, and I think there’s a very good chance one of them will be wearing red and black in 2014.
Pat Steinberg is the co-host of the drive home program on Sportsnet Radio FAN 960 in Calgary. He also reports on the CFL and the Stampeders and hosts pre and post-game programs for the team. He looks forward to traveling to the Grey Cup every year. Follow Pat on Twitter @Fan960Steinberg.