- Free Agency
TORONTO — After a busy month, the quarterback carousel is creeping to a halt.
Let’s break down who’s landed where, what’s still to be determined and, finally, how the free agent market might look for the league’s pivots come Feb. 13.
Unofficial QB Depth Charts as of Jan. 11 (excluding pending free agents):
Harris is staying in the nation’s capital after signing a one-year deal through 2018. While it took until December for the REDBLACKS to secure their starter for next season, an agreement between the two sides was expected following another strong campaign for the 31-year-old pivot.
A one-year contract provides flexibility for both sides, with Harris getting the chance to earn top dollar if he can deliver an MOP-calibre season, and the REDBLACKS having an opportunity to pursue other options if things don’t work out with Harris.
Some speculated that Bridge might test free agency, both in the NFL and CFL, after a breakout season in green and white. That theory evapourated over the holidays when the Canadian quarterback signed a one-year deal to remain in Regina.
While Bridge proved that he’s a legitimate prospect to be a starting quarterback in this league, his time won’t likely arrive in 2018 after the team traded for Zach Collaros weeks later. The market on the 25-year-old Bridge remains one of the CFL’s biggest mysteries.
While still under contract, Collaros was considered one of the biggest quarterback chips going into the off-season as it was assumed the Ticats would trade him. That finally happened early in January, when General Manager Eric Tillman sent Collaros west to Regina in exchange for a second round pick.
Collaros, 29, has struggled his last two years since his season-ending knee injury in 2015, but now has a clean slate and a chance to return to his MOP-calibre play of three seasons ago. The Riders’ starting QB job is his to lose.
With the Collaros trade shutting the door on Regina as a possible free agent destination, Franklin’s deal with the Argos knocked down the biggest off-season quarterback domino in the CFL. A two-year contract shows a strong mutual commitment, as the Boatmen believe they have Ricky Ray’s successor while Franklin believes he’s found a home — even if Ray returns.
In hindsight, this was a savvy trade-and-sign for both the Argos and Esks, with the latter keeping Franklin out of the highly-competitive West.
It took longer than expected, but the continued partnership between Masoli and the Ticats is a no-brainer. Masoli is a perfect fit for returning head coach June Jones, while the Ticats flourished with Masoli under centre, going from 0-8 to 6-12 and just narrowly missing the playoffs.
Masoli’s skeptics stem partly from a career completion percentage of 64.7 per cent — among the worst of the starting quarterbacks — but it’s hard to argue with his success everywhere else. Masoli went 6-4 last year as a starter, throwing 15 touchdowns to only five interceptions while finishing with five straight 300-yard games.
STILL IN PLAY
After an off-season of speculation, Durant remains under contract and in line to start under centre for the Alouettes in 2018. That seemed unlikely a couple of months ago, but with big names like Zach Collaros and James Franklin now off the market, Durant may just be the Als’ best hope of competing next year.
A looming roster bonus could set a deadline for the Als to make a move, but at this point, keeping Durant would fit Kavis Reed’s vision of having a veteran quarterback to mentor his younger ones in Matt Shiltz and Antonio Pipkin.
The question isn’t where the reigning East MOP will play in 2018 but if. The Argos will show no hesitation signing the 38-year-old should he opt to return, but retirement is on the horizon for Ray after 15 prolific CFL seasons.
With Franklin on the depth chart, the Argos are in good hands either way, but they’d love to have Ray back as they attempt to repeat as Grey Cup Champions.
While a reunion with BC makes the most sense, Lulay’s injury history could lead Ed Hervey to go in a different direction behind Jonathon Jennings on the Lions’ depth chart.
Whatever happens, don’t expect Lulay to come into the year as a starter — his availability will likely be limited after last year’s late-season knee injury.
The man of the hour. Manziel has untapped potential, but can he and the Ticats work out a contract agreement before his agent’s self-imposed Jan. 31 deadline?
After committing to Jeremiah Masoli as their starter, don’t expect the Tabbies to pay top dollar to get an unproven quarterback that hasn’t taken a snap since 2015.
Should he play in 2018, Glenn will switch teams for the sixth year in a row after being released by the Riders. The league’s greatest insurance policy should garner plenty of interest on the market after throwing 25 touchdown passes (and only 14 interceptions) while helping the Green and White make the playoffs for the first time since 2014.
Unless it’s in Montreal, though, it’ll be a familiar backup role for KG — which, if history tells us, means he’ll be starting by Labour Day.
OTHER FREE AGENTS
The recent flurry of activity on the quarterback market has taken some of the lustre out of the free agent market. On the other hand, proven backups are difficult to find, meaning no stone will be left unturned.
Here are the other names slated for free agency come Feb. 13.:
The Ticats and Alouettes have both passed on Harris as a prospect, and at age 27 it’ll be interesting to see whether he gets a look elsewhere. This could be the end of the road for Harris in the CFL after 23 career passing attempts.
He may not be the most popular with the fans, but Willy remains a serviceable backup at worst. He showed well in a pair of starts with the Alouettes last season, completing 68 per cent of his passes while almost leading Montreal to an upset win in the rain over Edmonton.
Look for Willy to sign where he can be a primary backup quarterback next season.
Fajardo struggled throwing the ball in the second half of a game vs. Montreal last season, but his size, instincts and athletic ability make him an intriguing prospect. After two seasons and 48 career passing attempts, Fajardo could be ready to take on a greater role than just short-yardage quarterback.
The former Notre Dame star showed some excitement in pre-season last year, but couldn’t build on the momentum due to an injury that sidelined him throughout most of 2017. He should find a home as a developmental quarterback in 2018, whether it’s Hamilton or elsewhere.
LeFevour belongs on a roster, but maybe not as a second-string quarterback after struggling in that role last season with the Bombers. Mike O’Shea and co. could look for an upgrade behind Matt Nichols, as the offence failed to produce whenever the starting quarterback wasn’t on the field in 2017.