December 14, 2018

O’Leary: How will NFL aspirations impact FA19?

It’s been a busy and potentially life-changing week for Bo Levi Mitchell.

He’s just dipping his toes into NFL waters, having worked out for Minnesota and Denver. The Woj-like Justin Dunk has said Mitchell will hit double digits with his NFL meetings.

On The Waggle last week, Davis Sanchez promised that Mitchell will not start the 2019 season with the Calgary Stampeders.

It’s also already been a busy off-season for Alex Singleton, an almost equally valuable piece of the Stamps’ defensive puzzle. Singleton has already worked out for the Cleveland Browns and according to Dunk has four more workouts this month, with more lined up in the new year.

» View 2019 Free Agent Tracker
» Not So Fast: 10 free agents likely staying put
» FA Team by Team: East Division | West Division
» Ferguson: Who are the CFL’s three emerging powers?

If they lose the anchors of their offence and defence, the defending Grey Cup champs could be a drastically different-looking team when they go into training camp in 2019. The list of NFL hopefuls runs long in Calgary. They’ve released receiver Chris Matthews (who was essentially a rental for the last third of the season and the playoffs) so that he could pursue NFL opportunities again. Linebacker Jameer Thurman has worked out for the Chicago Bears and defensive tackle Micah Johnson will get some NFL looks too.

To be fair, just about every year, every team in the league has its top young free agents explore their NFL options. A workout is far from putting ink to paper and even in those instances, a CFL players’ return is oftentimes only delayed when they sign with an NFL team.

Still, these next few weeks and months are a strange time for GMs, scouts and fans across the league. There’s a high that comes from watching young players develop and show a ton of promise for the future and an admittedly selfish low that comes with finding out they’ve worked out for an NFL team, opening the door for their possible departure.

We’re going on three weeks removed from the Grey Cup game and we’ve already seen a lot of names tied to NFL teams. For Calgary, depending on who leaves for the NFL and for how long, a Stampeders team that’s been dominant through 11 seasons could look overhauled when they do get back on the field again.

If Mitchell is gone, does Calgary’s philosophy of internal replacement hold up, or do the Stamps start eyeing a free-agent quarterback in February for a replacement? There is the possibility that if Calgary does lose a rash of key players to the NFL that they in turn impact free agency in a big way, which could create a ripple effect across the league.

Or maybe the Stamps look to their neg list, the 35 names that they didn’t reveal this week and see some names there that can provide some talented, cost-effective solutions (public neg list players, revealed last week, can be viewed here). There’s a reason this team has averaged 13 wins a season since 2008.

NFL options impact teams in the CFL every season, but this year feels different, like one big signing could play a hand in forcing teams into a new look in 2019.