A team by team look at the Mike Reilly sweepstakes

TORONTO — In the age of social media, where analysis and speculation never sleep, Mike Reilly is on his way to becoming the most hyped free agent the Canadian Football League has ever seen.

Reilly would be an upgrade for any team in the CFL, though the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Hamilton Tiger-Cats appear set at quarterback. For the other seven teams, however, it’ll be game on come Feb. 12 should Reilly remain without a contract.

That is, of course, the most likely scenario — that the 34-year-old, coming off the two best statistical seasons of his career, will wait the remaining week and a half and see what teams around the league have to offer. After all, even with the Eskimos reportedly making a strong push to sign an extension, Reilly has waited this long.

As the Mike Reilly sweepstakes approach, let’s look at all nine teams and consider their chances of landing the top-ranked free agent.

» View CFL.ca Free Agent Tracker
» Reilly leads top 30 pending FAs
» O-linemen the lifeblood of CFL free agency


BC Lions

While Vegas hasn’t weighed in (you know, like the Anthony Davis NBA trade sweepstakes), you can guess pretty easily that the BC Lions would be the betting favourite to land the highly-touted quarterback. In fact, Reilly returning to where his career began seems like a foregone conclusion for many, and when you break it all down, the logic is pretty sound.

Why he’ll sign…

There’s a compelling list of reasons that Reilly would find the BC Lions an appealing destination, and it starts with his familiarity with the organization that first gave him the chance to play professional football. Reilly won a Grey Cup with BC as a backup to Travis Lulay in 2011 before being traded to Edmonton, where he was allowed to become a starter.

Reilly would also have a certain comfort level with current Lions general manager Ed Hervey, who made the deal with Wally Buono to bring Reilly to Edmonton back in 2013. Hervey made Reilly a franchise building block at the time, building a perennial contender and winning a Grey Cup in 2015. The level of trust between Reilly and Hervey will be a key factor in the Lions’ pitch.

There are a couple of other optics that make BC a favourable landing spot for the 2017 Most Outstanding Player. While Reilly would be closer to his hometown of Kennewick, Wash. — roughly a six-and-a-half hour drive from Vancouver according to Google Maps — he’d also get to play half his regular season in the climate-controlled confines of BC Place.

Why he won’t sign…

Several quarterbacks have changed teams and had success in the CFL, but there’s always the element of risk involved with this type of movement. With the Lions, Reilly would be playing for the league’s youngest and most unproven coaching staff, from first-time head coach DeVone Claybrooks to position coaches Nik Lewis, Ryan Phillips, Drew Tate and Keith Stokes.

On the plus side, while he’d still have to learn a new offensive system, Reilly has played under current offensive coordinator Jarious Jackson before, who was the quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator in Edmonton in 2014 and again in 2015, the year the Esks last won the Grey Cup.

Ed Hervey and Mike Reilly won a Grey Cup together with the Esks in 2015 (The Canadian Press)

Edmonton Eskimos

Despite being slated for free agency, Reilly will still likely consider Edmonton among his top destinations once the offers come in. Esks GM Brock Sunderland will continue to be aggressive in his pursuit of the star quarterback, while Reilly’s recent success and familiarity with the organization will be difficult to ignore.

Why he’ll sign…

Lions fans are probably already thinking about their new No. 13 ‘Reilly’ jerseys, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Just because Reilly hasn’t signed an extension yet doesn’t mean you should rule out a return. In reality, Reilly would probably find it pretty difficult to leave the city of Edmonton and the Eskimos organization.

There’s a reason franchise quarterbacks don’t move around much in today’s CFL. In the span of six seasons and one Grey Cup, Reilly and his family have forged a meaningful connection with the fan base and the community. Business is business, and suffice to say Reilly will do what’s best for himself and his family, but leaving all of that behind won’t come without sadness and difficulty considering his status with the team.

Another reason for Reilly to stay is the coaching staff. Reilly has had the best three seasons of his career under offensive-minded head coach Jason Maas, averaging 5,650 yards and 41 combined touchdowns per season. On top of winning Most Outstanding Player in 2017, Reilly has, at times, threatened to break single-season records with the Eskimos. In addition to Maas, Reilly has also worked closely with newly-promoted offensive coordinator Jordan Maksymic, who’s currently in his second stint with the club after returning to Edmonton in 2016.

Why he won’t sign…

While Reilly has been with the Eskimos for six seasons, there have been several key departures around him, most notably Chris Jones, Ed Hervey and former offensive coordinator Carson Walch. Current Eskimos GM Brock Sunderland has had two seasons to build a rapport with Reilly and Maas has had three, but is it enough to sway a decision?

Last season left a sour taste for everyone in the Esks organization, as the 2018 Grey Cup hosts were expected to compete for the West, only to fall flat in the second half of the season and miss the playoffs for the first time since 2013. The Eskimos lost six of their last nine games, finishing fifth in the West.

From a player personnel perspective, there are questions at receiver as Duke Williams and Bryant Mitchell are NFL-bound while Derel Walker could also leave. On the O-line, Matt O’Donnell was forced to move from guard to tackle following the departure of Joel Figueroa, as the Esks gave up 41 sacks, the third-most in the CFL. On defence, the Esks are hoping a change to defensive coordinator Phillip Lolley, who’s coached with the team before, can spark the league’s sixth-ranked defence in 2018.



Saskatchewan Roughriders

With an all-world defence, green and white fans are dreaming of the possibilities of having arguably the league’s top quarterback behind centre. However, just as Chris Jones was preparing his pitch for No. 13, the Riders’ head coach and general manager took a job with the NFL’s Cleveland Browns. The QB question has long puzzled the Riders organization, but can Reilly be lured to Riderville?

Why he’ll sign…

After winning a Grey Cup together in 2015, Chris Jones would have been a really big reason for Reilly to venture to Riderville this off-season. Still, there’s plenty to like about the Riders if you’re Reilly, starting with the CFL’s top-ranked defence. We’re talking about a defensive juggernaut here, one that carried the team to a 12-win season and a home playoff game in 2018 despite ranking third-last in the league in both net offence and offensive points.

While Jones is gone, Reilly does have a connection with newly-named head coach Craig Dickenson, who was part of the Eskimos’ 2015 Grey Cup-winning staff. He’s also played under Stephen McAdoo, who was the team’s offensive coordinator that year.

Sure, there’s uncertainty in Regina, but the same can be said for any CFL team this off-season. On paper, with a defence as good as the Riders’, Reilly signing with Saskatchewan would likely give him the best odds to compete for and win a championship in 2019. And of course, winning a Grey Cup in Saskatchewan would make Reilly a living legend.

Why he won’t sign…

With many of their loose ends tied up heading into free agency, we’re left to wonder how much cap space the Riders have to operate, and whether they can make as strong a push for Reilly as other teams. Either way, it’s hard in the CFL to have both an elite quarterback and a top-notch defence. It’s unlikely the Riders could sign Reilly without making sacrifices elsewhere.

Another question fans might be asking: who would Reilly throw the ball to? The Riders’ receiving corps is barely recognizable anymore, especially after the departure of Jordan Williams-Lambert to the NFL. While Reilly makes his receivers around him better, GM Jeremy O’Day would likely need to make at least one significant addition at the position.



Calgary Stampeders

Earlier in the week JC Sherritt traded in his Eskimos threads for the red and white, so why not Mike Reilly? While the Stamps continue holding out hope that Bo Levi Mitchell returns, they’ll find out for sure before Feb. 12. If Mitchell signs an NFL deal, could Reilly be enticed to sign with the CFL team that’s had the most success over the last decade?

Why he’ll sign…

You can hear the hearts of Eskimos fans breaking already. OK, Reilly signing with the Stamps seems unlikely, but never underestimate the pull of Dave Dickenson and John Hufnagel. The Calgary Stampeders have been the model of success in the last 10 years, and for Reilly, after missing the playoffs in 2018, that’s got to be appealing.

Despite some key off-season losses, the Stamps have a well-established coaching staff and one of the best offensive lines in the CFL. They’ll also have some cap space to work with. In short, the transition from Bo Levi Mitchell to Mike Reilly would be as seamless as one could imagine.

Why he won’t sign…

The Stamps have already made it clear that if Bo Levi Mitchell leaves, they’ll pursue a more proven, veteran option rather than entrust Nick Arbuckle with the starting job — at least right away. The question then becomes whether the team would be willing to close the door on Mitchell possibly returning down the road should things not work out in the NFL.

Also, picturing Mike Reilly in Stamps colours just seems wrong.

The Waggle, Episode 142: Debating the QB landscape

With free agency looming, Davis and Donnovan look at some of the top available pending FA’s, including some big name quarterbacks. Later, newly-minted Riders GM Jeremy O’Day stops by to talk about his whirlwind week.



It sounded like Trevor Harris and the REDBLACKS had a deal in place, but time is running out. If Harris tests the market, do Rick Campbell and Marcel Desjardins swing for the fences for the No. 1 player on the market?

Why he’ll sign…

The REDBLACKS have been a model organization since expanding in 2014, winning three division titles and appearing in just as many Grey Cup Championships, winning one. Off the field, the atmosphere at TD Place and the buzz around the city speaks to the success of franchise, which has had far more stability than its predecessors.

In addition to the sustained success seen under Desjardins, offensive coordinator Jaime Elizondo is viewed as one of the top up-and-coming coaches in the game. He runs a quarterback-friendly scheme that not only restored Henry Burris‘ career, helping him win a Grey Cup after the age of 40 (Jason Maas also deserves credit for this), but also helped Trevor Harris emerge as one of the CFL’s top pivots. Reilly could put up really big numbers in Elizondo’s offence.

Finally, the strength of the East Division, or lack there of, could attract Reilly to the REDBLACKS. While Hamilton is a team on the rise, the Argos and Alouettes have struggled to find consistency. Playing in the East every season could give Reilly an easier path to the Grey Cup than he’s used to.

Why he won’t sign…

Harris and the REDBLACKS still seem like too good a marriage to separate, making a contract extension the likeliest of scenarios. Also, with no obvious connections between Reilly and the REDBLACKS organization, Desjardins would have to come up with quite the pitch to outbid Edmonton and BC. Lastly, Ottawa is a long way from home for the Reilly family.

Montreal Alouettes

It’s been a long road back to respectability for Kavis Reed and the Als, but they may finally be there after showing significant improvement over the latter half of last season. With continuity on the coaching staff and some up-and-coming stars on both sides of the ball, the Alouettes could surprise in 2019, but is it enough to attract the CFL’s top free agent?

Why he’ll sign…

The Alouettes benefited from improved quarterback play over the last nine games of 2018, as Johnny Manziel and Antonio Pipkin have emerged as legitimate prospects for the team moving forward. Despite such progress, the Alouettes would stop at nothing to land a proven star quarterback like Reilly.

With some nice pieces around him, including William Stanback and Eugene Lewis on offence, Reilly would instantly transform the Als into a contender and provide even more meaning to President and CEO Patrick Boivin’s vision on and off the field. Reilly would also get to work with a veteran coach in Mike Sherman, while the city of Montreal has always been an appealing destination for CFL free agents.

Why he won’t sign…

Despite improved play towards the end of 2018, was it enough to repair the image of a team that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2014? While Kavis Reed’s club appears to be getting better, the Alouettes are still viewed as a rebuilding team, something that probably doesn’t appeal to the 34-year-old Reilly.

There’s a connection between Reilly and Reed, as the latter was the Eskimos’ head coach in 2013 when Reilly arrived in Edmonton, but a reunion doesn’t seem likely at this point in time.


Toronto Argonauts

While the Argos have options in James Franklin and McLeod Bethel-Thompson, both offered mixed results in their first extended opportunities in 2018. Reilly would be a definite upgrade for the Boatmen, one that General Manager Jim Popp would surely jump at.

Why he’ll sign…

With the support of a strong ownership group, Popp could pull out all the stops in a bid to land Reilly. Toronto has always been an intriguing destination for free agents, while Reilly could become the face of an organization that’s looking for a certain ‘pizzazz’ in a competitive marketplace.

The return of Corey Chamblin as defensive coordinator means the Argos should have a good defence in 2019, while James Wilder Jr. and S.J. Green provide a solid foundation on the offensive side of the ball along with offensive linemen Chris Van Zeyl and Sean McEwen. Despite winning just four games last season, the Boatmen would be a contender with Reilly leading the huddle.

Why he won’t sign…

There could be a few road blocks in the Argos’ bid to sign Reilly, starting with the offensive coordinator. They don’t have one yet. Marcel Bellefeuille has been linked to the position, but the Argos better figure it out soon if they plan on trying to attract a big-name quarterback in free agency.

It’s also hard to imagine Reilly joining a last-place team. After missing the playoffs in 2018, the league’s most prolific passer will try to set himself up for a chance to win multiple Grey Cups with his new team. The Argos’ recent track record works against them.



Winnipeg Blue Bombers

Bombers general manager Kyle Walters has already committed to Matt Nichols as his starter for 2019, all but ruling out the possibility of Reilly heading to Winnipeg. Sometimes plans change, but the Bombers appear to be set for next season as they build on an already-established core.

Why he’ll sign…

Walters and Head Coach Mike O’Shea have built the Bombers into a model franchise in the CFL, making Winnipeg an attractive destination for players hoping to win a Grey Cup. And while Nichols has established himself as the Bombers’ starter, Reilly would put the Blue and Gold over the top in the highly-competitive West Division.

Why he won’t sign…

With Nichols under contract and several pending free agents still to be signed, the Bombers aren’t even thinking about Reilly right now. As good as Reilly is, continuity is a good thing, and the Bombers should have it in 2019 without making any big splashes.

Hamilton Tiger-Cats

The Ticats are one of the lucky teams with a quarterback under contract in 2019, and he’s a good one. Jeremiah Masoli has emerged as a top-three quarterback, leading the league’s top offence last season and getting the Ticats back in the Eastern Final. Hamilton will not be an option for the CFL’s top free agent.

Why he’ll sign…

As good as Masoli has been, Reilly is a notch above. From Reilly’s perspective, offensive genius June Jones is a quarterback’s dream. Just think of the numbers they could put up.

Why he won’t sign…

Maybe the Ticats could sign Reilly and trade Masoli? Keep playing CFL Football Frenzy — this type of thing only happens in video games.