All right everybody, let’s all just calm down and take a breath. The first 48 hours of the start of free agency was crazy bonkers. It decimated the Top-30 Pending Free Agents board as we saw so many all-stars switch teams in such a short period of time.
I spent most of Tuesday either on social media or listening to TSN 1150 in Hamilton reacting to each transaction and then being stunned when the next prominent player decided to hitch their wagon with a new franchise. It was a glorious afternoon and perfectly timed as the weather here in Southern Ontario has been truly awful (Yes Winnipeg, we know that us city folks in Toronto are not as tough as you. You can stop chirping).
So the natural next step is to speculate how the new pieces will fit in their new ecosystems, and of course handing out far-too-early grades for how each team did to bolster their respective rosters. I can’t wait to see Willie Jefferson team up with Adam Bighill in Winnipeg, or Ja’Gared Davis with Ted Laurent in Hamilton. I think most of us will get the football bends the first time we see Mike Reilly throwing a pass to Duron Carter in BC, and I have no clue who will be throwing, catching or running the ball in Ottawa.
But when it comes to who were the biggest winners and losers from these past few days, the answer is easy: it’s us, the fans of the CFL. The biggest news, beyond the fact that many of us are now just now discovering the name ‘Poop Johnson’, is that both Bo Levi Mitchell and Mike Reilly are staying in the CFL. But just as important as their geographical location is the length of their contracts. Both are four year deals.
Barring injury, these new deals mean we are treated to at least four more seasons of the two best quarterbacks in this league. It means for the next four years we will get to watch the last three MOPs duke it out against one another for western supremacy. Reilly and Mitchell finished first and third in passing yards and were the league’s top two quarterbacks for passing touchdowns, and they’re not going anywhere for a long time.
Now, I know Eskimos fans may be upset seeing Reilly leave for the West Coast, but after their free agency haul I’m guessing they’re handling the news fairly well. But here is the big picture: elite level quarterback play is the lifeblood of the CFL, just as it is in the NFL as well. The league is at its entertaining best when the guys under centre are dominating. The last time a defensive player won the MOP was Solomon Elimimian for the Lions back in 2014. That season saw only one (ONE!!) quarterback throw for more than 4,000 yards, and that was Ricky Ray with the Argonauts. It was so bad from a passing standpoint that the next two most prolific passers that year were Kevin Glenn, who was on his third team in four years, and Drew Willy. That year saw a lot of injuries on offence and young quarterbacks just starting to try and make a name for themselves. This is nothing against good defensive player and Elimimian had a hell of a year, but any football league suffers with a limited number of high-end quarterbacks.
In our league this last statement is especially true when you are operating within an eight- or nine team league. Injuries or growing pains at that position are felt more up here. When Jonathon Jennings couldn’t build on his extraordinary 2016 season, or when Zach Collaros, who was playing at an MOP level,couldn’t play the final six games of 2016, it was felt all over the league. Forget about the just how much control they can have on a franchise’s destiny — think about how important they are for the overall aesthetic of the game, whether you are watching in the stands or on TV.
For people who are howling about the glory of defence, let me ask you, what is more satisfying: Seeing your favourite group of defenders shut down some rookie quarterback who doesn’t have a clue what he is doing on the field, or when they can beat up on an all-star like what Calgary did to Trevor Harris and the REDBLACKS this past year? I think most of us would choose the latter. To truly appreciate a great defence doing their job, there needs to be an equally impressive quarterback on the other side for them to thwart. Batman beating up henchman No. 27 is boring, but Batman against The Joker is what made ‘Dark Knight’.
I’ll be honest, a couple weeks before free agency opened up I was nervous about the possibility of losing both Mitchell and Reilly. It would have been a huge hit to our league to have two future Hall of Famers suddenly depart from a nine-team league. Yes, over time new stars would emerge, they always do, but we would have been robbed of watching two greats at the peak of their careers lighting up secondaries. Most likely one if not both of them would be relegated to sideline duty as a backup in the NFL. This is my greedy/selfish side again speaking but I would rather see them do what they were meant to do, pile up tons of yards, touchdowns and wins on the field rather than helping an NFL head coach call plays to the starter on the field.
I’m looking forward to see who the next star quarterbacks will be in the CFL, but before that happens I am ecstatic with the knowledge we will get to watch Reilly and Mitchell play this game for a long time to come. Their respective decisions to stay in Canada make the BC Lions, the Calgary Stampeders and all of us winners in 2019.
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