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May 10, 2019

On the Market: Mitchell’s release should stir up interest

The Canadian Press

There’s a lot to like about Bryant Mitchell — if he’s available.

One of the CFL’s top up-and-coming receivers is back on the open market following a short stint with the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals.

Plenty of Canada’s top stars come and go, plying their trade south of the border and often returning either in August, when the majority of NFL cuts are made, or the following off-season.

But a few weeks removed from the NFL Draft, the Cardinals decided to move on from Mitchell just in time for CFL training camps, which officially open on May 19.

There’s no reason Mitchell has to rush back to Canada, as the San Diego native could draw interest from other American clubs. If he does consider a return, though, his situation would be unique to the CFL.

This much is obvious: had he stuck around in February, Mitchell would have been one of the biggest prizes available in free agency. He probably would have had offers from all nine CFL teams, and his name would go alongside other marquee signings like Derel Walker, Willie Jefferson and Micah Johnson.

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All Bryant Mitchell needed was extended playing time to become a star in the CFL (The Canadian Press)

For some people this may take some convincing, as Mitchell doesn’t quite have the name power of other top stars around the CFL. It’s also worth mentioning that Mitchell did have the benefit of catching passes from arguably the league’s top quarterback in Mike Reilly. But when you bring age and productivity into the equation, it’s difficult to argue against what the 6-foot-2, 198-pound pass-catcher offers in terms of promise.

Receivers are well known to take at least two to three years to hit their peak of development in professional football, and Mitchell has put in that time before the age of 26, putting years of elite production ahead of him.

Let’s talk about that production. While 867 yards in 2018 may not jump off the page, the majority of that yardage — 849 yards to be exact — came in just eight starts. Not be the biggest sample size but large enough to convince you this was no fluke; that Mitchell’s 106 yards per game, well ahead of league-leading receiver Duke Williams’ 87.7 yards per game, albeit over an 18-game season, is at least noteworthy.

Which is why if Mitchell does decide to consider his options on this side of the border, every team in the CFL should be exploring ways to make the dollars work and add him to the roster.

I’ll single out four teams that I think could make the strongest play for the former Eskimos star if he’s available, though I wouldn’t rule anything out. Of course, Mitchell could sign in the NFL tomorrow and all of this becomes moot.

BC Lions

Why wouldn’t Mitchell want to re-join forces with one of the CFL’s most prolific quarterbacks? Even in limited playing time, he and Mike Reilly had a ton of success, while Mitchell would join Duron Carter and Bryan Burnham to form one of the most feared pass-catching trios in the CFL.

The question here would be cap space, especially after Reilly signed the biggest free agent deal in recent memory. But as the one to initially bring Mitchell to Edmonton, General Manager Ed Hervey should have no hesitation finding some wiggle room if that’s what it comes down to.

For a variety of reasons that don’t even include money, BC appears to be the most appealing destination for any offensive playmaker at this time. Moreover, with an exciting young coaching staff and a revamped roster, Vancouver feels like the trendy place to be right now.

Toronto Argonauts

The Argos badly needed a boost at receiver during the off-season and got it in the form of top free agent Derel Walker. But why stop there? Jim Popp has never been afraid to make a splash, and adding Mitchell to an offence that already includes Walker, S.J. Green and star running back James Wilder Jr. would give Argos fans lots to talk about.

There are a couple of big factors at play here. For one, Mitchell has chemistry with James Franklin and Derel Walker from their time in Edmonton (Mitchell would have caught plenty of passes in practice from Franklin in 2016 and 2017). The other is that as good as S.J. Green and Armanti Edwards are, Edwards is 31 while Green will turn 34 at the start of the Argos’ season. A little more youth would be a good thing. Mitchell certainly fits the profile in Toronto.

Argos general manager Jim Popp has had a busy off-season, but has he left room for more? (Jason Halstead/CFL.ca)

Edmonton Eskimos

Prognosticators deemed the Eskimos the ‘winners’ of free agency this off-season, which makes you wonder if there’s enough left in the vault to land a player of Mitchell’s calibre. The Green and Gold are also loaded at the receiver position, having added DaVaris Daniels, Greg Ellingson and Ricky Collins through free agency to off-set a suddenly-depleted core (and don’t forget Canadian Tevaun Smith, who’s also in the running to start).

Still, the Eskimos are the only CFL team Mitchell has ever known, giving them an inside track on bringing him back. Players love familiarity. Mitchell would also have a chance to join a prolific passer in Trevor Harris, and an offence under Jason Maas that would no doubt allow him to thrive.

Calgary Stampeders

It’s not often the Stamps pursue top free agents from outside their organization, making this one a bit of a dark horse. But the need exists after the offence lost Marken Michel, DaVaris Daniels and Chris Matthews to free agency, while Kamar Jorden is still working his way back from a knee injury.

From Mitchell’s perspective, there’s plenty of reason to cross sides in the Battle of Alberta. He’s watched almost first-hand as the Stamps organization succeeds year after year, appearing in three straight Grey Cups and winning in 2018. He would also get to catch passes from one of the top pivots of this generation in Bo Levi Mitchell, who’s still just 29 years old and has plenty of productive years ahead of him.

If you’re Calgary, meanwhile, you’ve lost almost two-thirds of your starting defence from last season and you may need your offence to carry the weight in 2019. With a quarterback that loves to go vertical, adding Bryant Mitchell to a receiving corps with Eric Rogers, Kamar Jorden and breakout candidate Reggie Begelton would be quite a coup.