The other day I was reading the Top 30 pending free agents article and suddenly I started experiencing a sports version of the bends.
For the past couple months I’ve been down this delightful rabbit hole of vintage CFL photos for my history of uniform series. I want to say thanks for everyone at CFL.ca, the Hall of Fame and a whole bunch of local writers who helped me with the identities of so many stars from the past. I have kept tabs on what’s been going on around this league but I haven’t really done a deep dive.
Like so many of you, I am waiting for the official word of how/when the 2021 season will kick off. Given all the hurdles required to have a viable and safe season, I’m not at all shocked we don’t have all the answers yet. I’d be nervous if the powers that be proclaimed they had an iron clad plan in place and that all is figured out.
In the coming weeks I can’t wait to write some way-too-early, but always fun to do, preview pieces and figure out the best case scenarios for all these free agents. With so many All-Stars on this list there are countless fascinating final destination story lines that need to be explored.
However, before we go forward please allow me to go back a year because, frankly, I have no idea what to expect over the next couple months. I have a question, when it comes to looking ahead, how often do you find yourself thinking “2020” instead of “2021”? I do it all the time. Living in this era of COVID, time has a funny way of moving excruciatingly slow, yet you look up and sunny evenings have been replaced with snowy mornings.
It seems like it wasn’t that long ago that Mike O’Shea was signing autographs hours after the Winnipeg Blue Bombers Grey Cup victory, a sharpie in one hand and a beer in the other. I went back and looked at some of my articles right before the world shut down. I actually wrote this line: “In 2020 Matt Nichols will be the most interesting man in the CFL world.”
My big question is how many storylines that we were so excited for in the winter of 2020, how many of them have disappeared due to a whole host of circumstances and how many are still alive and viable for 2021? Yes, this is a bit of an unconventional look ahead piece because instead of previewing what’s to come I want to jog your memory (and mine!!) about the angles that had our attention before COVID. I went through my archives from the conclusion of the 2019 Grey Cup to March of 2020 to go over what I was personally excited to see. Here are some of the results from my Microsoft Word investigation.
The Matt Nichols revenge tour should still be a thing in 2021 as he is under contract, however, the two sides are in the middle of what cannot be the most amicable negotiation over a pay cut. Considering so many other star quarterbacks have taken cuts, I’m sure they will reach a compromise but with the amount of potential money Toronto is asking to be slashed from his contract you have to expect this to get ugly before it gets better.
My favourite off-season quote was courtesy of Montreal Alouettes’ new co-owner Gary Stern … “It’s difficult, please take it the right way and if I say it the wrong way: the Argos suck. Can I say that?” Even as an Argonauts fan I loved that quote. The rivalry between the two teams has been rather dull the last bunch of years. The Argonauts have been up and down over the past decade while 2019 marked the first time since 2012 that Montreal had a winning season. With the Alouettes on the upswing after their 10-8 season led by the growth of Vernon Adams Jr., I was pumped for some proper sports hate between these organizations. Also I dreamed the dream of Pinball actually trash talking an opponent.
We had a compelling coaching change with Rick Campbell moving from Ottawa to the Pacific to help resurrect the BC Lions. How could the Lions have finished near the bottom in so many important offensive statistical categories with Mike Reilly playing 16 games? Surely Campbell, who took the expansion REDBLACKS from 2-16 to three Grey Cup appearances, would be able to fix the Lions pass protection issues (league-worst 58 sacks allowed) and get BC back on track. Having a familiar receiver in Dominque Rhymes join Campbell can only help. We’ve had to wait a year on this one; I feel it will be worth the wait.
A year ago there were three stars I wondered if they would still be playing in the CFL: Willie Jefferson, Reggie Begelton and Shaq Evans. At that time, I would not have been surprised to see them hook up with an NFL organization. Of course I wished them nothing but the best if they pursued a job south of the border but the selfish side of me wanted them to stay. Evans deserves some credit for the growth of Cody Fajardo as a passer, Bo Levi Mitchell to Begelton was a treat to watch and Willie Jefferson was an absolute terror in the Grey Cup. Shaq and Jefferson are back with their 2019 clubs while Begelton is on the Green Bay Packers roster. To quote ‘Meatloaf’: two out of three ain’t bad. Here’s how different life is now as compared to the winter of 2019. I advocated that Justin Trudeau and the Canadian government should invest in Willie to ensue he never leaves the CFL. Flash forward to today where I’d admit all resources should be towards getting everyone the vaccine versus helping Winnipeg’s pass rush.
Bo Levi Mitchell, an ironman in his first seven seasons, suffered through an injury-plagued 2019 playing a career low 11 games. Yes, Calgary would go 12-6 but Mitchell threw three interceptions in a first round playoff loss to the Bombers. The bar had been set so high with Bo that any drop off in his play felt jarring. It started to make you wonder if Mitchell had lost the “Best QB in the CFL” belt? It’s been so long but stretch your memory back; this was a fun conversation a year or so ago. You better believe it will start up again sooner rather than later.
Finally the granddaddy of CFL topics was the brewing quarterback controversy in Hamilton after Jeremiah Masoli signed an extension for the 2020 season. Considering the importance backup quarterbacks played in 2019 it certainly made sense but with the breakout year Dane Evans had we were all primed for a good ol’ fashioned quarterback debate that could have had legs for the entire year. We were robbed of so much speculation about who should start, what happens if one of the quarterbacks got off to a slow start? Marshall Ferguson and TSN 1150 had an embarrassment of content right at their fingertips.
And guess what, it is alive and well after Masoli got an extension! The thoughtful approach would be this signing makes sense just look at Winnipeg’s path to the Grey Cup. I, for one, do not subscribe to such logic. We’ve been starved of CFL content for a year so let’s create some heat between these two passers. “Did you see Dane Evans’ body language on that Masoli incompletion? Oh man, he is so rooting for Jeremiah to fail.” Is that journalistically irresponsible? You bet it is. But who isn’t a sucker for a little quarterback animosity?
So many narratives that we were enthusiastically waiting for in 2020 were taken away. The question is which ones will re-emerge heading into this season and what are all the new stories waiting to be written?