After nine days of free agency moves that general managers across the country hope could alter the balance of power in the CFL, the move that may in fact resonate across the league falls outside of a signing.
The BC Lions were relatively quiet in free agency but will go into this year with some substantial change to the most important position on the roster. In their trade with Hamilton for Dane Evans, they’ve added tremendous quarterback depth and have put one of the most intriguing storylines of the 2023 season into place.
Evans’ departure from the Tiger-Cats was a foregone conclusion once the team had traded for and eventually signed Bo Levi Mitchell, then extended backup QB Matthew Shiltz on Feb. 6. While many wondered if Evans would be dealt up the QEW to the Toronto Argonauts, the Lions jumped into the mix and traded for him on Feb. 23, pulling the 29-year-old across the country to support starter Vernon Adams Jr.
First — and unfortunately for those of us that pound away on keypads thinking about these things — the Lions don’t make moves just to drive storylines; that happens in pro wrestling. The reasoning behind bringing Evans in is sound and a shrewd move on the part of Lions’ co-GMs Neil McEvoy and Rick Campbell. When they hit the turf in Kamloops for training camp in May, the Lions can now make the case that they have the best QB depth in the league.
Adams is in a great position for success, having joined the Lions mid-season in 2022 when Nathan Rourke went down with injury. His experience with the team from last season, paired with an off-season focused on the Lions’ playbook and a full training camp to go through an installation of Jordan Maksymic’s offence is a win for the franchise in itself in the wake of Rourke’s departure for the NFL.
Rourke’s talent stood on its own and there may not be a one-for-one replacement for someone like him. Shifting the starting role to Adams and adding someone like Evans behind him takes the Lions in an incredibly strong direction. Teams sometimes struggle for years after losing an elite quarterback. The Lions have flourished in their moves at that spot this winter.
While this isn’t the career arc that Evans envisioned for himself when he assumed starting duties in Hamilton last year, we’ve seen him thrive in this complimentary role. He played a tremendous part in the Ticats’ franchise-best 15-win season and Grey Cup appearance in 2019 after Jeremiah Masoli was lost to an ACL injury. Evans was officially the backup to Masoli in 2021 but took over for him in the Eastern Final that year, sending the Ticats to back-to-back Grey Cup games.
Listening to Evans in his call with media on Friday after the trade was announced, he’s fully committed to making things work in BC.
“I think I can bring some unique things to a team, to an offence,” Evans told reporters.
“The first person I talked to after I got of the phone with the coaches was VA. I literally called him as he was calling me. We talked, we caught up and I told him, ‘This is your team. I completely understand that. I want to do anything I can to help you, much like I have done in the past with Jeremiah Masoli. No matter what it is, no matter how small it is, I want to be here to help you.’
“If the team sees how we’re pushing each other and competing at the most important position, it’s going to fuel the rest of the team. I’ve seen it work many a times in the past. I know who VA is and I know how he plays and I’m super excited and humbled to get to come here and work with him.
“I’m here to support him and Dom (Dominique Davis). Dom’s someone that’s been in the league a long time. I’m intrigued to learn with those guys and also compete with them. I think if there’s competition at the QB spot and it’s all healthy and it’s done the right way I don’t see anything wrong with that. I’ve seen that first hand.”
The fit should be an easy one with Adams as well. Evans worked behind a mobile, scrambling quarterback in Hamilton with Masoli, playing in Tommy Condell’s offence as more of a pocket passer and still found a lot of success when he got into the game.
Lastly, and most interestingly, there’s that drama-rich storyline of a one-year starter that didn’t have the season he wanted, discarded by his team almost as soon as that first year ended. Evans said all of the right things on his introductory media call, but there were moments that gave a glimpse into a determination that’s simmering inside of him.
“I really don’t care what those guys do now. It’s kind of been my mindset for a little bit,” he said of learning that the team was moving in a new direction with Mitchell.
“Hell yeah, that’s what I wanted,” he said of the opportunity to join the Lions.
“That’s the biggest reason why BC was on the top of my list. BC isn’t a team that’s, ‘We hope we make the playoffs.’ It’s an expectation. I’m expecting to go to the Grey Cup and I think everyone else on this team is too.”
And the fact that should the Lions make it to the Grey Cup game this year, Evans would get his shot at a championship at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton?
“I’ll let my play do the talking,” he said.