Seismic shifts: Free agency day 1 changes the CFL landscape

Seismic shifts: Free agency day 1 changes the CFL landscape
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Day 1 of CFL free agency was a busy one. A busy one with big implications for the CFL landscape moving forward. If you follow the CFL’s handy free agent tracker you will have seen plenty of movement. Some moves, of course, made more of an impact than others.

The Big 3

You often hear it said the quarterback is the ‘most important position in sports’. This year three prime free agent quarterbacks were available & that is where people naturally focused.

Mike Reilly

The first domino to fall was Mike Reilly. The CFL rumour mill was spot on as he signed for the BC Lions. The 2015 Grey Cup MVP and 2017 MOP is undoubtedly a big upgrade for the Leos.

The Lions get themselves a QB on a run of of three consecutive seasons of over 5,000 passing yards, multiple all star selections and coming off back to back 30 TD seasons.

Reilly for his part gets to return to the CFL team he started out with. He also gets to team up with the GM who took him to Edmonton and turned around that franchise before being fired over ‘philosophical differences’. Doubtless most important of all, he gets to be nearer to home & his young family.

If you have a franchise QB he will invetibaly become the face of your franchise. The Lions already appear to be all in on this. After making the investment in Reilly they have made moves to support him. OL Sukh Chung has been brought in along with receivers Lemar Durant, reportedly Duron Carter & in January ex Bears wide-man Marquess Wilson.

Trevor Harris

Once Reilly had gone, the Edmonton Eskimos had a hole to fill. Esks fans went from despair at losing Reilly to hope for the new season when Trevor Harris and a strong supporting cast were brought in.

Harris is regarded as one of the top three quarterbacks in the league. He has only improved year on year.

Prior to the Grey Cup last year for example, in his last seven outings Harris was phenomenal. Including a playoff record six-touchdown performance, Harris completed 78.6 per cent of his passes and threw 17 touchdown passes and just two interceptions, averaging 9.9 yards per attempt. The Esks will hope for more of the same.

Every cloud has a sliver lining. So although Esks fans did not want to lose Reilly, they have got Harris who costs less and has allowed Edmonton to invest in more depth.

Along with Harris, the Esks also raided the Ottawa REDBLACKS for OL SirVincent Roger and Wide Receiver Greg Ellingson. They have also re-signed OL Travis Bond and picked up Devaris Daniels from Calgary.

Not to be overlooked for the Esks are two defensive players Picked up from Hamilton. LB Larry Dean and DB Don Unamba should have a big impact on the Esks D.

Bo Levi Mitchell

The reigning CFL MOP. The reigning Grey Cup champion and MVP. A man who has led his team to four Grey Cups ans won two of them. A man who had toured the NFL and reportedly had offers on the table. Bo could have followed a familiar CFL to NFL career arc.

When it became clear that Bo was returning to the CFL he became a key target. Their were rumors he was willing to talk to other teams. Toronto and Saskatchewan both purportedly made bids for his services.

Ultimately however he opted to remain in Calgary with the Stampeders. If stability breeds success then the rest of the West will have to be wary. The Stamps are returning their franchise QB alongside the coach who has taken them to three straight title games.

Mitchell has been the Stamps’ starter since 2014. He has played 125 career games for Calgary and thrown for 24,473 yards and 150 touchdowns. He is the first quarterback ever to lead Calgary to multiple championships as a starter.

If he wanted to come back to the CFL to start rather than hold a clipboard in the NFL then he has a real chance to add to his legacy.

Beyond the Big 3

The Lions, Esks and Stamps made their moves at the most pivotal position in the game. The Riders re-signed Zach Collaros and the Argos look like they will build around James Franklin & McLeod Bethel-Thompson.

The Bombers & Ti-Cats are set at QB with Matt Nichols and Jeremiah Masoli as incumbent starters whilst the Als could see a training camp contest between Johnny Manziel and Antonio Pipkin.

Which leaves Ottawa. Day 1 of 2019’s CFL free agency season will not be one REDBLACKS fans look back on with any degree of affection.

To Edmonton they lost Harris, Rogers and Ellingson. Then to compound their woes they lost star running back William Powell to the Roughriders.

Ottawa GM Marcel Desjardins, extended Mossis Madu but let Powell go. The REDBLACKS will surely look to address this is in the coming days. As it stands they are also left with a largely unproved Dominiqe Davis as their starting QB.

Desjardins has built a consistent winner in Ottawa. Founded in 2014, following a 2-16 debut season they have won the East Division 3 times, won the 2016 Championship and appeared in three Grey Cups.

Doubtless their team will look very different in 2019, but RNation will be hoping that they can maintain their remarkable levels of consistent competitiveness.

All in all, what a first day! It will be absolutely fascinating to see how teams respond from here and what the next big moves may be.

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