It is unlikely that there has been a busier off-season in CFL history than this one right now. From the Mexico combine and draft to numerous coaching moves and important free agent signings, this off-season has not disappointed. But it is not over yet. Not even close.
The current CBA is set to expire on May 15 with the list of pending free agents still sitting around 300 players. It seems as though the off-season storylines are just warming up. One of the biggest names in free agency is current Edmonton Eskimos veteran quarterback Mike Reilly. As one of the elite players in the CFL, there has been much discussion this off-season as to where Mike Reilly might sign.
Mike Reilly has Options
Mike Reilly finds himself in an ideal spot as free agency inches closer to its February 12 opening date. The 2017 CFL M.O.P. will be a hot commodity as most teams will be looking for a strong pivot to lead their team into the 2019 season. Only two of the nine CFL teams have solidified their starting quarterbacks for the upcoming season. It is unlikely that the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (QB Matt Nichols) and Hamilton Tiger-Cats (QB Jeremiah Masoli) will be hunting for a new quarterback. This would leave the other seven teams, all of whom would likely covet Reilly as their starting quarterback.
Speculation from some CFL observers, however, is that there are just three front-runners in the running for Reilly’s services. His current club, the Edmonton Eskimos; his former club, the B.C. Lions; and the outlier team, the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
Below is a look at these three possibilities should Mike Reilly hit free agency in a few weeks.
On January 11, Justin Dunk of 3DownNation reported that the Roughriders are planning on making a strong push for Reilly. Then general manager Chris Jones was entertaining the possibility of bringing the Reilly family into Regina to sell them on joining Rider Nation. Chris Jones has a history with Reilly, winning a Grey Cup in 2015 as members of the Edmonton Eskimos.
In terms of money and cap room, the Roughriders would likely be able to make Reilly a strong offer. Not to mention the opportunity to play in a football crazy market where Reilly would be the face of the franchise or even the face of a province.
This possibility took a massive blow, however, as Chris Jones has since bolted for an NFL opportunity with the Cleveland Browns. If Reilly does make it to free agency, it would be up to new Riders general manager Jeremy O’Day to get this deal done.
It was likely a long shot for Reilly to join the Roughriders with Chris Jones at the helm. It would be an absolute surprise to see him sign there now.
Since joining the Edmonton Eskimos in 2013, Mike Reilly has been the face of this proud franchise. From day one Reilly has grabbed hold of the leadership role of this team and has the respect of coaches and players alike. During his time in Edmonton he has solidified himself as arguably the CFL’s best quarterback. Winning a championship in 2015 and then being awarded the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player in 2016, Reilly has done it all.
Reilly has a solid relationship with current head coach Jason Maas and is certainly familiar with the direction of the organization. That said, there have already been a lot of changes within the Eskimos organization this off-season.
Two of the Eskimos top receivers from 2018 have since departed for the NFL. Duke Williams (Buffalo Bills) and Bryant Mitchell ( Arizona Cardinals) will take their talents south of the border. Also, the departure of linebacker J.C. Sherritt is not to be overlooked. Although Sherritt didn’t play on the offensive side of the ball, a man of his talent and character will leave a massive hole in the Eskimos locker room.
That said, the Eskimos and the Reilly camp continue to discuss the future together. Current Eskimos general manager Brock Sunderland has indicated that they have had “good discussions”, but of course that’s a far cry from a signed contract.
The B.C. Lions may have the most to offer Reilly. Like Chris Jones, Lions general manager Ed Hervey has a history with Mike Reilly. Hervey was the general manager of the Eskimos in 2013 when he traded for Reilly, who was then a member of the B.C. Lions.
Hervey is arguably one of the best general managers in the CFL and knows how to build a winner. He was the general manager of the Eskimos when they won the Grey Cup in 2015. Last year Hervey did a nice job in bringing the Lions back to the playoffs after missing in 2017. The team started slowly in 2018 but went 6-3 in the back half of the year to finish in fourth in the CFL West.
In addition, the Lions have done a nice job in rounding out there coaching staff for the 2019 season. Former Calgary Stampeders defensive coordinator DeVone Claybrooks will begin his head coaching debut this spring. Claybrooks has surrounded himself with a solid coaching staff that should help entice key free agent signings including Reilly.
Perhaps the most important factor in terms of the B.C. Lions bringing Reilly back is geographical. Reilly is from Washington State and has friends and family still in that area. Even the most casual Mike Reilly fan knows how important family is to him. One would have to imagine that moving closer to home would be an enticing opportunity for the Reilly family.
The Last Word
To me, the Lions seem to be the team that may have the most complete package to offer. For all the reasons stated above, it wouldn’t be a stretch to think that Reilly could finish his career in the orange and black. If the money and term of the next contract offers are similar, the smart money would be on Reilly signing his next contract with the B.C. Lions.
One thing is sure. Whatever Mike Reilly decides to do, wherever he signs, that team will be an instant Grey Cup contender.
Mike Reilly is in complete control of his own destiny. It will be exciting to see where he ends up.
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