Depending upon whether a new collective agreement can be reached between the CFL and the CFLPA, training camps could open mid-May. There has been a whirlwind of player movement right across the league this winter, and in particular many a quarterback has found themselves a new home or a much more lucrative contract for the 2019 season.
When free agency opened in early February arguably the three best quarterbacks in the CFL were all available to the highest bidder. Bo Levi Mitchell, Mike Reilly and Trevor Harris were all determined to seriously test free agency for the first time in their careers, and to see how far they could push their value up in a league renowned for its frugality.
Mitchell spent December and January visiting a number of NFL camps hoping for a contract with some real money up front, and a legitimate chance to do more than hold a clipboard or be the practice team scout quarterback. Mitchell’s size and lack of big college pedigree stood in his way and reluctantly the Texas born Mitchell and his family returned to Canada to see what his future held.
Mike Reilly, who had starred in Edmonton in 2018, seemed to spurn all advances from the Eskimos and it was clear even before free agency began that Reilly was on the move. With an off season home in Seattle, Reilly and his young family wanted to be closer to home. Reilly was also determined to push quarterback wages to a new high in the CFL, and in his prime he, Bo Levi and Trevor just might be the free agent quarterbacks to do it.
Trevor Harris was thought to be a franchise player moving forward with a very successful Ottawa Redblacks team. Most believed that Harris would re-sign a long term deal in the Nation’s Capital, but there appeared to be a total collapse in communication during the off season between General Manager Marcel Desjardins and Harris. Some in Ottawa saw the signing of backup quarterback Dominique Davis soon after the season ended as a shot across the bow for the Harris camp, and a sign perhaps the Redblacks were prepared to move in a different direction at quarterback for the 2019 season. Harris, a proud man, was not going to sign any kind of discounted contract to stay in Ottawa so the only question was where he would end up.
Within minutes of free agency opening on February 12, Mike Reilly was off the market after signing a massive deal with the B.C. Lions. The contract made Reilly temporarily the highest paid player in the league earning $725,000 a year over four years. The move to Vancouver also brought him and his family to within two hours of their American off-season home.
With Reilly gone, it did not take Edmonton long to fill their quarterbacking vacancy, signing Trevor Harris to a two year 1.1 million dollar deal. Edmonton was able to get Harris to leave some money on the table that would allow the Eskimos to sign former Redblack receiver Greg Ellingson and ex- Redblack O-lineman SirVincent Rogers.
With Harris and Reilly signed, Bo Levi Mitchell had the league exactly where he wanted it. He was available, and not necessarily automatically re-signing with Calgary. In a league where likely only Winnipeg and Hamilton were not quarterback shopping a feeding frenzy occurred for the services of the talented Texan. Over the next couple of hours offers were presented by Saskatchewan and Toronto that if rumours are correct would have paid Mitchell over $800,000 a year. That kind of money had not been seen in the CFL since the crazy days of Doug Flutie in Toronto or Vince Ferragamo in Montreal.
Many believe the familiarity of life in Calgary and the potential for many more Grey Cup championships with the Stampeders convinced Mitchell to resign in Cowtown. Mitchell signed a four year deal reputed to pay $750,000 a season. Some reports had Mitchell leaving more than $75,000 a season on the table with the offer from the Argos apparently the richest.
When the dust settled the three best free agent quarterbacks available had re-signed, and had set a new salary structure for premier starting quarterbacks league wide.