February 22nd, 2019

B.C. Lions, Edmonton Eskimos sign marquee quarterbacks to kick off free agency

By The Canadian Press on February 12, 2019.

Calgary Stampeders' Eric Rogers, celebrates his touchdown during first half CFL West Final football action against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in Calgary, Sunday, Nov. 18, 2018. Veteran receiver Rogers and Canadian defensive lineman Junior Turner are staying with the Calgary Stampeders. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol

The B.C. Lions opened CFL free agency with a bang before the Edmonton Eskimos followed with their own big move.

The Lions announced the signing of quarterback Mike Reilly to a four-year, $2.9-million deal (average annual value $725,000) shortly after the free-agent period began at noon EST on Tuesday. Reilly was the CFL’s highest-paid player last year at over $500,000 with the Eskimos.

But less than two hours later, the Eskimos signed former Ottawa Redblacks starting quarterback Trevor Harris to a two-year deal.

Reilly returns to the place where he started his CFL career in 2010.

“It’s an amazing feeling for me, my wife and our extended families to know I am back with the Lions,” Reilly said in a statement. “I am grateful for my time in Edmonton and it will always hold a very special place in my heart, but the opportunity to rejoin (GM) Ed (Hervey) and return to Vancouver to be part of what he is building was too good to pass up at this point in my career.”

Almost as stunning as the contract value was that the exact figures were even divulged. Traditionally, CFL contracts do not contain monetary details.

Hervey didn’t stop after inking Riley. The Lions agreed to terms Canadian offensive lineman Sukh Chungh, who spent the previous four seasons with Winnipeg, and Canadian receiver Lemar Durant, the former Calgary Stampeder who was the top Canadian in last year’s Grey Cup game.

After losing Reilly, the Eskimos added linebacker Larry Dean, the East Division’s top defensive player last year with Hamilton, and former Redblacks offensive lineman SirVincent Rogers, a Grey Cup winner and the CFL’s top lineman in 2015.

There were reports Edmonton also agreed to terms with former Ottawa receiver Greg Ellingson, a perennial 1,000-yard receiver, and former Winnipeg linebacker Jovon Santos-Knox.

The East Division-champion Redblacks also lost running back William Powell, a 1,000-yard rusher the past two seasons, to the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

Reilly, 34, was the most coveted player on the open market. He hasn’t missed a game the past three seasons with the Eskimos and passed for over 5,500 yards in each one. After guiding Edmonton to a Grey Cup title in 2015, Reilly was the league’s most outstanding player in 2017 and has thrown a combined 88 TD passes over that span.

But the six-foot-three, 230-pound Reilly is a dual threat, having rushed for a combined 1,311 yards on 319 carries (4.2-yard average) and 34 TDs the past three seasons.

“This is a historic day for our organization and for fans of the B.C. Lions,” said Hervey. “Acquiring one of the CFL’s elite quarterbacks is an extremely rare opportunity and we’re thrilled to welcome Mike home to the Lions.”

With Reilly and Harris off the open market, teams needing a quarterback will undoubtedly shift their interest to Bo Levi Mitchell – who led the Stampeders to last year’s Grey Cup title.

There were some moves prior to the start of free agency. They included:

– Calgary re-signing American Eric Rogers and Canadian Juwan Brescacin, both receivers, and Canadian defensive lineman Junior Turner.

– American defensive back Brandon Alexander remained with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

– The Montreal Alouettes re-signed American receiver B.J. Cunningham to a two-year extension.

– American running back Mossis Madu Jr. signed a one-year deal to remain with Ottawa.

– Hamilton re-signed American defensive end Adrian Tracy and Canadian receiver Mike Jones.

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