Prognosticating the CFL’s quarterback carousel

Darian Durant, Saskatchewan Roughriders

The CFL’s best pending free agent pivot has spent the past eleven seasons in green and white, leading the Riders to a Grey Cup victory in 2013. After injury-riddled 2014 and 2015 seasons, Durant started fifteen contests in 2016 and performed well in spite of a lackluster supporting cast.

Reports have indicated that Durant wants $350,000 per season to remain in Saskatchewan, a reasonable demand given his decade-long run of success in Riderville. Chris Jones, Saskatchewan’s head coach, general manager, vice-president, and all-around football guru, appears hesitant to pay Durant what he desires.

The Riders’ most recent offer to Durant included a salary of $300,000 with playtime incentives to $400,000. These numbers are virtually identical to the contract extension Toronto recently inked with Drew Willy. While Willy is a serviceable quarterback, the former Rider and Bomber is simply not in the same tier as Durant.

Durant’s departure from the Riders would open cap space for Jones’ squad and allow the G.M. to further purge Saskatchewan’s roster of players who predated his arrival in Regina (just 13 players remain from the club’s 2015 squad).

There are many reasons why Montreal would (and does) have interest in the veteran pivot. New Alouette head coach Jacques Chapdelaine got a close look at Durant during his stint as Saskatchewan’s offensive coordinator (2015), while Kavis Reed, Montreal’s new general manager, was on the Riders’ offensive coaching staff in 2009.

Reed has hinted that the Alouettes are interested in acquiring a CFL veteran pivot and, with high-priced veterans Luc Brodeur-Jordain, Winston Venable, Marc-Olivier Brouillette, and Alan-Michael Cash set to hit free agency, will have the cap space to pay Durant the cash he desires.

Outside of Saskatchewan and Montreal, the only possible destination for the North Carolina product appears to be Winnipeg where Durant would be reunited with former offensive coordinator Paul LaPolice and receivers Weston Dressler and Ryan Smith. The Bombers would be likely to pursue Durant only if contract negotiations with Matt Nichols prove unsuccessful. More on that in a moment…

2017 landing spot:

Montreal Alouettes: 55%

Saskatchewan Roughriders: 40%

Winnipeg Blue Bombers: 5%

Matt Nichols, Winnipeg Blue Bombers

Nichols is coming off the best season of his career, recording 3,666 passing yards, 18 passing touchdowns, six rushing touchdowns, and nine interceptions. Contract negotiations between the Bombers and Nichols are currently underway and, while nothing appears imminent, it is likely the Eastern Washington product will be back in blue and gold this upcoming season.

One thing working to the Bombers’ advantage in negotiations is the lack of alternative landing spots for Nichols this off-season. Montreal would like to add a veteran quarterback, but it’s clear Kavis Reed and Jacques Chapdelaine prefer Darian Durant over Nichols (see above). Nichols would also be an unlikely replacement for Durant in Saskatchewan given his history with Chris Jones. Jones, Nichols’ head coach in Edmonton, was part of the brain trust that traded the veteran pivot to Winnipeg midway through the 2015 regular season in exchange for a conditional seventh round pick.

2017 landing spot:

Winnipeg Blue Bombers: 90%

Saskatchewan Roughriders: 5%

Montreal Alouettes: 5%

James Franklin, Edmonton Eskimos

Franklin, 25, is quickly earning comparisons to Jonathon Jennings (24) and Bo Levi Mitchell (26) as part of the new wave of talented young quarterbacks taking the CFL by storm. Saskatchewan attempted to trade for Franklin prior to the 2016 regular season after his excellent rookie campaign (973 passing yards, six touchdowns, and one interception in seven appearances), but deemed the asking price too high. After Franklin dominated the Argos in week 20 of this past season (19/23 for 335 yards and four touchdowns), it’s likely Edmonton’s asking price has gotten even higher.

Reports have indicated that the Eskimos have had preliminary discussions with Franklin about a contract extension. If Edmonton is unable to lock the Missouri product down long-term (which will prove difficult, given that starter Mike Reilly is due $1 million over the next two seasons), the club will be faced with a difficult quandary: trade the pivot for a king’s ransom now or risk losing him for free next season when/if he becomes a free agent.

It is likely that Franklin’s future will prove to be the linchpin of the CFL’s entire quarterback carousel this off-season. Teams are always looking for the best, youngest, and least-expensive player for their rosters. In time, Franklin may prove to be all three.

Winnipeg and Montreal have also been mentioned in trade talks with Edmonton regarding Franklin, albeit to a lesser degree.

2017 landing spot:

Edmonton Eskimos: 70%

Saskatchewan Roughriders: 25%

Winnipeg Blue Bombers: 2.5%

Montreal Alouettes: 2.5%

Ricky Ray, Toronto Argonauts

Ray’s future in Toronto has been clouded by the Argo’s recent contract extension with pivot Drew Willy. Willy will earn north of $300,000 in 2017, a strong indication the Boatmen see the Buffalo product as their starter of the present and future. With Ray set to earn north of $400,000 in 2017, the Argos are unlikely to enter training camp with both players on the roster unless Ray is willing to restructure his deal.

Ray, given his injury history (he has appeared in just 53 of a possible 90 games with Toronto), is virtually untradeable at his current pay rate. As such, it is likely he will be released if he refuses to take a pay cut from the Argos or decides to retire.

Saskatchewan, Ottawa, and Edmonton are the three most likely destinations for Ray should he play outside of Toronto in 2017. The Riders may be looking for a starting quarterback if they are unable to retain Darian Durant, while Ray’s connection with Eskimo head coach Jason Maas and Henry Burris’ possible retirement from the Redblacks make Edmonton and Ottawa possibilities as well.

2017 landing spot:

Toronto Argonauts: 60%

Retirement: 25%

Saskatchewan Roughriders: 5%

Edmonton Eskimos: 5%

Ottawa Redblacks: 5%

Kevin Glenn, Winnipeg Blue Bombers

Glenn was released by the Bombers on January 6th with the club claiming it was the “appropriate and the right thing to do” given that the two sides were unable to come to an agreement on a contract extension.

Glenn, who will turn 38 in June, is still an above-average CFL back-up, meaning there will be a market for his immediate services.

2017 landing spot:

Saskatchewan Roughriders: 35%

Montreal Alouettes: 15%

Calgary Stampeders: 15%

Edmonton Eskimos: 15%

Toronto Argonauts: 15%

Ottawa Redblacks: 5%

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