Riders expected to make strong play for Mike Reilly: sources

Saskatchewan Roughriders general manager Chris Jones has formulated an ambitious plan to fill the teams need at the quarterback position: convince Mike Reilly to play for the Riders.

According to sources, Saskatchewan’s ideal scenario at football’s most important position features the Riders wanting to bring the Grey Cup champion and CFL MOP winner to visit Regina if, indeed, Reilly hits free agency in February. Jones and the organization would then pull out all the stops in an effort to sell Reilly and his family on playing in the Green and White.

The Riders would try and sway Reilly to end his career in Saskatchewan, pushing the benefits of being the face of the franchise – especially post-playing career when Reilly could earn income in various ways long after the days of stepping on the football field are over. Combined with the benefits of playing in a state of the art facility for a rabid fan base.

Jones, Saskatchewan’s vice president of football operations, spent two seasons alongside Reilly in Edmonton. When Jones came to the Eskimos in 2014 as head coach, the team went from 4-14 in Reilly’s first season as the starter to 12-6 and a trip to the West Final before losing to the eventual Grey Cup champion Calgary Stampeders at McMahon Stadium.

Edmonton came back in 2015 to capture the West Division regular season title with a 14-4 record, beat the Stamps at Commonwealth Stadium in the division final and captured the Grey Cup with Jones and Reilly leading the Eskimos.

Since that CFL title, Reilly has thrown for over 5,000 yards in three straight CFL seasons with the Eskimos. The soon-to-be 34-year-old threw for a career-high 5,830 yards and 30 touchdowns in 2017, earning the CFL most outstanding player award. But Edmonton has not been back to the championship game.

Reilly is among the elite quarterbacks in the league and was its highest-paid player in 2018, making over $500,000.  If Reilly hits the open market he would command a hefty pay raise but Saskatchewan could have both the funds and the cap space to entice the franchise-altering pivot.

The Riders top two quarterbacks made nearly $600,000 in combined salary last season with Zach Collaros earning $430,000 while Brandon Bridge collected over $160,000. Committing all those dollars to a single player could put the Riders in the Reilly range.

All-star defenders Willie Jefferson and Charleston Hughes were also compensated well. The former will require a pay bump from the north of $155,000 made a year ago to be re-signed while the latter is under contract for 2019 at around $135,000. And Jones would like to lock down versatile defensive players like Mike Edem and Tobi Antigha.

Financially, the Riders could be in a position to put forth a competitive offer but the key for Saskatchewan is to present Reilly with the best case for winning Grey Cups – the focus for the prized pivot.

Expect the Riders to put forward a substantial pitch for Reilly but what happens after it’s presented is out of Jones’ hands.

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