If the Eskimos are going to convince quarterback Mike Reilly to stay in Edmonton, they’ll also have to assure him they will have someone for him to throw the ball to in 2019.
For the second straight off-season, the Eskimos have seen the league’s leading receiver head to the National Football League. D’haquille “Duke” Williams racked up close to 1,600 yards in 2018 as well as hauling in 11 touchdown passes for the Eskimos. Three days after Edmonton released him to pursue employment in the NFL Williams signed with the Buffalo Bills. It was a similar story in the 2017 off-season when CFL all-star Brandon Zylstra signed with the Minnesota Vikings after a season in which he led the Eskimos and the CFL with 1,687 receiving yards.
Following Williams’ departure, the Eskimos released receiver Bryant Mitchell who promptly signed a contract with the Arizona Cardinals. The Northwestern State product totalled 867 yards receiving in just 10 games and appeared poised to become one of the league’s dominant receivers.
And there’s no guarantee Derel Walker will be an Eskimo when training camp begins. The 27-year-old looked to be a sure bet to better the 1,589 receiving yards he produced in 2016 when he suffered a knee injury that ended his season on Labour Day. Walker might have an outside chance to get a shot south of the border again and follow Williams and Mitchell to the NFL – a move that could impact whether or not Reilly returns to Edmonton.
But the more likely scenario for the pending free agent receiver, Walker could be tempted to continue his career on the west coast if the B.C. Lions win the Reilly sweepstakes. Or follow Reilly wherever the franchise quarterback goes.
Reilly worked out for the Jacksonville Jaguars in December, but he’s focused on the CFL. General manager Brock Sunderland has made extremely strong offers, however, nothing enticing enough for Reilly to ink an extension in Edmonton. Lions GM Ed Hervey has ties to Reilly from the time he traded and anointed him a No. 1 pivot for the first time in his career. The Saskatchewan Roughriders planned to make a strong play for Reilly while Chris Jones was still in Regina and Craig Dickenson has been vocal about his relationship with the 2015 Grey Cup MVP. It could be a heated bidding war for Reilly.
The Eskimos will have a far different receiving corps whoever winds up under centre next season. And if the exodus continues Reilly may want to strongly consider his free agent options. The 34-year-old led the league with 5,562 passing yards in last season – Williams, Mitchell and Walker accounted for 60 per cent of the yardage. Combined, they accounted for 199 of Reilly’s 418 completions. Even more impressive the trio were on the receiving end of 24 of Reilly’s 30 touchdown passes.
Receiver production that won’t easily be replaced and if Reilly does choose to sign elsewhere Sunderland will have his work cut out for him.