Analysis: Why the Reilly news leaked out and what the deal means for everyone

Soon-to-be-former Edmonton Eskimos quarterback Mike Reilly has agreed to a four-year deal with the B.C. Lions that will be finalized shortly after free agency begins Tuesday at noon EST according to TSN.

Given that Rishaug is based in Edmonton and his report includes the details of the Eskimos contract offer, it seems likely that the Esks brass are looking to get out ahead of losing Reilly. The narrative is pretty straightforward: we did everything we could and he still left.

The news comes as no surprise, given the Eskimos gave Reilly permission to speak with the Lions – and every other CFL team – before free agency started. Reilly’s connections to former Esks and currently Lions general manager Ed Hervey are well documented and Reilly hails from the Pacific Northwest and so can play closer to home.

Reilly has thrown for over 5,000 yards in three straight CFL seasons with the Eskimos, including a career-high 5,830 yards and 30 touchdowns in 2017 when he earned the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player award.

Back in 2015, Reilly led the Eskimos to a Grey Cup championship and earned MVP honours in the process. Reilly was originally acquired by the Eskimos in January 2013 when Hervey sent two second-round draft picks (2013 and 2014) to B.C. for the QB and the Lions’ second-round selection in 2013. Reilly apprenticed behind Travis Lulay in B.C. for three seasons and was part of the Lions Grey Cup-winning squad in 2011.

Landing Reilly is a huge get for the Lions, who have themselves a bonafide starting quarterback after two down years from Jon Jennings and Travis Lulay’s continued inability to stay healthy. For a team that’s been struggling for relevance in the Vancouver market, Reilly is as big a signing as this league has to offer.

But the move is not without its risks for the Lions. While Reilly has been exceedingly durable during his career and has a reputation as one of the game’s toughest players, he turned 34 in January and age and durability will be a concern. That said, football contracts are non-guaranteed so the long-term risk is minimal.

And franchise pivots of Reilly’s calibre are rarely available, as the Eskimos well know. They wandered around in the quarterback wilderness for a season in 2012 after trading Ricky Ray to the Toronto Argonauts. The team finished 7-11 that season with Steven Jyles, Kerry Joseph and a young Matt Nichols at the controls while the Argonauts won the Grey Cup with Ray.

The Esks, who clearly trying to put as much positive spin on losing their best player as a team can, must now find a replacement – and settle down a fanbase that won’t be too happy with either Reilly for leaving or the team for losing him.

They seem to be taking it well…

Reilly was one of the top free agents available in this year’s massive free agent class, along with Calgary quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell. His contract sets the bar for Mitchell as well as the other top players in the league and his hefty pay bump from the $500,000 or so he made last year indicates the Lions are expecting the salary cap to go up in the upcoming round of CBA negotiations. The cap was $5.2 million in 2018, the last year of the agreement set to expire this spring.

Reilly is the first of the big dominoes to fall: teams needing a quarterback will likely zero in on Mitchell and Ottawa Redblacks pivot Trevor Harris, who is set to hit the open market as well. After those two, Travis Lulay, Jon Jennings and Zach Collaros are also veteran starters who will be available.

Once the big names – and the big money – are out of the way, teams can get down to the business of filling out their rosters.

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