General manager Jim Popp says the Toronto Argonauts contract offer to Bo Levi Mitchell was more than a half million dollars better than what the star quarterback ultimately accepted from the Calgary Stampeders.
Popp made the comments in a wide-ranging and remarkably candid interview with TSN radio in Toronto a day after the team missed out on landing Mitchell, one of the biggest prizes available in the 2019 CFL free agent market.
Football general managers aren’t known for their loquacious ways but Popp was in a chatty mood and said all kinds of interesting stuff. Let’s start with Mitchell.
“I think we made it very difficult, ultimately it was going to be a tough sell. We put enough on a four-year deal that really outbid Calgary by as much as a half million dollars over a four-year span,” Popp said. “If he chose not to come here, it wasn’t because we weren’t paying him.
“It was maybe a comfort level, a little nervousness to leave the system he is in. We understand. We’re just glad that Bo Levi Mitchell didn’t leave the CFL. It would’ve been great for the CFL to get him on our team. The effort was there. But at the end of the day, the young man’s going to make his decision.”
Truly believe if the Argos had hired Ryan Dinwiddie as offensive coordinator, and made the same offer to Bo-Levi Mitchell in Tuesday's $900,000/year range, that there would be a press conference in Toronto today unveiling the reigning #CFL MVP in double blue.
— Arash Madani (@ArashMadani) February 13, 2019
Popp said the process was controlled by Mitchell’s agent Dan Vertlieb, who also represents other big-name quarterbacks such as Mike Reilly, Trevor Harris, Travis Lulay and Zach Collaros.
“It’s interesting, the agent that represents these quarterbacks – and there’s one guy that represents almost all of them – had a hand in shuffling them wherever they went and it was kind of predetermined,” Popp said. “Bo Levi Mitchell was the guy that we felt could move the needle in Toronto, the guy that we were going to go after hard. And we had to wait yesterday for a long period of time to even get an answer as to whether he was coming.”
Popp also said the team missed out on signing players while it waited for Mitchell to make a decision.
“There was so much money on the table we can’t go on and sign other players… so we did miss out on a few people because we were trying to get the guy we wanted, ” Popp said.
Having missed out on Mitchell, Popp said the team is prepared to go into training camp with James Franklin as the team’s starter.
“One year ago when free agency started, we got the hottest guy that everybody wanted in James Franklin. Things didn’t go as everybody envisioned but everybody projected him to be that guy.” Popp said. “Moving into this season, he is set up to be the No. 1 guy, his contract is set up that way. New coordinator, new system. Maybe James will play the way everybody envisioned him to.”
That said, Popp said the team could still bring in some veteran help and mentioned one guy in particular.
“We will continue to look at someone like Travis Lulay if he wants to come here and be a back up and a situational guy to help bring on James Franklin,” Popp said. “But that doesn’t mean that’s going to happen. We’ll look out there and see who else is left. We have a better situation than some teams, it’s just not proven to everybody.”
Popp also detailed the rocky relationship between Franklin and former head coach Marc Trestman last season.
“Marc and James never clicked, unfortunately. It just wasn’t a mesh between them,” Popp said. “There was talks before we signed him, there was meetings. Somewhere in there from the time between minicamp and training camp it just did not click, for whatever reason. It just wasn’t a match between them.
“James got the call when Ricky went down and Marc decided James was the best guy. Maybe because we didn’t win often early he wanted to give McLeod Bethel-Thompson – and McLeod is a study rat who is in there as long as the coaches – that’s the guy he wanted to go with until we weren’t going to make the playoffs. Once that happened, he circled back because I was like ‘we have to see what these other guys can do.'”
The Argonauts’ general manager also confirmed the report from 3Down’s Justin Dunk that all-star receiver Derel Walker is in town and it sounds like a contract is close to done.
“Right now, Derel Walker is in town and we hope that we can secure that deal today,” Popp said. “That was the plan all day yesterday, he had to take a medical, he had flight problems, he missed three flights because of the weather. That could fall through but hopefully, that goes through.”
So to recap: the Argos were rebuffed by the most prized free agent in the CFL – despite offering a boatload more money than anybody else – but still plan to roll with the guy who feuded with his head coach last season and must be feeling great about the fact the team has been actively trying to replace him. Oh, and Derel Walker may or may not be coming.
Jim Popp should be on the radio every day.