February 2020 could see yet another intriguing group of CFL quarterbacks hit the free agent market.
Mike Reilly, Bo Levi Mitchell, Trevor Harris and Zach Collaros headed an elite class in 2019 as all four made it to free agency. Two re-signed with their respective clubs and the other two changed teams.
Mitchell and Reilly reset quarterback salaries, signing four-year deals worth $2.8 million and $2.9 million respectively. Harris cashed in for two years around $550,000 per season – more than Reilly made as the highest paid player in the league in 2018.
Jeremiah Masoli, Matt Nichols and James Franklin could see significant increases with strong 2019 seasons. So can Collaros after inking for one season in Saskatchewan and Jonathon Jennings who chose Ottawa over Toronto. Current Argos pivot McLeod Bethel-Thompson has eight starts to his name.
Celebrity quarterback Johnny Manziel is slated to be a free agent after this season – if the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner earns his upcoming March 1 roster bonus of $75,000 and makes it through training camp. Chris Streveler played much better than Manziel as both went through their rookie CFL campaigns.
Based on opinions around the league prior to the 2019 schedule, Masoli tops the list of possible quarterbacks available. The 30-year-old threw for over 5,200 yards with 28 touchdowns against 18 interceptions during his first full season as the No. 1 QB in Hamilton. That came after Masoli led the league over the final 10 games of the 2017 regular season in passing yards with 3,032. Masoli is set to make over $400,000 with incentives – $100,000 due March 1 – as the starter in 2019 and if the Ticats pivot puts up another 5,000-yard season and a Grey Cup run, his value could grow exponentially.
Nichols earned $420,000 in 2018, including a $215,000 bonus and is scheduled for a pay bump to $455,000 in 2019 after which he will also become a free agent.
Nichols’ 2018 numbers were down as he threw for 3,146 yards just 18 touchdowns against 13 interceptions. Winnipeg finished 10-8, travelled to Regina for the West semifinal where the Bombers won while Nichols secured his first ever playoff victory as a starting quarterback in the CFL. Should the 31-year-old regain 2017 form of more than 4,400 yards with 28 touchdowns versus eight interceptions, he could garner another large pay day.
Franklin declined the Argos attempt to add another year onto his existing deal and the 27-year-old can make over $400,000 on the final year of his contract. With Marc Trestman gone – the two personalities never clicked – Franklin could reach the franchise potential Toronto and many other teams felt he had prior to being traded from Edmonton, especially with Derel Walker and S.J. Green lining up at receiver.
Collaros must prove he can stay healthy for an entire season, Jennings has to beat out Domonique Davis plus play at a higher consistency level, Bethel-Thompson could be stuck behind Franklin while Manziel needs to earn his roster spot while producing more touchdowns than interceptions just to start the conversation about him as a CFL starter.
Streveler might be the most intriguing name. The ultra-athletic quarterback was a respectable 1-2 as a starter completing 61 per cent of his passes for 1,134 yards, 11 touchdowns against five interceptions and rushing 77 times for 441 yards with 10 touchdowns. Streveler is on a CFL entry-level contract that runs through the 2019 season. There has been NFL interest rumoured for Streveler, but he needs more development and time as a starter. Streveler’s abilities are tailor made for the CFL game – potential star qualities, which can command big dollars.
While the free agent quarterbacks of 2019 may have reset the bar for salaries, it’s next year’s class of QBs that could truly benefit – if they can perform well enough to justify the investment.