The CFL’s quarterback carousel is far from set (and it could start spinning fast)

Photo courtesy: Bob Butrym

Believe it or not, the CFL’s quarterback carousel could soon start spinning — fast.

Bo Levi Mitchell, Mike Reilly, Trevor Harris, Cody Fajardo, and Vernon Adams Jr. have all agreed to new contracts with their respective clubs in recent weeks.

With the exception of Fajardo, these passers are all signed through the 2022 season. That means Calgary, B.C., Edmonton, and Montreal are set long-term; Saskatchewan will be, too, provided they can extend Fajardo’s contract beyond the upcoming season.

At first glance, that should mean the CFL’s quarterback market is settled. Zach Collaros, Matt Nichols, Nick Arbuckle, and Dane Evans are under contract for 2021 with the league’s four remaining teams. Every club has a starting passer, right?

Enter Jeremiah Masoli.

Photo courtesy: Bob Butrym

The veteran has been somewhat of a forgotten man this off-season. The 32-year-old suffered a torn ACL in Week 7 of the 2019 season after passing for 1,576 yards, nine touchdowns, and seven interceptions on the year. He missed the rest of the season and hasn’t seen the field since.

It’s now been 18 months since the injury took place and Masoli is back to perfect health. The former East Division all-star is ready to lead a team, which is why he’s ranked as 3DownNation‘s No. 1 pending free agent.

Hamilton could re-sign its franchise quarterback, though the league’s new spending restrictions would make that challenging.

Evans has a base salary of $95,000 but could earn a maximum of $257,000 with performance bonuses in 2021. It would be difficult to keep the young pivot on the roster while paying Masoli between $400,000 and $450,000 to remain with the team.

There’s also the matter of the contracts belonging to Collaros, Nichols, and Arbuckle.

Each pivot is set to earn over $400,000 in 2021, which seemed reasonable when Reilly and Mitchell were making more than $700,000. With the league’s top-tier quarterbacks now making less, teams are wanting to restructure the contracts of their passers as well.

Nichols and Arbuckle are in a bizarre situation because their positions are essentially reversed.

Nichols had the best seasons of his career playing under Paul LaPolice in Winnipeg from 2016 to 2019. LaPolice is now the head coach in Ottawa, while Nichols remains under contract with Toronto.

Arbuckle was developed in Calgary under the tutelage of Ryan Dinwiddie, who was hired as the head coach of the Argonauts in December 2019. The passer was acquired by Ottawa via trade in January 2020 and signed a new contract with the team a few weeks later.

If their restructuring negotiations go poorly, it’s easy to see how Nichols and Arbuckle could end up swapping places. Ottawa would benefit from having a more proven entity under centre in Nichols, while Toronto could look to grow with a younger quarterback in Arbuckle.

Then there’s Collaros in Winnipeg, who’s due $125,000 on February 1. The Bombers are unlikely to pay the bonus, which means they’ll need to restructure his contract or release him by the end of the month.

It’s possible that Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa, and Hamilton will all end up standing pat at the quarterback position. Collaros, Nichols, and Arbuckle could agree to restructured deals, while the Ticats could find a way to keep Masoli and Evans under contract.

The Argos could even bring back McLeod Bethel-Thompson following his opt out. The veteran quietly led the CFL in passing touchdowns in 2019, showing he’s ready to be a consistent starter in the league.

That’s far from certainty, however, with so many moving parts at play. After a long, long, long off-season there may be plenty of quarterback movement over the coming weeks. Buckle up.

John Hodge is a Canadian football reporter based in Winnipeg.