Signing with Riders was on Bo Levi Mitchell’s ‘radar’ but Saskatchewan didn’t make ‘moves’ he wanted to see

Photo courtesy: Hamilton Tiger-Cats

For the second time in his Hall of Fame career, the Saskatchewan Roughriders narrowly missed out on a chance to sign Bo Levi Mitchell.

Shortly after inking a three-year contract with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, the veteran quarterback made an appearance on 980 CJME‘s The Green Zone on Wednesday and officially acknowledged that signing in Saskatchewan was a serious consideration.

“Yeah, they were. I know in 2018, I was about five minutes away from signing with Sask,” Mitchell admitted. “Even during the [2022] season, Sask was really on the radar.”

However, just like in 2018, Mitchell has taken himself off the market before ever reaching free agency or giving the Riders the chance to legally woo him for his services. Despite repeated assertions that he wanted to test the open market, Hamilton was able to lock up their new face of the franchise early after acquiring his rights from the Calgary Stampeders in November.

The move devastated fans in Saskatchewan, who for months had speculated that Mitchell was a near certainty to replace Cody Fajardo under centre once his current deal expired on February 14. Local gossip had been in over-drive for months to fuel the theory, including whispers that the 32-year-old had already purchased a house in Regina.

“I thought it was hilarious,” Mitchell laughed at the rumour. “I heard that a real estate agent put that out there.”

In reality, while the Roughriders were an early and obvious consideration for a quarterback in need of a new home, they rapidly fell out of favour as a preferred destination.

“I don’t want to speak poorly about anybody or over-speak about anybody but I didn’t see the moves that maybe I wanted,” Mitchell explained.

“For me, I’m very big on knowing the coaches and understanding that they have a track record and they’ve got some experience and whatnot. So it’s not the fact of the moves that Sask made, it’s just the fact that Hamilton was able to keep Tommy Condell and keep Mark Washington, which keeps a lot of players there.”

The Roughriders fired offensive coordinator Jason Maas following a disappointing 2022 season, replacing him with unheralded running backs coach Kelly Jeffrey after a rocky hiring process. The first-time OC remains an unproven commodity at the CFL level and Mitchell was unsure how he and the rest of his staff would be perceived by potential offseason recruits.

Many felt that Saskatchewan could have swayed their QB of choice had they hired Stampeders’ quarterbacks coach Marc Mueller for the opening, but the grandson of Riders’ legend Ron Lancaster voluntarily took himself out of consideration for the job in order to stay in Calgary. While Mitchell did not downplay his high regard for Mueller, he was quick to point out that other elements of uncertainty were more important.

“There’s a lot of things that go into it. Your GM and your head coach are on one-year deals and that doesn’t mean a lot but it means that there’s a chance that you could only be there a year depending on new guys,” he noted.

“Say I go to Sask and Mueller’s there, things don’t go well the first little bit with whoever’s there and they bring in a new guy. That new head coach might want a different OC. That’s tough on Mueller and that’s tough on myself, that’s a new playbook I’m gonna have to learn. For me, it’s the continuity. It was having the ability to go somewhere and try to make it my second home and be the last home.”

Hamilton offered that to the two-time Most Outstanding Player, while Craig Dickenson and Jeremy O’Day being on the hot seat in Saskatchewan made that franchise a far riskier proposition.

Nevertheless, that didn’t mean that there weren’t fervent Riderville defenders pushing Mitchell from inside his inner circle. The quarterback revealed that close friend and podcast co-host Ben Hebert, a Regina-born Olympic curler, did his very best to sell the Green and White but was ultimately unsuccessful.

“He was trying to look out for me and my family and his thought was, hey, I want to see your dollar go as far as possible, which it will in the housing marketing in Sask, and you can do so much on the side in Sask,” Mitchell said. “And he’s right, there’s a lot to do on the side as the only thing out there but ultimately, I told him that at this moment I’m gonna make the best decision for my career.”

That meant joining the Ticats and taking a run at a third Grey Cup via the East Division.

“Being the winningest quarterback in CFL history, I don’t want that to change,” Mitchell insisted. “I’m not saying that it would have had I gone to Sask but I felt good about what we had here in Hamilton and this is where I felt I had the best chance to go win right now.”