FA Most Wanted: A range of quarterbacks

TORONTO — When the news broke on Monday evening that McLeod Bethel-Thompson would remain a Toronto Argonaut, it seemed that one of the last remaining big fish in the pending free agent market had been hauled out of the water.

While MBT is indeed one of them, there are still a range of QB options out there that teams across the league could still be thinking of. We hear it all the time, whether we’re in that strange in-between time of knowing who’s playing in the Super Bowl but waiting two weeks for the game to be played, or if we’re at the start of a training camp and analysts are breaking down the season in front of teams: Quarterback is the most important position on the field.

That’s true whether you’re a team like the Argos, Bombers or Riders that knows who their guy is at the position and may need to start thinking about adding depth there, or if you’re a team like Ottawa, searching for that starter-level player.

If a team is looking for that QB1-type player, we need to start the conversation with Jeremiah Masoli.

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After getting benched in the Eastern Final, Jeremiah Masoli came into the Grey Cup with a heroic performance that saw the Ticats fall in overtime (Kevin Sousa/CFL.ca)

The 33-year-old has spent the last eight seasons with the Ticats and became the full-time starter in 2017. He threw for 5,209 yards in 2018 but was lost to an ACL injury in 2019 that only allowed him six games played. He came back for the 2021 season and edged out Dane Evans for the starting job, but the two essentially ended up splitting it through the season, thanks to them both dealing with injuries.

2021 Masoli made 188 of 271 passes for 2,445 yards with 10 touchdowns and six interceptions in 12 games. While coach Orlondo Steinauer went to Evans in a mid-game switch in the Eastern Final, Masoli came off the bench and replaced an injured Evans in the Grey Cup game a week later and had them one completed pass away from a homefield championship win.

It hasn’t been a straight, A-to-B journey for Masoli, but he stands as the top available quarterback in this year’s free agency class. A dual-threat QB with plenty of experience, he’ll make whatever team he lands with better in 2022. So where does he go? TSN’s Dave Naylor sees two suitors for his services.

After Masoli, we have Trevor Harris. While Harris was thrust into free agency after a turbulent 2021 season, the 35-year-old stands as an intriguing piece for a number of teams, depending on how you see him being used. Ottawa is the team most in need of a starter, so Harris could in theory slide back in to the team that he spent 2016-2018 with. While he was traded from Edmonton mid-season, the Elks have gone through a complete regime makeover and Harris could go into training camp and push Nick Arbuckle for the starting job.

If Harris was interested in a backup role, things could get interesting for him. The Lions have said they’d like a veteran behind Nathan Rourke in 2022. Harris certainly could be a vet to show the soon-to-be second-year player the ropes of the CFL and help steer him through life as a starter.

With 24,453 passing yards to his name and a pair of Grey Cup wins over nine seasons in the CFL, Harris may be overqualified for that kind of veteran’s role, but it’s one that he could certainly excel at if he were ready for it.

While the 2021 season didn’t go the way he wanted it to in Ottawa, Matt Nichols could also play that role with the Lions. A veteran QB that climbed the ladder from practice roster player to backup to starter on a Grey Cup-contender, Nichols has plenty of knowledge to share for a team with a young starter. That said, both Nichols and Harris could join a team with serious Grey Cup aspirations and provided both were healthy, would be more than capable if their teams had to turn to them when a starter is injured or underperforming.

There are also a couple of younger QBs that still have time to make a case for themselves as starters.

Matthew Shiltz got some valuable in-game experience and picked up his first career win last season filling in for Vernon Adams Jr. (Geoff Robins/CFL.ca)

Matthew Shiltz saw some playing time in 2021 after the injury to Vernon Adams Jr. The 29-year-old has spent the past four seasons in Montreal and in those short glimpses of play has shown himself to be a mobile quarterback with an arm to make plays.

Canadian pivot Michael O’Connor also appears to be headed to free agency after spending the 2021 season with the Stampeders. While the Stamps have generally been facilitators for Canadian QBs, the club quickly was smitten with backup Jake Maier, who performed exceedingly well while Bo Levi Mitchell was injured early in the season. The team extended Maier on New Year’s Eve and has restructured Mitchell’s contract.

The idea of Rourke, 25, and O’Connor as two Canadian quarterbacks taking on the rest of the league is a fun one, but O’Connor — who played at UBC — may not have the experience that BC co-GMs Rick Campbell and Neil McEvoy are looking for.

With a range of quarterbacking ability, the big names like Masoli and Harris will get the news in the coming weeks. How teams shore up their depth in free agency could be the story that matters months from now and impacts a team’s playoff hopes or Grey Cup success.

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