Steinberg’s MMQB: An eye on the future

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats have made their decision at quarterback. By signing Dane Evans to a two-year contract last week, the Ticats have are likely to let Jeremiah Masoli enter free agency in a few weeks after an eight-season association. While saying goodbye to Masoli couldn’t have been easy, it’s the decision that made the most sense for Hamilton’s future.

As much as having both quarterbacks in the fold for another year would have been great, it wasn’t a realistic option for the first time. At 28 and with three seasons of CFL football under his belt, it was time for Evans to explore a job, and a contract, as an undisputed starter. Understandably, Masoli also wants to be paid as a number one. In a salary cap world, having both Evans and Masoli in the same salary tier on the same team just isn’t feasible.

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Evans is more than five years younger than Masoli, which the Tiger-Cats had to consider when making this decision. While Masoli still has plenty of good football in him, Evans is only just entering his starting window. You can understand why Hamilton would want to maximize Evans in a situation where they had to make a choice.

And it’s not like they’re making a blind gamble, either. Evans has started 14 regular season games over the last two seasons to go along with a trio of post-season starts, including the last two Grey Cups. In those regular season starts, Evans has completed more than 70% of his passes for 4,541 yards, 27 touchdowns, and 16 interceptions. He’s also added six more rushing touchdowns.

Evans has earned this opportunity and now it’s his time in Hamilton. And, similarly, Masoli has earned his first shot at free agency as a high-profile target. Masoli has accomplished a lot since establishing himself as an everyday starter midway through the 2017 season. He was 2018’s East Division Most Outstanding Player, has a few playoff wins under his belt, and was most recently outstanding in three quarters of work at the 108th Grey Cup.

But, despite climbing the ranks as one of the league’s top pivots, Masoli has remained in black and yellow essentially his entire career (he spent his first CFL season with Edmonton but was injured). Now, with multiple teams looking for quarterbacks, Masoli’s first true foray into free agency looks promising.

The first landing spot to come to mind is Ottawa, especially knowing Masoli’s history with new general manager Shawn Burke. Burke spent 15 years in Hamilton prior to joining the REDBLACKS, which means his connection to Masoli goes all the way back to 2013. But the fit makes sense beyond that.

Ottawa needs stability at quarterback after a difficult 3-11 season. Matt Nichols didn’t work out and Caleb Evans isn’t ready, which means the door is wide open for Burke to chase a big name via trade or free agency. For a first-year GM, though, having familiarity isn’t a bad thing, which is why no one has to squint to see how Masoli joining the REDBLACKS makes a lot of sense.

If it isn’t Ottawa, though, Masoli should get significant interest elsewhere. We don’t know what Edmonton’s plan is at quarterback, but they could be a fit if new general manager Chris Jones is looking for a veteran to pair with Nick Arbuckle. There’s also some intrigue as to Michael Reilly’s future in BC, which could also be an option to explore.

For Evans, it’s time to be a starter. Staying in Hamilton made the most sense for him and was the pragmatic choice for the team. For Masoli, it’s time for a new challenge and a well-earned shot to hit it big in free agency.

Quick hits

I wasn’t expecting Kyran Moore to get to free agency but bringing him back in Saskatchewan was still a notable piece of news last week. Despite entering his fourth CFL season, all with the Riders, Moore is just 25 and has established himself as one of the league’s most consistent and reliable receivers.

Kyran Moore inked a new deal with the Roughriders last week (Matt Smith/CFL.ca)

Whether Saskatchewan can bring back one or both of Shaq Evans and Duke Williams, both pending free agents themselves, having Moore back for another season is huge. Moore is a vacuum in the slot and is a perfect fit with quarterback Cody Fajardo and this Riders offence.

Finally, it was good to see the winter edition of the CFL Scouting Bureau last week. The best part was seeing 15 U SPORTS products hit the top 20 after completing the 2021 season. It was a happy reminder knowing we saw an entire season of Canadian university football wiped out in 2020.

In saying that, it’s Penn State linebacker Jesse Luketa topping the midterm rankings, up three spots from number four. In fact, along with defensive back Enock Makonzo (Coastal Carolina) and linebacker Tyrell Richards (Syracuse), three of the Bureau’s top four this winter are NCAA products. Waterloo’s Tre Ford is also up four spots to number six as the only quarterback on the list. The 2022 CFL Draft goes later this spring.

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