B.C. Lions backup QB Mike Reilly was perceived to be the best option available to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers as they went in search of a long-term solution to their quarterbacking woes.
And now that Reilly has signed instead with the Edmonton Eskimos, the options remaining to the Bombers -- and there aren't many -- are decidedly less attractive.
The Eskimos and Lions stunned everyone Thursday when they announced they'd cut a deal that saw the Lions trade Reilly, who was expected to become this winter's most coveted CFL free agent on Feb. 15, to the Eskimos in exchange for the two teams flipping their second-round draft picks this year and the Esks throwing in a second-rounder next year.
The Eskimos then announced they had signed an extension with Reilly, which TSN reports was for one year plus an option and could pay Reilly around $180,000 next season if he meets all his bonus targets.
The deal addressed Edmonton's need for a quarterback, while Lions GM Wally Buono once again showed his front-office prowess, bolstering his team's draft prospects in exchange for trading a player he was going to lose in two weeks anyway.
And the Bombers? The immediate take on the Twitterverse was that, once again, Winnipeg general manager Joe Mack was caught napping, sitting on his hands and waiting for Feb. 15 while Edmonton GM Ed Hervey was cutting a side deal with Buono.
Now, it may turn out that Reilly, who some local media in Edmonton were already calling a "franchise" quarterback Thursday, proves to be everything the hype says he is.
But before you go searching for Mack with sharpened pitchforks, consider a couple of things.
First, if Reilly really is the Second Coming, then how come Buono, an undisputed football genius who knows Reilly better than anyone, so readily chose to trade him to a rival in his own division?
Perhaps Buono puts less stock in Reilly's 75 career passes in the CFL than a lot of other teams do.
And second, why would Reilly agree to sign a deal with Edmonton for a relative pittance when he could have waited two more weeks and drawn Winnipeg into a bidding war for his services?
Mack thinks the only answer to the second question that makes sense is Reilly had already decided Edmonton was the only place he wanted to play.
"If you think about it from a negotiation standpoint," Mack told the Free Press Thursday, "why wouldn't you wait a couple of weeks and see where the market was at? Unless you'd already decided that's where you wanted to be."
Mack said the Lions wouldn't let the Bombers talk to Reilly prior to Feb. 15 unless the clubs first cut a deal. And without a chance to talk to Reilly first, Mack worried if he did a deal with the Lions -- they were reportedly demanding a third- rounder from Winnipeg and a flip of the two teams' first rounders this year -- that he could end up without both Reilly and the draft picks when the smoke settled.
So what now? Mack says he's "not pursuing any other quarterbacks with CFL experience" which means he's not interested in either Calgary backup Kevin Glenn or ex-Montreal backup Adrian McPherson.
Mack said the club is pursuing some other American QBs on the team's negotiation list and has still not made any final decisions on what to do with starting QB Buck Pierce or figured out how backups Alex Brink, Joey Elliott or Justin Goltz fit into the 2013 picture.