Free agency in any sport has a chaotic charm to it. The clock strikes the appropriate hour and phones instantly start ringing, contracts are quickly drawn up, and the futures of teams and leagues as a whole can be forever altered.
Ed Hervey has taken to that chaotic charm like he so casually caught the football in his playing days, ran it to the end zone, and spiked it into the ground.
Friday, Feb. 15, will mark Hervey’s first free agency as a Canadian Football League general manager. Having acquired quarterback Mike Reilly in a trade on Thursday and previously signed pending free agent linebacker J.C. Sherritt and defensive end Marcus Howard, how big of a splash will the Edmonton Eskimos make in two weeks’ time? Are there even splashes still to be made?
“There’s no specific No. 1 target,” Hervey said Thursday.
He figured Howard would have been a hotly contested free agent, maybe the most sought-after in the league. Sherritt, he said, wanted to stay in Edmonton and made it clear, signing on Dec. 19. “On the offensive side, I think we primarily addressed that need,” Hervey said. “I think the most glaring hole on the football team was the quarterback and, again, no disrespect to the guys who played the position for us, but moving forward we want to improve that position.”
Hervey’s CFL playing career (1999-2006) was spent watching Ricky Ray and Jason Maas push each other for the Eskimo starting quarterback job. He would now like to emulate that with this team.
“We want to create some competition between two guys who see themselves as franchise guys, who see themselves as quarterbacks, who are ready to take the next step of being a starter in this league,” Hervey said. “You look at Matt Nichols and Mike Reilly and they’re very similar quarterbacks with very similar career paths and very similar situations. Both have shown great potential in games, but when you look at those games, they’re a minimal number of games played.
“We’re investing in what could be potentially an opportunity for both guys to blossom at this stage of their careers, and we’re excited at that opportunity.”
Hervey didn’t want to get into what it cost to grab Reilly before he hit the free-agent market, with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Hamilton Tiger-Cats gearing up for a bidding war, or what he paid to keep Sherritt and Howard.
He also re-signed offensive lineman Brian Ramsay, safety Donovan Alexander, linebackers T.J. Hill and Mike Cornell, and kicker Grant Shaw. Releasing Steven Jyles freed up approximately $175,000 and Hervey crossed two pending free agents off his list when cornerback Rod Williams and defensive lineman Lee Robinson were released on Thursday while they explore NFL and CFL options.
“We made our move and, as far as free agency is concerned, we know what we can afford and where we can spend and we’re on target … if we wanted to get who we want, we can afford them,” Hervey said.
With his quarterbacks taken care of, Hervey’s focus could shift to special teams. Jason Armstead has Edmonton’s last kick-return touchdown and that came on Sept. 23, 2011.
“All positions are being scouted,” Hervey said. “But again … I don’t want to throw out offers to 10 different guys. One at a time, chop the tree down one at a time, address the needs one at a time.”