Hamilton Tiger-Cats sign veteran quarterback Mitchell to three-year deal

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press
Hamilton Tiger-Cats sign veteran quarterback Mitchell to three-year deal

HAMILTON — Bo Levi Mitchell wants to be the one to help the Hamilton Tiger-Cats end the CFL’s longest Grey Cup drought.

The Ticats signed the veteran quarterback to a three-year deal Tuesday, roughly two months after acquiring Mitchell’s rights from the Calgary Stampeders.

Hamilton last won a Grey Cup in 1999 and, with this year’s game slated for Tim Hortons Field on Nov. 19, Mitchell wants to deliver a championship for the franchise’s fan base.

“Legacy is a big one for me so to possibly be the guy that can help bring the Grey Cup back into this building, it would mean a lot.” Mitchell told reporters from the Ticats dressing room at Tim Hortons Field. “I get a lot of motivation from (Hamilton hosting Grey Cup) already because we (Calgary) got to host the Grey Cup in 2019 and weren’t able to even be there.

“I know what that feeling is like, and I don’t want to be part of it again.”

Hamilton lost to Winnipeg in the 2019 and 2021 Grey Cup finals.

Financial details weren’t divulged, but a source said Mitchell will receive about $540,000 annually. Winnipeg quarterback Zach Collaros, the CFL’s outstanding player the past two years, is the league’s highest-paid player, reportedly earning $600,000 a year.

The source spoke on the condition of anonymity because Mitchell’s contract figures weren’t released.

“It’s been a process but it’s something we’re excited about,” said Orlondo Steinauer, Hamilton’s head coach/president of football operations. “When we acquired the rights to Bo, you’re not always sure how these things are going to end up but this day has finally arrived.

“This is a great day, but this day is not about me. It’s about us.”

Mitchell’s signing completes Hamilton’s deal with Calgary. The Ticats also acquired the Stampeders’ 2023 first-round pick (fifth overall) and a 2024 third-round selection.

Calgary secured Hamilton’s 2023 first-, third- and sixth-round selections in addition to a ’24 second-round pick.

Mitchell, 32, joined the Stampeders in 2012 and became their starting quarterback in 2014. He led the franchise to two Grey Cup titles while twice being named the league’s outstanding player.

But the Texas native lost his starting job last season to youngster Jake Maier, who signed an extension through 2024 with Calgary during the ’22 campaign.

Mitchell started 117 of 165 games with Calgary, completing 2,496 of 3,866 passes (64.6 per cent) for 32,541 yards with 188 touchdowns and 89 interceptions. Over his first five seasons as the starter, the six-foot-two, 190-pound Mitchell missed just one regular-season game.

He led Calgary to four Grey Cup berths (winning in 2014 and ’18) while receiving the CFL’s top player award in 2016 and ’18. But injuries in 2019 and ’21 limited him to 11 starts each season.

However, being relegated to backup duties last year helped Mitchell physically.

“My body felt amazing going into December, which typically isn’t the case,” Mitchell said. “The knees don’t hurt, my elbows don’t hurt, my shoulders don’t hurt.

“It’s nice to walk into the weight room and not feel like you have to do rehab.”

Mitchell is never lacking confidence and often isn’t shy about stating it. But a top priority now is winning over his new teammates.

“I’m boastful, I’m confident and yes, I am borderline cocky,” he said. “I will let you know my physical went great (Tuesday morning) . . . but I can tell you my mind is my strongest weapon and mentally these are the moments I live for.

“I’ve wanted to walk into a different stadium, win a Grey Cup for a different team but it’s all built in this locker room. I’m not going to do anything until I earn the respect of every single number and the name on the back of every single one of these jerseys. In order to do that I have to get out here and get to work.”

Hamilton (8-10) finished third in the East Division last season, Dane Evans’ first as the starter. The Ticats signed Evans to a two-year extension last January, allowing then incumbent Jeremiah Masoli to join the Ottawa Redblacks as a free agent.

Hamilton ended its season by losing 28-17 to the Montreal Alouettes in the East Division semifinal.

Evans, who was Hamilton’s starter in the 2019 and ’21 Grey Cups, completed 305 of 457 passes (66.7 per cent) for 3,883 yards. But he also led the CFL in interceptions (16), fumbles (eight) and fumbles lost (seven) while winning just six of 14 regular-season starts.

“We’ve had conversations (with Evans) since we acquired (Mitchell’s) rights,” Steinauer said. “Right now, Dane is a Hamilton Tiger-Cat and the next steps will be determined in the near future.”

When Hamilton acquired Mitchell’s rights, the quarterback publicly stated he wanted to hit free agency and test the waters. But Mitchell said that was before knowing the status of Steinauer as well as Tommy Condell and Mark Washington, Hamilton’s offensive and defensive co-ordinators, respectively.

“I wanted to make sure the coaching staff was going to be intact,” Mitchell said. “I think that gives us the best opportunity to win.

“Just from afar, this organization has done it right, they’ve been at the top a lot.”

Mitchell is especially looking forward to working with Condell.

“Tommy’s got a special mind,” Mitchell said. “I’m looking for houses right now and he’s trying to kick people out of their houses next to him so I can live next to him and just walk over for film.

“Getting to talk to Tommy, he’s on the same page as I am. We want to bring back some things in this league . . . we’re going to make the CFL fun to watch again.”

With Mitchell’s status secured, Hamilton can work on keeping some of its pending free agents. The Ticats have 22 players set to hit the open market Feb. 14, including 1,000-yard receivers Tim White and Steven Dunbar as well as starting linebackers Kameron Kelly, Simoni Lawrence and Jovan Santos-Knox.

“They (Ticats) have told me there are some guys they’d like me to lean on but obviously there are guys they didn’t have to say that for,” Mitchell said. “There are guys in this locker room who catch the football that I want (back).

“I’ve already messaged them.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 24, 2023.

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