The Khalif Mitchell saga may not be resolved as neatly as once thought. When the B.C. Lions decided to trade their former all-star defensive lineman to the Toronto Argonauts earlier this month, it looked like one of the rare deals that worked for everyone involved; Mitchell received another chance to prove that he can be a talented player and not just a controversy creator, the Argonauts got to restock their depleted defensive line and the Lions were able to jettison a problematic player for something in return (DE Adrian Awasom and the rights to a negotiation-list player). However, Mitchell told Sportsnet's Craig MacEwen Thursday he doesn't plan to report to Toronto, citing a new business job he's picked up in Seattle:
This doesn't appear to be a spur-of-the-moment statement in a single interview, either. TSN's Farhan Lalji spoke to Mitchell advisor Guy Gillingham Thursday, and Gillingham offered some pretty strong quotes:
Mitchell's advisor, Guy Gillingham told TSN he is "1,000 per cent" sure the 27-year-old will not be reporting to Toronto because he wants to stay on the West coast.
"Khalif just wants a fresh start and wants to play his final season in the CFL," said Gillingham - confirming that Mitchell would try the NFL again after his contract expires at the end of the 2013 season.
Mitchell wants to be traded to Calgary or Edmonton only, or have the trade between the Lions and Argos reversed and have the Lions release him.
The Virginia Beach, Va native has a new job with a Seattle-based company and, as a result, would prefer to stay in the West.
At first glance, many may find Mitchell's comments here to be a bluff. It's certainly unusual to see a CFL player refuse to report to a team that acquires him, and as much as Mitchell might prefer to pick a preferred CFL destination, players can't usually do that while they're still under contract. However, it's worth pointing out that no one has to play in the CFL. Given the relatively low salaries of most non-quarterbacks, a business career (Mitchell says he's involved in promoting a new herbal energy drink) might actually be as lucrative, if not more.
Gillingham's comments do suggest Mitchell's still interested in the NFL, though, and his size and talent don't rule that possibility out, so playing another year in the CFL and putting up a dominant on-field performance might smooth that path. However, as with Chris Williams, another player who doesn't want to report to the team that holds his rights (Hamilton), sitting out a year isn't necessarily out of the question if the Argos refuse to release him (or if the trade's reversed and B.C. refuses to release him). Impressive CFL tape can certainly help a player's NFL goals, but it's easier than ever to crack an NFL training camp thanks to that league's 2011 training-camp roster expansion (to 90 players), and a dominant performance there can sometimes be enough to stick around. It's quite possible to see a player like Mitchell perhaps landing an NFL training-camp invite next season even if he doesn't play a down of football this year.
How will this end up? Part of that depends on the teams involved, but part of it depends on Mitchell. If general manager Jim Barker and the Argonauts are successful in finding a way to entice him to join their team, this will be just a weird detour. If not, though, it could get quite messy. Toronto obviously won't be happy with a deal that only gave them rights to a player who has no intention of playing for them, but CFL trades often involve players who may or may not suit up for their new teams (after all, the Argos sent CFL rights to a negotiation-list player the other way), so the deal may not be reversible. If it isn't, Toronto could try and send Mitchell's rights to the Eskimos or Stampeders, but neither club's expressed much interest in him so far (and an artificially-limited market like that doesn't usually produce much return). Whoever winds up with Mitchell's rights could also obviously release him and give him the chance to try the NFL right now, but that helps him rather than the club (and may undermine the team's bargaining position in future talks with their own players who want to go to the NFL early). There's no easy solution to this one beyond Mitchell going to Toronto, and now it seems that's off the table. It will be fascinating to see how it plays out.