EDMONTON — As he collected another CFL outstanding player award, Bo Levi Mitchell had a not-so-subtle message for the league and its players: Get a deal done.
The Calgary Stampeders quarterback was named the CFL’s top player Thursday night during the league’s awards banquet at the Winspear Centre.
The CFL and CFL Players’ Association will begin talks this off-season on a new collective bargaining agreement. The present deal expires in May 2019.
Negotiations the last time around were testy before a deal was eventually hammered out. This upcoming round is expected to again be contentious with the union already unhappy the league won’t be giving players signing bonuses until after a new deal is reached.
"I think I can speak for every single person here," Mitchell said. "To the CFL, to the CFLPA: Get the damn thing signed.
"I think we agree we want something fair, so does the league. I stand strong with my brothers in the union and I want us to get the best deal we can but I also want to see a deal signed and this league up and running as fast as possible."
Balloting was conducted by members of the Football Reporters of Canada and the nine CFL head coaches. A total of 60 voters participated.
Mitchell’s first top player award came in 2016. But his focus is firmly on the Grey Cup game Sunday when Calgary faces the Ottawa Redblacks.
The Stampeders are in the title game for a third straight year but are 0-2 over that span. Mitchell led Calgary to a CFL championship in 2014.
"We’re judged, first and foremost, by championships," Mitchell said. "I believe winning a Grey Cup won’t be revenge or redemption for the last couple of years but it will build on a legacy that this organization has put together over decades of work.
"It’s going to be an amazing feeling if we can get that done as a team."
Mitchell, 28, had a CFL-high — and career-best — 35 TD passes in leading Calgary (league-best 13-5 record) atop the West Division.
The Katy, Tex., native threw for 5,124 yards. He also had 42 completions of 30-plus yards and a TD-to-interception ratio of 2.5, both league bests.
Mitchell received 47 first-place votes to become the ninth multiple winner in CFL history. He’s also the second-youngest to accomplish the feat as Jackie Parker won his second in 1958 at age 26.
Hamilton Tiger-Cats quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, the CFL’s second-leading passer with 5,209 yards, was the finalist.
Winnipeg linebacker Adam Bighill claimed top defensive player honours. The five-foot-10, 230-pound Blue Bomber received 57 first-place votes for his second award after winning in 2015 with the B.C. Lions.
Bighill had 105 tackles, four sacks two interceptions and a CFL-high four forced fumbles in his first season with Winnipeg. Bighill spent the ’17 campaign with the NFL’s New Orleans Saints and thanked former B.C. head coach Wally Buono for giving him his chance to play professionally.
"You see the best football players on the field in the CFL," Bighill said. "Down south I can’t say that’s always the case.
"It’s a fact guys can play football and get the opportunity to play here and do great things. I think that’s truly a special part of the game up here."
Bighill is the first Bomber to win the award since Jovan Johnson in 2011 and the ninth to claim multiple honours.
Hamilton linebacker Larry Dean, who had a career-high 105 tackles, was the finalist.
Ottawa players captured three honours, including two for kicker Lewis Wards (rookie, special teams). Slotback Brad Sinopoli was top Canadian.
Ward made 51-of-52 field goals (league-record 98.1 per cent), including a pro football-record 48 straight that will carry over into 2019. The undrafted Kingston, Ont., native earned 50 first-place votes in rookie balloting and 43 for the special-teams honour.
"My big thing for people who want to pursue their goals is don’t quit," Ward said. "Just because it doesn’t happen when you want it to doesn’t mean it can’t.
"The easiest way doesn’t always last the longest so you’ve got to put the work in and do the hard work that it takes."
Saskatchewan Roughriders receiver Jordan Williams-Lambert was the rookie finalist while B.C. Lions kicker Ty Long was the special-teams runner-up.
Sinopoli, of Peterborough, Ont., earned his second top Canadian award after winning in 2015. He had 116 catches — a single-season record for a Canadian — for 1,376 receiving yards with four TDs as Ottawa (11-7) finished atop the East Division.
Sinopoli, who received 32 first-place votes, has cracked the 1,000-yard plateau the last four seasons. Not too shabby for a player who reverted to receiver after winning the Hec Crighton Trophy as a quarterback.
"It was a tough pill to swallow when someone tells you you’re not good enough to do something you’ve obviously been doing for a while," Sinopoli said. "But in football the biggest lesson is when someone asks you to do something … really try to own that role.
"Things usually blossom from that."
Winnipeg’s Andrew Harris, last year’s winner and the CFL’s top rusher for a second straight season, was the finalist.
Bombers tackle Stanley Bryant earned the top lineman award for the second consecutive year. He registered 44 first-place votes to become the first multiple winner since Montreal’s Scott Flory (2008-09).
"I really don’t know what to say," Bryant said. "This is just a really big honour.
"To get it back to back is a surprise but it shows hard work pays off. I’m part of one of the best groups in the CFL."
The six-foot-five, 311-pound Bryant anchored a Winnipeg line that paved the way for Harris (CFL-best 1,390 rushing yards. The Bombers also scored a league-high 53 offensive touchdowns and allowed 36 sacks, tied for third-fewest overall.
Hamilton guard Brandon Revenberg was the finalist.
Saskatchewan’s Chris Jones claimed top coach honours with 41 first-place votes. Ottawa’s Rick Campbell, the ’15 winner, was the finalist.
In his third season with the Riders, Jones led the franchise to a 12-6 record and second-place finish in the West Division. That matched the most victories for the franchise since 1970 and earned Saskatchewan its first home playoff game since 2013.
Jones is the first Rider coach to win the award since Corey Chamblin in 2013. He credited his coaching staff and players for the honour.
"We’ve just got a really really good group (of coaches) that’s dedicated to each other," Jones said. "They’re like brothers, they fight like brothers but when we walk out of the room we’re together.
"Our players, we work them … they put the work in."
Pierre Vercheval, a former CFL top lineman and Canadian Football Hall of Famer who’s now broadcasting football, received the Commissioner’s Award for outstanding contribution to Canadian football. Buono, who retired at season’s end, claimed the Hugh Campbell Distinguished Leadership award.
Buono, 68, spent 46 CFL seasons a player, coach, GM and league governor. The Canadian Football Hall of Famer and member of the Order of Canada won a record 282 regular-season wins and seven Grey Cups, five as a coach.
"Football is a game that you get paid to win," Buono said. "Therefore in 46 years I’ve only been a winner seven times.
"I have no complaints other than I didn’t win enough Grey Cups. Other than that, I wouldn’t do anything different. I’ve been very blessed."
Edmonton Eskimos long-snapper Ryan King received the Tom Pate Award, given annually by the CFLPA for sportsmanship and community service. B.C. fullback Rolly Lumbala claimed the Jacke Gaudaur Veterans’ Trophy for exemplifying the qualities of Canada’s veterans