Esks’ Tillman king of the deal

TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:23 PM ET

Eric Tillman believed he had the blockbuster.

“At one point it was a 10-player trade,” he said.

“It went from six to eight to 10 players. Then it went from 10 to zero.”

Which explains the last six days. The new Edmonton Eskimos GM has made four trades which have provided the pieces the one big one represtented.

Finally, though, there’s a picture starting to emerge of where Tillman is going to take the team — exactly the picture he painted when Doug Goss and Rick LeLacheur hired him to replace Danny Maciocia to correct their biggest mistake in all of Eskimos G.M. hiring history.

Tillman’s trades haven’t been sexy or even particularly newsworthy.

Like the one he made Monday.

The Eskimos traded import kicker Justin Medlock, import Carlos Thomas, Edmonton’s third-round pick (18th overall) and fifth-round pick (34th overall) to Hamilton in exchange for their second-round pick (13th overall) and the negotiation list rights to defensive back Dalin Tollestrup of Lethbridge.

Not sexy at all. Confusing even.

But look at what Tillman just did.

Late last season he traded kicker Noel Prefontaine to the Toronto Argos because of his age and contract. Prefontaine, 38, had a $150,000 deal with an idiotic $50,000 bonus clause which kicked in Jan. 1.

“Nobody was going to touch him until after Jan. 1 and we’d paid that $50,000,” said Tillman, who was going to go forward with Derek Schaivone as kicker with an eye to finding a punter to go with him.

In return the Eskimos received defensive tackle Ettienne Legare, a second overall pick in 2008 who played well in the last two games of the season. Also in the deal was linebacker Demaso Munoz, who Tillman figures “has a terrific future.”

The arrival of Prefontaine freed up Medlock. Tillman signed him. Monday he traded him, tossed in an expendable property in Thomas and gave up the two later-round picks.

Tillman ends up with Legare, Munoz, a second-round pick and the negotiation list rights to Tollestrup for Prefontaine and a saving of $50,000. And he used the $50,000 Monday to sign punter Louie Segota from Saskatchewan.

“Tollestrup could be the key to the trade. He was the outstanding Canadian university player at quarterback two years ago with the Calgary Dinosaurs — a CIS sensation,” said the GM.

Tollestrup wasn’t drafted because he spent a year on a Mormon mission and is now at Brigham Young.

“Nobody drafted him with three more years of school left. But give Bob O’Billovich credit. He neg-listed him. Some GMs forget you can do that with a Canadian who doesn’t get drafted,” said Tillman, who will have to wait for Tollestrup.

The Eskimos now have only the second, 10th and 13th picks in the draft remaining. But, says Tillman: “There are 15 guys in the draft we felt good about. Now we’re going to get three of them.”

The bottom line is the Eskimos haven’t really suffered any real losses here so far.

You’d have to count losing long snapper Tim St. Pierre in free agency as one. But they got Taylor Inglis back.

Meanwhile they signed DL Jermaine Reid, the first signing (well after midnight) of free agency who is quite likely the most important Tillman deal, other than acquiring head coach Kavis Reed and re-upping quarterback Ricky Ray at a more salary-cap-friendly figure.

Add WR Chris Bowman, OL Brian Ramsey and Canadian cornerbacks Donovan Alexandre and Delroy Clarke and there’s dramatic improvement in Canadian content.

Tillman dumped fat contracts to players like Maurice Lloyd, who were poisoning the pond anyway.

“There were so many contracts so out of whack I had to blow it up,” he said.

Tillman’s Eskimos are younger, faster and cheaper.

“We’re not done yet,” Tillman said of more trades and more players being released because of what Maciocia was paying them.

“There’s no magic wand. You have to do it step by step.

“I’ve said it before. The NFL is checkers. The CFL is chess.”


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