Ray trade an ego play

Edmonton Eskimos' general manager Eric Tillman. (DAVID BLOOM/QMI Agency)

Edmonton Eskimos' general manager Eric Tillman. (DAVID BLOOM/QMI Agency)

TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:25 AM ET

CALGARY - Eric Tillman might turn out to be right.

But he's not right, right now. And right now is real important to Edmonton and the Eskimos.

Right now, there is a great deal of anger out there. And Len (The Brand Man) Rhodes, the new CEO of the Eskimos -- and a guy who knows nothing about football -- not only says he endorsed the dumb deal to trade Ricky Ray for insulting returns and $200,000 in cap space, he was actually taking credit for it Tuesday as part of his grand plan to make Eskimos football more exciting.

Two weeks into his new job, Rhodes had a big pitcher of Tillman's Kool-Aid on his table and took the big gulp.

Now his job of selling the brand just became doubly difficult. But he says he thinks it might be the opposite.

And he says he's not at all disturbed by the reaction.

"I expected it," he said.

"I'd have been disappointed if there wasn't this reaction. It's Ricky Ray. There's a passion for the Eskimos in Edmonton. It's a great thing to have that here. It's better than having apathy in other markets."

Rhodes argues that trading Ray makes the brand better, the product easier to sell.

"It means we'll have a more entertaining team. It adds an element fans haven't seen, and that makes it easier to market. I believe we're enhancing the fan experience by going with young quarterbacks who can run. I'm convinced the fan experience in 2012 is going to be greater because of that.

"It's a vision I'm going to bring. It's an exciting element of play I want to bring back.

"It's my responsibility to listen to Eric's recommendations and make these decisions," Rhodes said.

Tillman played a major role, along with rookie head coach Kavis Reed -- whom Tillman hired to the surprise of many -- to get the Eskimos from last place in 2010 to their first home playoff game since 2004, and to the Western Final for the first time since 2005.

He gets all the credit in the world for that. And he has a history of success with eyebrow-raising deals.

So, in Tillman must we trust?

Sorry.

I don't think he did the right thing for Edmonton.

There's just too much evidence to indicate this was more about the GM's ego than it was about the Eskimos. I think Tillman got caught drinking his own Kool-Aid.

I refuse to believe that Reed would have said he wholeheartedly endorsed this deal or thought it was in the best interest of the EE in the next year or three, if Rhodes had asked him privately.

"I asked Eric and Kavis if they'd both go 100% forward with the three of us holding hands if we did this deal," said Rhodes.

That's a lot different than getting the coach to tell him he 100% endorsed it.

I believe Kavis Reed 0% endorsed the deal. Reed did walk out of the office holding hands with the man who hired him. But read his quotes and listen to his voice clips. He's an intelligent man. He chose his words well.

But what's done is done.

"This deal would never have been made if we did did not feel we had tremendous upside with (quarterbacks) Matt Nichols and Eric Ward," said Tillman.

He wants you to believe he has a Travis Lulay and a Drew Tate in these two guys?

Anybody think Steven Jyles -- the QB coming over from the Argos for Ray -- is likely to duplicate any one of Lulay's accomplishments in being voted the league's most outstanding player, all-star quarterback, Grey Cup winner and Grey Cup MVP ?

Tillman could be right.Maybe one of these guys might turn out to be great -- in two or three years.

But not right now.

Right now the Eskimos, considering where they've been these last few years, don't need to go backwards again so Tillman can step out and steal the off-season stage and exercise his ego by trading a future Hall of Famer who, one day after Tillman has moved on (he always moves on), will be asked to come back to put his name and number up on the Eskimos Wall of Fame.


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