The Toronto Argonauts were badly in need of a new crew. Especially after back to back 4-14 seasons in 2018 & 2019. The latter remaining the last CFL season to have been played following the cancellation of the 2020 season. In a sports market as competitive as Toronto, the Argos need to make something of a splash.
Well, that ‘splash’ has certainly been felt. A splash that has sent ripples around the CFL during Free Agency this year. The Boatmen building their new crew has certainly seen some action.
When Michael ‘Pinball‘ Clemons became the GM of the Toronto Argonauts he had several aims. He said one goal was to ensure the team would never become boring. Well, Pinball, along with Vice President of Player Personnel John Murphy have made sure the Argos have been far from boring in the off season at least.
A new crew on Offence
In 2018 & 2019 the Argos averaged around 20 points a game. And it wasn’t enough. Any new crew needs a captain to lead them. Initially Toronto addressed that by signing Matt Nichols. It made a certain sense. He was an experienced CFL QB with a winning pedigree. Arguably before injury knocked him out in 2019 he was setting an MOP pace with Winnipeg. But, as we know the Blue Bombers won the 2019 Grey Cup with the two headed monster of Zach Collaros and record setting Chris Streveler under centre.
Instead the Argos will now go into the season with Nick Arbuckle as their QB. This follows them and the RedBlacks effectively swapping pivots during the Free Agency period. New Coach Ryan Dinwiddie has worked with Arbuckle in Calgary. The Boatmen will hope for an extended run of success that mirrors the small sample size of what they achieved with the Stamps.
The Argos also signed WR Eric Rogers from Calgary so there will be some familiarity there. They have also brought in proven talent at RB in John White from BC. Alongside decent QB depth with the addition of Antonio Pipkin from Montreal.
They may not keep all of the offensive pieces. But they should have a great competition in camp. And will be hoping to see a significant increase in points per game coming up.
A new crew on Defence
Just as the offence weren’t delivering enough points in 2018 & 2019, so the defence was allowing too many points. The Double Blue leaked 31.22 ppg in 2019 & 31.11 ppg in 2018. Consistency can be great. But not when it effectively allows an averaged 20-31 defeat each time you take the field. And back to back 4-14 records will attest to that.
So a new crew was needed on the D too. And, boy, have the Argos gone for some big names on this side of the ball.
Big name Free Agent signings included veteran CFL Defensive Linemen Odell Willis, and Charleston Hughes. Willis passed 100 career sacks in 2019. While Hughes joined the 100+ club in 2018. There is a lot of veteran savvy here.
The Argonauts have added plenty of depth here too, adding Cordarro Law, re-signing Drake Nevis and adding Shane Ray too. No wonder the DL Coach is happy with the new look line.
At Linebacker the Argos have added 2019 West Division Most Outstanding Canadian Cameron Judge. As well as their latest big splash signing, 2019 Eastern MOC and overall Most Outstanding Canadian, LB Henoc Muamba from the Als. Muamba was taken first overall in 2011 and was one of the best top picks of the last decade. This all means that the Argos have picked up several first or second team CFL All-Decade defenders going into the next season.
One area the Argos struggled last time they played was in pass defending. There is a good amount of talent in front of them now, which can only help.
NFL Players joining the new crew
One thing the Argonauts have also done is bring in a selection of NFL players to compete for spots.
They’ve taken a punt on a range of former NFL Draft picks. Including defensive lineman Shane Ray (selected 23rd overall by Denver in 2015). Fellow DL Eli Harold ( taken79th overall by San Francisco in 2015). And Kony Ealy (60th overall pick by Carolina in 2014).
They have also been on the lookout for Wide Recievers. Taking Kenadall Wright (selected 20th overall by the Titans in 2012), and Martavias Bryant (taken 118th overall by the Steelers in 2014).
These acquisitions have certainly made headlines. But there remains a certain skepticism until we see them perform. Plenty of NFL talent has proved incapable of adapting to the CFL game in the past – particularly the wider field and agility required.
Building the team
Obvioulsy the Argos want to improve on the 8-28 performance their last two seasons have delivered. And, whilst they won the Grey Cup in 2017, fans will recall success has not been consistent. Between 2010 and 2019 they had an up and down decade finishing that period 75-105.
For me, the key to the rebulid will centre around a blend of their re-signed players, like the recently re-structured Bear Woods and the signings who have an existing pedigree in the three down game. The Argos have signed plenty of big names, and experienced vets to belnd with younger talent on the new crew. It may come down to how rookie Head Coach Ryan Dinwiddie handles blending that talent together on the field.
What about the salary cap?
They have signed a lot of names to form the new crew. And some big ones at that. By all accounts the CFL board of governors want teams to ‘spend to the cap floor‘ going into the 2021 season. Can we reasonably believe the Argos are following this directive with all of these signings? Clemons has made a point of saying no salary cap mishandling is taking place.
One thing worth noting. The Argonauts currently have 90+ players on their roster. By the time opening day occurs that roster will be 45. That’s a lot of contracts that will disappear between now and then. They don’t have to be cap compliant now. But they do by opening day. Cuts may come, or could they trade star players for draft picks? There are plenty of options to look at.
Not all of the signings can or will stay. But the Argos training camp is going to be fascinating to watch play out. As will finding out who makes the new crew for the Boatmen. One thing is certain though. It sure is nice to be thinking and talking about on field issues for a change.