Free Agency Preview: Toronto Argonauts

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TORONTO, ON - JUNE 25: Marcus Ball #6 of the Toronto Argonauts drops into coverage against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats during a CFL game at BMO Field on June 25, 2017 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Toronto defeated Hamilton 32-15. (Photo by John E. Sokolowski/Getty Images)

The Toronto Argonauts have experienced the highest of highs and the lowest of lows in the last two seasons. It’s hard to believe the Argos are just two seasons removed from their magical Grey Cup season. However, 2018’s campaign was disappointing, to say the least. Ricky Ray’s unfortunate neck injury effectively set the tone for the remainder of the season. The good news is, in the CFL a team can rebound just as fast as they fell. The Argonauts have a good opportunity to do just that with an effective free agency strategy.

2019 CFL free agency begins at 12 p.m. EST on February 12, 2019. 

Toronto Argonauts Current Free Agents

Quarterback:
Dakota Prukop and Ricky Ray.

Running Back:
Simon Gingras-Gagnon and Travon Van.

Wide Receiver:
Duron Carter and Myles White.

Offensive Line:
Jamal Campbell, William Campbell, J’Michael Deane, Tyler Holmes, D.J. Sackey.

Defensive Line:
Frank Beltre, Ken Bishop, Troy Davis, Jeffrey Finley, Cameron Walker, Dylan Wynn.

Linebacker:
Marcus Ball, Jeff Knox Jr., Terrance Plummer, Justin Tuggle.

Defensive Back:
Alden Darby, Jermaine Gabriel, Abdul Kanneh, Ronnie Yell.

Must-sign Free Agents

Marcus Ball, Tyler Holmes, Alden Darby.

Marcus Ball, despite playing just 10 games last season, is still a vital piece on the Argonauts defence. At 31, he has experience (including two Grey Cups) and the playmaking ability to still be “the guy” for the Argos. Tyler Holmes has started in 18 games every season since 2014, his National designation doesn’t hurt either, it would be wise for the Argos to bring him back. Darby emerged as a quality option at defensive back last season with 18 starts along with two interceptions and two touchdowns. At 26, he should be a priority for the Argos.

What the Argonauts have

  • Quarterbacks with Upside
  • A Star Running Back
  • Three-Fifths of an Offensive Line
  • Offensive Speed
  • A New Head Coach

Quarterbacks with Upside

When James Franklin was traded for prior to the 2018 season, many had him pencilled in as the heir to the throne of Ricky Ray. And while Franklin has tremendous upside, he saw his share of struggles in his starts this past season. Mcleod Bethel-Thompson would replace Franklin midway through the season. They would both put up similar numbers in 2018, albeit, underwhelming. However, both showed flashes of potential throughout the doomed season. Most notably, Bethel-Thompson’s fourth-quarter comebacks in Weeks 8 & 10. With a full off-season with the team under their belt and presumably a competition in training camp, the Argos should have confidence that one of these two pivots will emerge.

A Star Running Back

James Wilder Jr. took the CFL by storm in 2017, racking up 872 rushing yards and 533 receiving yards. Expectations were high coming into 2018 and Wilder got off to a slow start his first two games rushing for just 16 and 60 yards before opening it up in Week 4 with 120 yards and a touchdown. Wilder would go on to put up 691 rushing yards and 539 receiving yards in just 13 games. With new offensive coordinator Jacques Chapdelaine, it will be interesting to see how Wilder’s talents are utilized.

Three-Fifths of an Offensive Line

The Argos have the right side of their offensive line locked up, and it’s one of the best in the league. Veterans Sean McEwen, Ryan Bomben, and Chris Van Zeyl will most likely fill the centre, right guard, and right tackle positions in 2019 for the Argos. The three studs are all Nationals too, which increases their value. Tyler Holmes and William Campbell rounded out the Argos offensive line last season, but both are pending free agents.

Offensive Speed

The Argos skill players on offence overall lack size, but they make up for it in speed. At receiver, Armanti Edwards and Mario Alford, whose run a 4.27 40-yard dash, are burners. They’re effective with the ball and can blow by defenders. At the rover position, Anthony Coombs and Dexter McCluster are all about quickness. While both ran over 4.5-second 40-yard dashes, on the field it’s evident how quick they are. The same can be said about running backs Brandon Burks and James Wilder Jr. Both are shifty, smart backs that on paper aren’t deemed as fast, but can cruise by opposing tacklers.

A New Head Coach

The Marc Trestman era came and went faster than most imagined. Especially after helping deliver a championship to the city in his first season. Nevertheless, after a dismal 2018 Trestman was let go and after an extensive search, Corey Chamblin was hired. Having served as defensive coordinator in 2017, Chamblin will be resuming his role in that department. It should be noted that the Argos defence under Chamblin ranked in the top half of many categories that season including sacks. Many cite his tumultuous exit from Riderville in 2015 as a criticism for the hire. However, a lot has changed in three-and-a-half years including Chamblin adding a Grey Cup ring to his resume. Hopefully, Chamblin is able to be a source of inspiration for a franchise that desperately needs it.

What the Argonauts need

  • Starting Defensive Backs
  • Linebackers
  • Youth
  • Receivers
  • Defensive Depth

Starting Defensive Backs

The Argos ranked close to last in many team passing categories in 2018 except one – opponents pass attempts. This means the Argos got beat for big plays and gave up high completion percentages. The Argos secondary was a revolving door last year. Cassius Vaughn will likely occupy the dimeback position, but aside from Qudarius Ford, almost all other returnees could or may be replaced. And that’s not to mention that Alden Darby, Jermaine Gabriel, and Ronnie Yell are all pending free agents. If Delvin Breaux’s available, the Argos should load up the money trucks.

Possible candidates: Delvin Breaux, Aaron Grymes, Forrest Hightower, T.J. Heath, Ronnie Yell, Anthony Orange, Emanuel Davis, Winston Rose, Dominique Ellis, Brandon Alexander, Taylor Loffer, Tunde Adeleke, Ciante Evans, Patrick Levels.

Linebackers

Spoiler, the Argos didn’t fare much better against the run in 2018, ranking dead last in yards against and average yards per rush against. Ideally, Marcus Ball, Bear Woods, and Cassius Vaughn are starting Week 1 at linebackers, going from weak side to strong. But Ball remains unsigned, and after that depth is slim. Toronto has brought back Akeem Jordan, but along with Ball, Jeff Knox Jr., Terrance Plummer, and Justin Tuggle are three more linebackers that Jim Popp has not yet re-signed. Toronto needs both depth and a starting weak-side linebacker.

Possible candidates: Marcus Ball, Jeff Knox Jr., Justin Tuggle, Terrance Plummer, Simoni Lawrence, Jovan Santos-Knox, Sam Hurl, Micah Awe, Nicolas Boulay, Frederic Plesius, Ian Wild, Bo Lokombo.

Youth

Toronto’s roster has 12 players ages 30 or higher. Almost all, including two quarterbacks, are prominent players too. At 27, James Franklin is the youngest quarterback, and there’s plenty of debate to whether 39-year-old Ricky Ray will retire or not. If Tyler Holmes re-signs, three-fifths of the offensive line will be 30-plus, potential linebackers Marcus Ball, Bear Woods, and Cassius Vaughn are all 31-plus, and at 33, S.J. Green isn’t getting any younger. That’s not to say these players cannot be contributors for the Argos, however, younger, prospect-like players should be targeted by the Argos.

Possible candidates: Dominque Rhymes, Daryl Waud, Terrell Davis, Mike Jones, Brandon Alexander, Trent Corney, Jovan Santos-Knox, Tobi Antigha, Brandon Bridge, Josiah St. John, Tunde Adeleke, Juwan Brescacin, DaVaris Daniels, Lemar Durant, Ciante Evans, Patrick Levels, Nate Behar, Winston Rose.

Receivers

S.J. Green and Armanti Edwards are two nice pieces to build around, but with an underutilized Duron Carter likely moving on, the Argos need more options at receiver. Mario Alford could push for a starting role next season, and a healthy Anthony Coombs could occupy a slotback spot. The four could field a good receiving core, with the boundary wide receiver spot and depth receivers being signed in free agency. Someone like Carter, a big, jump ball-winning, physical athlete is what the Argos need at the boundary spot, although the Carter experiment failed. Look for Toronto to sign someone similar to Carter in free agency.

Possible candidates: Vidal Hazelton, Emmanuel Arceneaux, Ricky Collins, DeVier Posey, Derel Walker, Shaquille Johnson, Terrell Sinkfield, Terrence Toliver, Lemar Durant, Bakari Grant, Kenny Stafford.

Special Teamers

The Argos ranked worst in the following categories in 2018: field goal percentage, opponents punt return average, kick return touchdowns, blocked kicks and kicks had blocked. Drew Brown had a solid end to the season at kicker, finishing 10 of 11, and the Argos have extended Zach Medeiros, who will likely handle punting duties, meaning Toronto has their kicking situation solved, for now. But with 14 pending defensive free agents, the Argos are without a ton of the 2018 special teamers. This need can be addressed through signing free agents, re-signings, and signing diamonds in the rough in pre-season.

Possible candidates: CFL draft, NCAA, Nicolas Boulay, Dan West, Terrell Davis, Courtney Stephen, Ian Wild, Kevin Fogg, Brendan Morgan, Frederic Plesius, Sam Hurl, Tunde Adeleke, Troy Stoudermire, Adam Thibault, DyShawn Davis, Bo Lokombo, Ron Omara.

The Last Word

Serious on-field changes are needed in Toronto. Jim Popp knows this and should be active come free agency. The pitch to come to Toronto may be tough, but if Popp can offer the right amount of incentives, free agents may start pouring in for the Argos.

Expect Toronto to target Delvin Breaux, Anthony Orange, Aaron Grymes, Brandon Alexander, Bo Lokombo, Derel Walker, Juwan Brescacin, Lemar Durant, and Kevin Fogg.

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