The CFL Free Agent season started with huge signing after huge signing. The top signees are off the board and as of now teams are basically bargain shopping. While there are still some good players available nothing is going to shift the power structure of the league. That happened on February 12 when Mike Reilly left Edmonton for B. C. and Trevor Harris left Ottawa for Edmonton. Don’t kid yourself the elite teams are in the West and CFL fans throughout the country will undoubtedly be watching a CFL East semi-final that includes a team from Western Canada.
So where does that leave the Toronto Argonauts? The team was able to lure to some attractive free agents. But they will also need to lean on a roster that is similar to the one that started the 2018 season.
On that note, here are my thoughts on what the Toronto Argonauts 2019 depth chart on a cold February day looks like. Remember people; it’s not June yet.
- James Franklin is once again going to try and prove why so many around the CFL believed that he was the “next one.” Last year was a complete write off for the 27 year old pivot out of Missouri. In 2018 Franklin threw only 8 touchdown passes and 9 interceptions. He would eventually lose his starting job before the season was half over. The company line going into 2019 is that Franklin and Trestman just never meshed. Hopefully Chamblin and newly appointed offensive coordinator Jacques Chapdelaine can bring out the most in him because Macleod Bethel-Thomson isn’t the answer either. While there has been some talk about bringing in a veteran type quarterback like a Travis Lulay that is being considered first and foremost as someone who can help in Franklins’ development not as an addition to carry the team.
On a quick side note the teams’ pursuit of Bo-Levi Mitchell says nothing about their confidence or lack thereof in James Franklin. An elite quarterback hit the open market and every team should have taken their shot in trying to acquire him. Toronto offered a boat load of cash and was right to do so. Even Franklin I’m sure understands that you can’t ignore the opportunity to make your team better by acquiring one of the two best quarterbacks in the league.
- The offensive line returns in tact from last year and I’m not sure that’s a good thing. As a group the o-line did a poor job both in pass protection and creating holes for James Wilder Jr. Former Argo coach Marc Trestman was criticized for calling a conservative offensive game and unwillingness to throw the ball down the field. But you need time to do that so the boys in the trenches, who aren’t getting any younger, will need to raise their game for what should be a more aggressive style of offense under new coordinator Jacques Chapdelaine.
- The Canadian Talent is solid if not spectacular. Right now I have the Argos starting 8 National players. 4 of them are on the offensive line. They’re joined by Anthony Coombs at slot back and Declan Cross at fullback. On the defensive side of the ball veteran Jermaine Gabriel returns at safety and in my opinion the only ratio breaking type talent Cleyon Laing looks to lead a solid defensive line. The team has decent depth with lineman like Jamal Campbell and D.J. Sackey. A good special teams contributor and part time receiver in Levi Noel and a developing defensive back in Robert Woodson.
- So what is different in 2019? The team is younger, more physical and athletic than last year. Those attributes were achieved with the signings of elite receiver Derrel Walker, running back Chris Rainey, and linebacker Micah Awe. All three players bring to the team a unique set of skills that Toronto didn’t have last season. Walker is a game changing deep threat. Toronto didn’t have anything close that resembled what Walker brings to an offense. His big play ability will also open up the rest of the field for his teammates.
Rainey is an explosive playmaker out of the back field. His ability to catch the ball in the flat will not only help Franklin but Wilder Jr. as well. Rainey is also an elite special team return man having combined for over 2000 yards in 2018 as a member of the Lions.
On the defensive side of the ball Micah Awe at only 25 years of age is one of the most physical players in the league. Injuries shortened his season in 2018 but a bounce back is definitely in his future. He has all the physical capabilities that should excite not only Argo fans but new head coach and defensive coordinator Corey Chamblin.
- 7 running backs? Now depth is important but having 7 running backs on your roster is ridiculous. James Wilder Jr, Chris Rainey, Brandon Burks, Tyrell Sutton, Dexter McCluster, Mercer Timmins and Kelvin Taylor all know that there just isn’t going to be enough playing time for all of them. Wilder and Rainey are locks to make the team and Burks is a serviceable back up and protection against a Wilder Jr. injury. Of the 7 Timmins is the only Canadian so I can see him sticking around. But once training camp is done and assuming there are no injuries Sutton, McCluster and Taylor will need to find new homes.
- The real money is on Chamblin. Had Bo-Levi Mitchell decided to come to Toronto he would have been the only thing either the media or local fan base talked about. And frankly at $800,000 a season you really couldn’t talk about much else anyway. But once Mitchell decided he couldn’t leave Calgary Jim Popp used the money allocated for Bo throughout the rest of this roster.
Of all the signings in free agency Derrel Walker was the biggest. But even he alone can’t turnaround a team that won only 4 games last season. The hope within the organization is that coach Chamblin can get this group to where they finished the 2017 season. It’s his job to re-ignite a defense that had their share of injuries last year but now returns looking a lot like the one that started the 2018 season.
It will be the job of Jacques Chapdelain to help re-ignite an offense that has some new splashy toys and a quarterback many believe is filled with unlimited potential For the Argos and their fans it needs to come out this season. If not, this depth chart, will change in a hurry.