Last year was as bad as it could get for the Toronto Argonauts. Players under-performing. Players arguing behind closed doors. Players being released mid-season. And a trade that gave the first overall pick in this year’s draft to Winnipeg. Safe to say the first season for the Double Blue in BMO Field was a forgettable experience for both players and fans. But there are hopeful signs as we look at the Toronto Argonauts preview for 2017.
This winter, we saw change, and last week we saw some of it evaporate. Free agent offensive linesman Peter Dyakowski signed with Toronto after 10 years playing for Hamilton, but was traded to Saskatchewan for sophomore receiver Armanti Edwards. Linebacker Winston Venable signed with Toronto after four seasons with the Alouettes, and then announced his retirement from football. Same old, same old.
Still, there was plenty to get excited about this winter. The front office was given new life in the form of general manager Jim Popp and head coach Marc Trestman, both veteran staffers from the Alouettes organization. Despite not having the first overall pick, the Argos fared well in the draft, selecting six promising young players including 6’8″ offensive linesman Mason Woods and Laurier linebacker Nakas Onyeka. All six players have signed, and they should get some good opportunities this season.
Some of the biggest changes were made on the offence. Last season was about under-performance, especially in the point scoring department. The team had a promising young group with Anthony Coombs, Brian Jones, Devon Wylie, and DeVier Posey. They built upon that with strong veteran signings like Jeff Fuller and Khalil Paden, although Ernest Jackson passed up on signing with Toronto to go to the Alouettes. They also made a couple of trades for 10-year Alouettes veteran SJ Green, who is well known to Popp and Trestman, and the aforementioned Edwards. They managed to re-sign veteran running back Brandon Whitaker. Given he was one of just two players to rush for 1000 yards last season, this was a move that made sense, albeit one made after six weeks of free agency.
Ricky Ray is back and has been given the early nod by Trestman to be the number one QB for Toronto. Drew Willy is still with the team, and presents a great fallback option should Ray get injured again. The team also signed Hamilton veteran Jeff Mathews, and retained the services of young Cody Fajardo, who saw limited action last year. Willy cost an awful lot, so he really should get a fair share of chances to impress. But even more than that, the fans would love to see Ricky Ray stay healthy and play a full season. That would certainly give the Argos the best chance in the long run.
It’s important to remember one thing: this is not a rebuild. The team had that option both last winter and the one we just had, and both times the team passed on it, maybe regrettably last time. But if you look at the moves the team has made, both on field and in the front office, this is not a team content with being stagnant, repeating last year and looking to the future.
This team already looks a lot more coherent, with players working hard at building good working relationships early in training camp. Trestman expressing early confidence in his players and personal excitement to get back into coaching in the CFL after spending the last four seasons south of the border. Popp and co. have assembled a good group of players, taken from some of last season’s best organizations. With them and a strong new coaching staff all around, except for offensive co-ordinator Marcus Brady, this team should look a whole lot different on the field this season.
There is no guarantee that they will get back into the playoffs, but they should present a formidable challenge for the rest of the East Division. From the look of the team, though, they will at the very least finish the year at .500. And after that, anything is possible.