So we’ve reached the end of the free agency frenzy. Obviously it would be tough to tell that February 13th was the actual beginning of the free agency window, given the pre-window signing of recently released high profile players like Adarius Bowman and Darian Durant. But it was nevertheless, and while the Toronto Argonauts have not been as assertive as other teams in free agency, they have managed to make some interesting moves. Let’s look at how the Argos have fared one week in:
The Argos in CFL Free Agency
Kicker Swayze Waters and defensive halfback TJ Heath have chosen to return to the Double Blue after time elsewhere.
Waters was the Argos’ punter/placekicker from 2012-2015, winning the 100th Grey Cup Championship in 2012. As a kicker, he was 101 for 127 in field goals and a perfect 98 for 98 on 1-point conversions. As a punter, he grossed 12 607 yards on 269 punts, and his incredible coffin kicking abilities contributed to his moniker “Bionic Leg.”
Having said that, the “Bionic Leg” has dealt with his fair share of injuries during his career, including missing 13 games last year due to a quad injury. Since leaving Toronto, he spent a year in the NFL before returning and signing with BC. The quad injury led to his release in mid-July, but against the odds, he managed to recover and got into 5 games with Edmonton toward the end of the year.
Heath’s CFL career began in Toronto in 2016, but it ended just after Labour Day when he was traded to Winnipeg in the infamous and somewhat contentious Drew Willy trade. A 28-year-old “rookie,” Heath quickly rose up the depth chart to rack up 37 tackles and 5 interceptions in 10 games before his move to the Blue and Gold. Since then, he got another 87 tackles (9 in 2 postseason games) and 7 interceptions.
Heath’s departure was obviously a great loss to the Argos secondary, and as the eighth best free agent available as ranked by CFL.ca, he was certainly a much-coveted player across the league. Heath was traded by former GM Jim Barker, and we expect him to be much more receptive to his new boss Jim Popp, not to mention head coach Marc Trestman.
The team also signed Toronto-born running back Greg Morris. Morris is a 4-year veteran who has recently played for the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Morris ran for 66 yards, had a 34-yard catch, as well as 732 yards on kick returns. Morris found himself in an incredibly crowded running back situation in Riderville, sitting behind Cameron Marshall, Marcus Thigpen, Trent Richardson, Shakir Bell, and Christion Jones on the depth chart. The addition of Jerome Messam certainly added to his reasons for departing.
Morris is a good national add to the lineup, but don’t chalk him up as the starter just yet. There are still some free agents running backs available, like the aforementioned Bell who was also cut loose by Saskatchewan, Calgary’s Anthony Woodson, and Edmonton’s Kendial Lawrence, as well as internal options like Martese Jackson, Anthony Coombs and Cam McDaniel.
One thing we do know is that he will not be getting any opposition from the “incumbent” James Wilder, who despite winning the Most Outstanding Rookie Award for 2017 in the East has decided to sit out the upcoming season.
Another new face to the Argos is international defensive back Ronnie Yell. Yell is a 4 year veteran who will play for a team not named “BC Lions” for the first time. The CFL.ca ranked 29th best free agent is coming off a career year in which he racked up 64 tackles and 3 interceptions. In 61 games, he has a total of 168 tackles, 8 special teams tackles, 7 interceptions, 3 forced fumbles, and 3 touchdowns.
Taylor Reed has also joined the team. The 4-year veteran linebacker comes over from Ottawa. He enjoyed his best year in the CFL, racking up a career-high 94 tackles, along with 4 sacks and a forced fumble. Reed has also played for Hamilton and Calgary.
These gains have not come at a cost. The first real casualty came in the first week of February when Grey Cup MVP Devier Posey was granted early release to pursue opportunities south of the border. Posey’s contract was up, but he was allowed to leave ahead of the free agency window to try out for NFL teams. He has since landed a deal with Baltimore. The 2-year receiver played 16 regular season games and 2 playoff games. He caught 65 passes for 905 yards and 7 touchdowns in that span and made another 10 catches for 214 yards and 2 touchdowns, including that record-setting 100-yard touchdown against Calgary in the 2017 Grey Cup.
Ontario born kicker Lirim Hajrullahu is the most notable loss, heading to Hamilton on a one year deal. Hajrullahu has been the Argos’ punter/placekicker for two years, his arrival in Toronto coinciding with Waters’ departure, and now his departure coinciding with Waters’ return. The UWO grad started his career in Winnipeg, and over 4 years he has kicked 146 of 178 in field goals, 114 of 123 in conversions, and grossed just under 20 000 punting yards. His role in Hamilton is yet unknown, although it is safe to say he will not just be a depth player there.
Linebacker Rico Murray and defensive linesmen Cameron Walker and Daryl Waud have joined the Ottawa Redblacks. Murray is joining his third Ontario team after playing 4 seasons in Hamilton before his move to Toronto last winter. Murray is coming off a banner year where he had just about one of everything: 55 tackles, 1 special teams tackle, 1 sack, 1 interception, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery, and 1 touchdown. Walker is a three year veteran of the Argos, having suited up for 38 games (3 of them playoff games) since being drafted in 2015. He has racked up 17 special teams tackles in his career, 2 of them coming in the East Final against Saskatchewan. Waud is another 2015 draftee that slid down the depth chart this past season. The UWO product only played one game in 2017. He has a total of 19 tackles and 3 sacks in 25 career games.
Mitchell White is also out, signing a contract with Montreal. The four-year veteran returns to his first club after 2 years in Ontario and a professional tryout in Philadelphia. He is coming off back to back Grey Cup titles with Ottawa and Toronto. After his brief NFL stint, White signed as a free agent with the Argos and got 11 tackles and 3 interceptions in 6 games, and another 4 tackles in the Grey Cup final against Calgary. White’s career includes 108 tackles and 7 interceptions.
Rounding off the list, for now, is 25-year-old quarterback Cody Fajardo. The Nevada graduate played 2 years in Double Blue, playing primarily as the short yards QB. He has definitely benefitted from playing behind future Hall of Fame quarterback Ricky Ray, and now he goes to BC to play alongside QB BFFs Jonathan Jennings and Travis Lulay. It is a tough loss for Toronto, but one that was almost certain to happen, following the trade for James Franklin from Edmonton, and Ray’s decision not to retire. For his career, he 261 passing yards on 29 of 48 pass attempts, 4 passing touchdowns, 8 rushing touchdowns, and 329 rushing yards. His biggest moment to date is scoring the winning touchdown late in the fourth quarter to propel the Argos to victory over Saskatchewan in the East Final.
The rest of the team is pretty much intact, with most prospective free agents signed to new deals. Most notably, Bear Woods signed a new one year deal after a week on the open market, and Grey Cup defensive heroes Cassius Vaughn and Matt Black were brought back on new deals. Only defensive back Akwasi Owusu-Ansah, defensive back Josh Mitchell, and running back Brandon Whitaker remain.
TORONTO, ON – NOVEMBER, 28 Ricky Ray brings the Grey Cup into Nathan Phillips Square through the fans. The Toronto Argonauts football club celebrated their Grey Cup victory over the Calgary Stampeders at Nathan Phillips Square over the noon hour. A thousands came out to cheer on the victorious team after their win in Ottawa over the weekend. (Richard Lautens/Toronto Star via Getty Images)