The Toronto Argonauts are back at the top of the CFL mountain. Thanks to a magical run to win it all. But can the Argonauts maintain excellency moving forward with so many changes on the horizon?
The Boatmen are still celebrating the glory of becoming Grey Cup Champions in 2022. A well-deserved and earned accomplishment for the CFL’s winningest franchise. But soon, the focus will turn toward the future; the Double Blue of 2022 could look vastly different when they defend their title in 2023.
The 2023 Toronto Argonauts Could Look Vastly Different
It’s commonplace for pro sports teams to undergo many changes from one season to the next. For better or worse, roster and team turnover are even more prevalent in the CFL.
Each year is different from the last. In last year’s offseason, the Argos revamped their entire coaching staff virtually before making a significant push in free agency to sign high-profile veterans to get them over the hump and win a championship.
Mission accomplished. However, the Argonauts could be waving goodbye to many veteran players who helped them net a Grey Cup trophy in 2022. There could also be departures from Double Blue’s coaching staff. A byproduct of winning a championship.
Let’s take an early look at the potential changes awaiting the Toronto Argonauts this upcoming offseason.
Who will be the Toronto Argonauts starting QB next season?
Has McLeod Bethel-Thompson played his final snap in Double Blue? Heading into the 2022 Grey Cup, there were rumblings that it could be MBT’s last dance in Canada. Especially if the Argonauts denied a dynasty and won a championship.
That’s precisely what transpired for Toronto in Saskatchewan. McLeod Bethel-Thompson led his team to a Grey Cup as a starting pivot, and when the smoke cleared, he was a champion even if the circumstances surrounding his career-defining moment didn’t go as scripted.
Recently, rumors of MBT riding off into the sunset have been squelched. In the days following Grey Cup 109, The soon-to-be 35-year-old QB took to Instagram, sending what seemed like a potential goodbye love note to his teammates.
However, sources have indicated that the impending free agent plans to play another season. The question, however, is will McLeod Bethel-Thompson be back in Toronto?
Depending on how the musical chairs at QB fall, MBT could have an interest as a starter in other places besides the Six.
The Argonauts would love to have MBT back. Even if there could be some temptation to swoop in through the back door on a Bo Levi Mitchell type as a veteran stopgap. But Toronto may already have their answer at quarterback for the next several years already on their roster.
The rise of Chad Kelly
Perhaps no one should be surprised by how MBT’s unique story climaxed in the Grey Cup. The lifelong quasi-starter since his college days has been the ultimate journeyman signal-caller his entire playing life. Even after leading the CFL in touchdown passes in 2019, passing yardage in 2022, and paving the way for two straight Argos division titles. MBT has been saddled with a temporary starter label, with people calling for him to be replaced because he was deemed not good enough to win a championship.
So not being able to finish what he started while someone else led his team to the finish line of glory seems fitting in an odd way, even though the unfair narrative attached to MBT’s career has faded away.
Chad Kelly is supposed to be anointed as the Argonauts’ starter at some point. Based on his heroic efforts in the Grey Cup. Kelly’s time as Toronto’s leader of tomorrow may have arrived sooner than anticipated. The CFL and the grand stage of the Grey Cup for ‘Swag’ Kelly weren’t big enough to deter him. Kelly seized the moment and played like he was born to be the man in the final moments of his first year in Canada.
As a result, the entire CFL took notice. There will be no shortage of suitors for Kelly’s services. However, with uncertainty surrounding the return of MBT, the time might be now for Toronto to turn the page a year sooner than they anticipated with Kelly, even though there could be a robust market for him.
In one of the most outstanding CFL trades of the modern era, Pinball Clemons, John Murphy, and the astute Argos front office freed up cap space, dealt away Nick Arbuckle, and obtained a second-round pick and the rights to Chad Kelly. The Boatmen then inked Chad Kelly to a team-friendly, incentive-laden two-year deal in 2022. Quite the bargain for someone who could be the league’s best quarterback in the coming years.
Kelly’s deal for 2022 included $67,000 in salary — slightly more than the CFL league minimum of $65,000 — along with $12,000 in housing money. Chad Kelly’s contract in 2023 could see a significant boost depending on playing time incentives. Next season, Kelly’s base deal jumps to 75k, and he could total well over $225,000 if he meets additional incentives as a starter.
Kelly will earn $3,333.33 each time he takes 51 percent or more of Toronto’s offensive snaps in a regular season game (something he achieved in the 2022 season finale) and an additional $10,000 if he starts ten or more games in 2023. He could also earn $1,500 if he passes for 1,000 yards, $3,000 if he passes for 2,000 yards, $5,000 if he passes for 3,000 yards, $10,000 if he passes for 4,000 yards, and $15,000 if he passes for 5,000 yards. He will also collect $5,000 if he finishes top three in CFL touchdown passes and another $5,000 if he finishes top three in CFL passing yards.
Chad Kelly could also receive a $2,500 bonus if he is named an East Division all-star, a $5,000 bonus if he is named a CFL all-star, and a $15,000 bonus if he is named the league’s Most Outstanding Player.
The nephew of the legendary Jim Kelly is on a redemption arc in his career. Chad Kelly is highly motivated to prove that he is a star whose light was only dimmed temporarily. Are the Boatmen ready to turn over the controls of their entire ship to Chad Kelly now? If they aren’t, someone else likely will.
Toronto Argonauts 2023 Impending Free Agents
The CFL’s free agency period opens on Feb. 14, 2023, at noon ET. The Argos have 26 impending free agents. A lot can happen in the next two months, but Toronto could decide to move on from several veterans on their roster.
The following Toronto Argonauts players will become free agents should they not re-sign.
|AMOS DaShaun||A||DB||East Carolina|
|BETHEL-THOMPSON McLeod||A||QB||Sacramento State|
|BRESCACIN Juwan||N||DL||Northern Iowa|
|DANIEL Robertson||A||DB||Brigham Young|
|DANIELS DaVaris||A||WR||Notre Dame|
|DAVIS Ja’Gared||A||DL||Southern Methodist|
|GITTENS JR. Kurleigh||N||WR||Wilfrid Laurier|
|HARRIS Andrew||N||RB||Nanaimo Raiders Jr.|
|MUAMBA Henoc||N||LB||St. Francis Xavier|
|ROGERS Eric||A||WR||California Lutheran|
|SMITH Robbie||N||DL||Wilfrid Laurier|
Depending on how you want to characterize certain players on this list. As many as 20 potential starters from the Argos’ 2022 lineup could hit the open market.
Outside of the quarterback position, which carries excellent drama. The future of Veteran superstars like RB Andrew Harris, DE JaGared Davis, and even LB Henoc Muamba also merits worthy intrigue.
Veteran Swan Songs And No Brainer Re-Signings
Andrew Harris and Henoc Muamba had potential Hollywood-like endings in the Grey Cup.
Andrew Harris had a triumphant return in the playoffs and won his fourth Grey Cup against his former team. His third consecutive championship in Canada. The sure-fire first ballot hall of Famer and Canadian legend will be 36 next season. Harris has nothing left to prove, and a future in coaching awaits him whenever he decides to hang it up.
The Argonauts have a real gem waiting at running back in A.J. Ouellette. However, there’s also the matter of inking him up in 2023. The 2022 East All-Star at RB was one of the league’s most well-rounded backs last season, and Toronto can’t let him run away.
Henoc Muamba had the ultimate storybook ending in the Grey Cup. The 33-year-old won a championship with his hometown team. And on the biggest stage, rightfully earned a career achievement award by banking home the Most Valuable Player and Canadian honours.
Muamba was at the top of his game as a leader on and off the field in 2022. The beloved figure has a bright future in broadcasting if he chooses that route entirely. But he seems destined to make a great coach or front-office figure if that’s his next chosen path.
Losing Muamba to the next phase of his professional life would be a tough blow for Toronto. So putting that off for another year would be a significant priority for the Argonauts front office, although that seems very unlikely.
Sign Ja’Gared Davis as a free agent, and your team will play in next year’s Grey Cup. The 32-year-old pass rusher will be shooting for his seventh straight championship game next year. The question is, will he be doing it again in an Argonauts’ uniform?
Toronto has a lot of young emerging talent on their defensive line. Like Ali Fayad, Brandon Barlow, and impending free agent and Grey Cup Hero Robbie Smith. The latter may take premium priority because of his emergence and his value as a national player.
There’s also the matter of deciding whether to bring back Shane Ray, who hasn’t avoided the injury bug north of the border, despite showing stretches of brilliance. Could Toronto seek to push the can down the road for another year with Davis and Ray?
At Wide Receiver, Toronto has intriguing decisions to make. Brandon Banks is another veteran like Davis, who was brought on board to help the Argos hoist a trophy. The soon-to-be 35-year-old Speedy B is under contract for the 2023 season. But it’s possible that the Boatmen could decide to move on from him. Banks’ days as a difference-maker appear to be behind him.
One veteran receiver who is a free agent and will likely not return unless it’s under a team-friendly deal is Eric Rogers. The standout pass-catcher and blocker has not been able to stay healthy in his time in the Six.
DaVaris Daniels, Juwan Brescasin, and Markeith Ambles are also impending free agents. All three vets have excellent knowledge and chemistry in Ryan Dinwiddie and Pete Costanza’s offence. All three provide excellent value to Toronto, but at what price will they be brought back? Daniels above them all seems like a must-re-sign option.
The name that stands out the most on the free-agent list at the receiver position is superstar Kurleigh Gittens Jr.
The Wilfred-Laurier product would have several suitors if he hit the open market. Notwithstanding the fact that Gittens is only 25 years old. But the Canadian All-Star’s appeal goes beyond his nationality. He is one of the league’s best receivers. But the Canadian thing doesn’t hurt. A team like Gittens home town, REDBLACKS, could be willing to spend above market value to secure his services. The Argos must do whatever it takes to keep their homegrown 2019 third-round pick in-house for a long time.
Kicker/Punter/Kickoff Specialist Boris Bede had a down year for the Double Blue in 2022. After being a lifesaver in more ways than one a season ago. Mickey Donovan will have an interesting decision regarding who kicks field goals for his unit in 2023. Does he run it back with the beloved Bede, or will Toronto let Boris walk and ink a more consistent veteran free-agent option?
Changes On The Toronto Argonauts Offensive Line
The best-kept secret of the Argonauts’ 2022 championship run was the brilliant signing of NFL final cut Ryan Hunter in the early fall. The Ontario native and former Argos’ draft pick in 2018 returned home, and his return paid enormous dividends for the Double Blue late in the year.
Hunter quickly became a starter and upgraded the Boatmen’s ground game immensely. Ryan Hunter’s ascent and the experience gained by 2022 first-round pick Gregor MacKellar may have opened the door for a different-looking Toronto line in 2023. Specifically on the interior.
Justin Lawrence’s position on the interior of the Argos line as a starter could be filled with the on-field return of 2021 East All-Star Peter Nicastro at centre. Lawrence may not be retained next season, with Toronto having multiple young draft picks like Nicastro and Bryadon Noll on the roster.
Toronto also has a difficult decision to make at offensive tackle. Does the team run it back with the 37-year-old free agent to be Philip Blake? Or will the team consider a younger option to pair up with standout tackle Dejon Allen in 2023? Blake is one of the unsung Argos’ heroes for what he accomplished this past season, playing out of position for the good of the team. But the business of football is a harsh reality.
The Argos could also be parting ways with OTs Isiah Cage and Trevon Tate. The two free-agent tackles were unable to stay healthy in 2022. Even if one or both come back, Toronto’s personnel department, led by the brilliant Vince Magri, will indeed look at Canadian OT prospects in the draft to pair up with the team’s successful run of draft choices on the interior.
Corey Mace’s Toronto Argonauts Defence Could See Changes
Based on his brilliant first year as a defensive coordinator. It won’t be long before Corey Mace is a head coach in the CFL. When you win a championship and have the leadership qualities Maces possesses. It’s a question of when not if. Mace has already been interviewed by the Ottawa REDBLACKS.
Provided that Corey Mace is back steering the Boatmen’s defensive ship in 2023. He could have some new captains on board. Or, at the very least, a reshuffling of the deck.
Notwithstanding the uncertainty attached to veterans like Henoc Muamba and Ja’Gared Davis. Toronto’s top priority should be bringing back linebacker Wynton McManis. Arguably, the best free-agent pickup in the CFL last season. McManis, a genuine defensive player of the candidate in 2022, is a must-re-sign for the Boatmen.
Is this the end of the road for Chris Edwards in Toronto? The enigmatic superstar defensive player might rub some people the wrong way. But in his stay in the Six, there have been very few players as impactful as he has been when his head has been on straight. Someone will get headaches with Edwards on their team in 2023, but the benefit of his talent usually outweighs the negatives.
The Argonauts coaching tandem in their secondary of Joshua Bell and William Fields proved to be an excellent duo. Despite injuries and several lineup changes throughout 2022. Bell and Fields got a lot out of multiple players in their scheme. Maurice Carnell IV, Robert Preister, and Tarvarus McFadden were virtual unknowns who played significant roles in 2022. Players like them could be required to do more in 2023 if the team decides to part ways with any of their veteran free agents in the secondary, like Shaq Richardson, Robertson Daniel, DaShaun Amos, or Royce Metchie.
It’s unlikely that the Argos pass on re-signing all their veteran free-agent defensive backs. But picking and choosing who stays and goes could come down to Toronto’s cap space and belief in their emerging young reserve players.
The unheralded aspect of why the Toronto Argonauts won a CFL championship in 2022 was their stellar depth up and down the roster. Look no further than the impact that was made in the Grey Cup by the team’s backups at quarterback and running back. The Argos don’t get to the Grey Cup or hoist a trophy if not for the team’s overall roster quality. Maintaining that team strength next season will be the challenge this off-season.
Keeping the band together will be difficult for the new CFL champs.
Avoiding The Perils Of Recent Argos Championship Teams
The goal for Michael ‘Pinball’ Clemons, Ryan Dinwiddie, and the team’s brass is not to repeat the pattern of Argos championship teams of recent memory. Five years ago, Toronto won it all in upset fashion but hit rock bottom immediately following the Argos’ 17th Grey Cup victory. The two miserable seasons of Boatmen football in 2018 and 2019 led to a complete organizational reset.
There are no guarantees that the Argonauts will repeat as Grey Cup champs next season. After all, what Winnipeg accomplished with an opportunity of winning three straight must be celebrated. But for Toronto to turn the corner and prove that Grey Cup 109 wasn’t a flash in the pan. The Argos must maintain and continue their winning ways.
The steps the Argonauts take this coming offseason will determine if the team’s recent success is built to stand the test of time.
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