The CFL Free Agency period has been a busy time for CFL teams, but the Toronto Argonauts have had a tougher time pursuing targets.
The Toronto Argonauts were not expected to be an attractive team during the CFL free agency period. Without a general manager and head coach, it is tough to sell free agents on what the 2017 Argos will hope to accomplish.
Having said that, give assistant general manager Spencer Zimmerman credit. The Argonauts have been pursuing the top free agents, but having no luck in closing the deal.
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The Saskatchewan Roughriders have been big spenders in free agency, with a lot of pressure on Chris Jones to turn things around after the opening of the new Mosaic Stadium. They were aggressive in their pursuit of Derrick Dennis, who became the highest paid offensive lineman in the CFL.
Former Argos receiver Chad Owens was signed to a two-year contract, after a season with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Running back Kienan LaFrance received a hefty pay day after a 157-yard, one TD and a two-point convert in the Eastern Final, which propelled the Ottawa RedBlacks to the Grey Cup.
Speaking of the reigning Grey Cups champions, the RedBlacks did not sit back when free agency opened. They were the most active team, signing Khalil Bass, Ron Omara, Adam Berger and former Argos Kenny Shaw, Diontae Spencer and AJ Jefferson.
The RedBlacks had no choice but to be aggressive in free agency, because many of their players also moved on to opportunities in the NFL.
For their part, the Argos did make attempts to bring back Shaw, went after Owens, are in talks with Ernest Jackson, and made offers to other top free agents. Here is what they were able to do after two days of free agency:
With Ricky Ray’s status for 2017 up in the air the Argos went out and got Mathews, who only played one game last season. In 35 games, Mathews is 136-for-206 for 1659 yards seven TDs and nine interceptions. He has a strong chance to get some playing time, since Drew Willy and Ray have had their issues staying healthy. At 25-years old there is still room to grow for Mathews and Toronto looks like the right spot for him to do so.
Venable is a strong upgrade to the Argos defence as an All-Star linebacker, coming from a strong defensive team in Montreal. Last season he recorded a career-high in sacks with seven, had 88 tackles and a forced fumble. In 2015 he had a career high in tackles (103) and forced fumbles (three) and will be a strong replacement for Cory Greenwood. He also had stints in the NFL with the Kansas City Chiefs and the Detroit Lions.
The 22nd overall pick in the 2014 draft had seven defensive tackles and three special teams tackles last season. He has not played more than 10 games in the CFL and will likely get increased playing time in Toronto. At 25-years old it works into the Argos game plan to go with younger options looking to make an impact with more playing time.
Mostly used as a special teams player, he had six special teams tackles with Winnipeg last season and will likely play primarily on special teams.
There are still many free agents out there, with Jackson being at the top of the list. Others include Shakir Bell, Chris Getzlaf, Andy Fantuz, John Chiles and J’Michael Deane.
It will be tough to expect the Argonauts to be big players in free agency, although there is still a chance for them to make improvements to the team. Unfortunately though, it does not look like Toronto is at the top of player’s desirable places to play.
Maybe flexing their financial muscle and being more aggressive could help. However, it has not been the start that Argos fans wanted to see.