For the first half of this CFL season, the single biggest conversation concerning the Edmonton Eskimos will be the absence of Ricky Ray at quarterback, and his presence with the Toronto Argonauts.
The two teams meet in the opening week of the season, with the game either quelling the criticisms of the trade (if Edmonton wins) or exploding further intense reaction (if Toronto wins).
Ray's greatest asset as a QB is that he doesn't make many mistakes; he doesn't beat himself. Edmonton finished last season with the fewest giveaways with only 29, five less than the Grey Cup champion BC Lions.
Ball security, and winning the takeaway battle, is always a priority. Ray doesn't give the ball away very often.
In many ways, trading Ray was used to improve the overall team roster. There are conflicting theories in football: one is that you must have the best players in key positions to win, the other is that you need a lot of good players in all positions to win. Both can work, and Edmonton chose the latter.
I am not sure who will start at QB for Edmonton this year. Steven Jyles has youth and potential, Kerry Joseph has experience and leadership, but neither is Ricky Ray.
From the trade, Edmonton will get a good multi-purpose player in K/P Grant Shaw, a possible starter in Jyles, and a future Canadian starter from the draft pick. They'll also be able to stay under the salary cap, which is a major consideration. But the future is always now in football and Ray has the ability and experience to get it done right now.
Because of all the attention devoted to the Ray trade, it is easy to forget that Edmonton may have the best defensive front seven in the league, that JC Sherritt may be the best young MLB in the CFL, and that Marcus Howard may be the best one-on-one pass rusher in the country.
The Eskimos also have a collection of good receivers, one that has proven experience in Fred Stamps, and a number with exceptional height and reach.
Edmonton's Canadian talent continues to improve each and every year, this year being no exception, and the organization has the best training facilities of any CFL team.
Point being that there is an immense amount of positives for the Eskimos to concentrate on this year, but none of them handle the ball each and every play. Bottom line, this trade is a huge risk.
A key component now for Edmonton is offensive coordinator Marcus Crandell. It is one thing to coach a QB like Ray and get the most out of him; it's another thing to coach QBs of varied skill sets and ability like the ones currently on the Eskimos roster.
If Crandell can get the most out of the players he has, he'll have quickly moved up in the coaching ranks by the end of the season. But getting the most means winning 10-14 games.
I truly believe the toughest position in all of team sports is quarterback. You're not only responsible for your own play, but also directing and enhancing the performance of 11 other players as well. You have to be able to perform at a high level while constantly being under the threat of physical punishment. And the QB gets a lot of blame when his team loses, and often doesn't get the credit as the reason the team won.
Ricky Ray has all three of those qualities. Well, he has them in Toronto now.
It was a big risk by Edmonton. Will they see the benefits from it? That's the question of the season for the Eskimos.