This current era of Toronto Argonauts football has been, with rare exceptions, disappointing.
Disappointing because the Argos have played mostly lousy football since moving to BMO Field in 2016, and disappointing because their move to a smaller outdoor stadium hasn’t translated into a better support at the gate.
There was once optimism that leaving the cavernous Rogers Centre would reinvigorate the Argonaut brand and mean stronger ticket sales, especially if Toronto could put an exciting, winning product on the field.
Instead, the Argos have ranked last in attendance each of their four seasons at BMO, while their overall regular season record during that span – 22 wins against 50 losses – is at the very bottom of the CFL.
Selling winning CFL football in Toronto would still present challenges, but the Argos’ play hasn’t helped.
Toronto has burned through two general managers and three head coaches over those four seasons at BMO, mostly because of poor defence and the inability to solve the quarterback situation.
After being injured through most of 2016, former Argo quarterback Ricky Ray rebounded the next season to lead the Argos to a 9-9 regular season and unlikely Grey Cup win.
But the Argos never recovered after Ray was injured during the second week of the 2018 season.
Backup quarterback James Franklin, whom Toronto had acquired after the 2017 season with designs on him being the future starter, didn’t pan out that season, nor in 2019 after Ray retired. And while McLeod Bethel-Thompson continued to improve over those two seasons, he was still very much in development as a CFL quarterback.
Toronto’s struggles on the defensive side of the ball have been just as troubling. Over the 2018 and 2019 seasons combined, the Argos gave up 1,098 points – a two-season average of 30.5 per points surrendered per game.
It is perhaps no surprise then the Argonauts will look very different personnel-wise in 2021, with a roster that’s been overhauled in each of the past two seasons.
But it’s a roster that still has a lot of questions to answer, particularly at the game’s most important position.
What They’ve Been Doing Since We Last Saw Them
It was late in the 2019 season that the Argos replaced former GM Jim Popp with the team of general manger Michael Clemons and vice-president of player personnel, John Murphy.
Clemons returned to the Argos in his first football operations capacity since 2009, paired with Murphy, who has held similar roles in Winnipeg, Calgary, and Saskatchewan.
Ryan Dinwiddie becomes Toronto’s fourth head coach in five seasons, coming over from Calgary where he was quarterback coach.
Solving the Argos quarterback situation will be first on his to-do list, in a plot that’s already had some interesting twists.
A year ago, the Argos signed former Winnipeg quarterback Matt Nichols, despite the fact he was coming off a shoulder injury. But when Nichols and the Argos couldn’t agree on re-doing the terms of his contract after the cancelled season, the veteran went to Ottawa at roughly the same time the Redblacks were releasing quarterback Nick Arbuckle.
Arbuckle, who had started seven games in 2019 for Dinwiddie with Calgary, then signed with Toronto, setting up an open competition with Bethel-Thompson at training camp.
In a league where you’re likely going to need two quarterbacks, the Argos duo isn’t bad. The question is: Do they have a true No. 1?
Beyond that, whoever is under centre will have no shortage of quality targets, with a veteran receiving group that includes former Stamps Juwan Brescacin and Eric Rogers and former Edmonton receivers DaVaris Daniels and Ricky Collins Jr. – none of whom were in Toronto last season.
Dejon Brissett, the No. 2 overall pick of the 2020 draft who played at the University of Virginia, will see playing time as well. Former Steeler and Raider Martavis Bryant is another option if he can get his passport issues cleared up.
The Argonauts have also added plenty of recognizable names to the defensive side of the football under new co-ordinator Glen Young.
Linebackers Henoc Muamba (Montreal) and Cam Judge (Saskatchewan) were last season’s two nominees for Most Outstanding Canadian, while defensive end Charleston Hughes (Saskatchewan) was the CFL’s sack leader.
Linebacker Dexter McCoil, who has experience in both the CFL and NFL, is another quality add. And if former NFLers Kony Ealy and Shane Ray are in shape and motivated, they could contribute to what should be a vastly improved defence from a year ago.