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Kelly, Argos have much to gain from long-term deal

Chad Kelly Toronto Argonauts Julian Howsare Calgary Stampeders Chad Kelly Julian Howsare - The Canadian Press

Roughly 15 months after he first crossed the border in an effort to resurrect his pro football career, Chad Kelly stood under brilliant sunshine on Thursday following practice and recited all the things that have gone right in his life since that time: the return of his love for the game, the most fun he’s had since he played for the Grand Island (N.Y.) Vikings when he was a kid, being part of a winning Argonauts squad, and the girlfriend he met in Toronto last summer.

He could have added signing a new contract extension that will make him the Canadian Football League’s highest-paid player next season and the face of the Argos franchise until at least 2026.

Toronto is now his long-term home, which is a dream for a player who grew up just two hours away in Western New York.

That is unless the National Football League should come calling, a notion Kelly all but dismissed following the announcement of his new deal, repeating his commitment to the Argos while stopping short of shutting the door all together.

But there was nothing in the things Kelly said or the way that he said that them that would lead one to believe he thinks he’ll be playing quarterback somewhere else a year from now.

Like many before him, Kelly has learned that to really appreciate and enjoy where he is in life, he had to let go of where he once thought he would be.

It’s undoubtedly part of the formula he’s used this season, his first as Toronto’s No. 1 quarterback, where he’s been nothing short of sensational in leading the Argonauts to a CFL-best 8-1 mark. 

In Kelly the Argos have a unicorn – an NFL-calibre player at the game’s most important position who isn’t much of a threat to end up back in that league. 

The reasons for that have nothing to do with his skills and everything to do with the way NFL teams develop their quarterback depth charts. Kelly, 29, doesn’t really have a natural fit. 

No NFL team is going to offer him a No. 1 job based off of his play in one CFL season. He’s also not an ideal fit for a No. 2 role, given that those players are usually either high draft picks or NFL veterans with some starting experience who are there to mentor young quarterbacks. The No. 3 guys are usually younger, developmental players.

Kelly, who will be 30 next season, doesn’t fit any of those moulds. And while it’s possible he could draw some NFL interest this off-season, he’s not at the stage of his career where he’d drop everything for a hope-and-prayer shot.

The Argonauts are the beneficiaries of all this, and they couldn’t be happier.

The challenges of building the Argonaut brand in Toronto have been well-documented. It’s not easy to move the needle in a market dominated by NHL, NBA, and MLB teams, and with the NFL just across the lake. 

But Kelly gives the Argos a way to try to find the limits.

Halfway through his first season as the Argonauts starter, Kelly is already one of the game’s best quarterbacks and is in the conversation as one of the league’s most exciting players. 

Can he help the Argonauts build a bigger audience? We’re about to find out because, as of Thursday, he’s the face of this franchise.

Argonaut owners have tried almost everything over the years, but the one thing they haven’t had going for them is a consistent winner.

Since 1997, the final year Doug Flutie played in Toronto, no Argonaut team has won more than 11 regular-season games in a season. Over those 24 seasons, Argo teams have had single-digit wins in 18 of them. 

No doubt part of the challenge to marketing the Argos in Toronto has been teams that either weren’t very good or very exciting.

There’s no guarantee that Kelly-led Argo teams can continue to deliver what they have so far this season, but the Argonauts brass saw enough this season to want to find out. 

And in doing so have given themselves a name and a face they can use to market this franchise in way they haven’t enjoyed in a very long time.

The Argonauts need Kelly as much he needs them. Both sides have much to gain from a relationship that is just beginning.