The Montreal Alouettes recently made a pair of blockbuster trades that brought sweeping change to the club’s roster.
Johnny Manziel, Tony Washington, and Landon Rice were acquired from the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on July 24th, all of whom have since joined the starting line-up. The price for the trio? A pair of veterans in Jamaal Westerman and Chris Williams and the club’s first-round draft picks in 2020 and 2021. Montreal appears to be without in-house options to replace either all-star, but the Alouettes’ roster woes are an issue for another column.
Kavis Reed then made a trade with the Toronto Argonauts that sent all-star guard Ryan Bomben and a 2020 fifth-round pick in exchange for defensive back T.J. Heath and a 2020 third-round pick. Heath fills a trouble spot in the Als’ secondary at boundary halfback, but giving up a national offensive lineman for an international defensive back is questionable value.
There’s no changing the past. History can’t be rewritten and trades can’t be undone. Hindsight being 20/20, however, I’d like to suggest an alternative way in which the Alouettes could have gone about acquiring a new starting quarterback — and given up fewer assets in the process.
McLeod Bethel-Thompson won his first career CFL start with the Argos in a spectacular come-from-behind victory over the Ottawa Redblacks this past weekend. After a shaky first half, Bethel-Thompson finished the game with 25 completions on 37 attempts for 302 yards, four touchdowns, and one interception.
Bethel-Thompson is still an unproven commodity and one good start hardly proves that he will be a worthy successor to Ricky Ray. Still, we know that the 30-year-old journeyman has earned the respect of his head coach — he was Toronto’s back-up in last year’s Grey Cup game — and that he’s had well over a year to learn Trestman’s system.
The eight-year pro also did a great job of utilizing his best target in S.J. Green, connecting with the veteran slotback nine times for 134 yards and two touchdowns against Ottawa. Green had a quiet start to the season, recording just 28 receptions for 285 yards and zero touchdowns in his first six games. Maximizing Green’s production — something Bethel-Thompson seems capable of doing — could be the key to kick-starting Toronto’s offensive attack.
Bethel-Thompson’s success is relevant to the Alouettes because it means that another quarterback — one once thought to be the CFL’s next-best-thing — could potentially be available via trade.
James Franklin started four games for Toronto prior to being benched in favour of Bethel-Thompson. After three seasons of spectacular play in Edmonton — highlighted by a 12:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio — Franklin tossed for just 967 yards, two touchdowns, and six interceptions in his four starts with the Argos.
Despite his recent struggles, it’s obvious to see why Montreal would be interested in acquiring Franklin. The 27-year-old Missouri product is young, intelligent, and already well into his fourth CFL season. He’s not a raw rookie struggling to learn the basics of a foreign league; he’s a well-studied veteran who needs the opportunity to apply what he’s learned on the field.
Franklin is a franchise quarterback the Alouettes could build around. He may not have the star power of a celebrity-athlete like Johnny Manziel, but winning is the only way to generate long-term fan interest. Manziel won’t bring victories to Montreal. Franklin may have.
And, considering the talent they’ve recently given up, Montreal had the assets to acquire Franklin.
Toronto has the league’s worst pass rush with just seven sacks this season (for reference, Saskatchewan’s Charleston Hughes has nine). The club never adequately replaced the retired Victor Butler and, as Justin Dunk revealed on the latest episode of the 3DownNation podcast, Toronto traded Shawn Lemon to B.C. believing they’d come to terms with former Stampeder rush end Freddie Bishop. Bishop then signed an NFL contract with Detroit, leaving yet another hole on Toronto’s defensive line.
Jamaal Westerman would have been the perfect addition to Toronto’s front-four. Not only is Westerman a premier CFL pass rusher, but the former all-star is also a national player. Plugging him into the starting line-up would have allowed the Argos to start an extra international player in the receiving corps, an area at which the club currently starts two Canadians.
Enter Chris Williams, arguably the CFL’s best deep threat. Toronto has struggled to replace DeVier Posey since he joined the Baltimore Ravens this past winter. Williams would fill the void left by Posey, the same player who recorded a 100-year touchdown reception in last year’s Grey Cup game.
We also know that Toronto coveted Ryan Bomben given that the veteran guard is currently wearing double blue. Bomben brings a veteran presence to the Argos and gives them the option of starting four national offensive linemen should they choose to do so.
With this in mind, some combination of Jamaal Westerman, Chris Williams, and Ryan Bomben should have been enough to acquire Franklin from Toronto. Montreal may have had to give up more to include T.J. Heath in the deal, but a mid-round draft pick should have been enough. Toronto’s roster needs bolstering in a number of areas and Westerman, Williams, and Bomben bring all-star prowess to key positions of need.
This hypothetical trade wouldn’t be without risk for Toronto. Putting all of your organization’s eggs into McLeod Bethel-Thompson’s basket is worrisome considering his lack of experience, but the rest of the deal makes perfect sense. Ricky Ray being on the six-game injured list makes salary cap implications a non-issue for Toronto, while the organization game up just one player — offensive lineman Mason Woods — to acquire him. Getting three all-star players back is an excellent trade-off.
And, for Montreal, this deal is a slam dunk. The struggling franchise gets a new (legitimate) starting quarterback who’s under contract through 2019. And the Als get to keep their valuable first-round draft picks in 2020 and 2021, bolstering their Canadian talent for years to come.
It’s easy to point out roster moves that teams should have made after the fact — as mentioned above, hindsight is 20/20. Still, had the Alouettes been focused solely on improving on the field (rather than at the ticket box), this deal would have far better served Montreal as they attempt to regain respectability.