Boom or bust: will big-name Argos sink or stay afloat when ship sets sail?

Photo courtesy: Toronto Argonauts

The Toronto Argonauts have spent the last few months completely overhauling their roster.

A lot of that is for good reason. The Argos were terrible in 2019. Their campaign began with a lot of hope, which was almost immediately snuffed out in 50-point loss at home to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in their season opener.

Things never really got better after that. An 0-6 start sunk them fast, and when the dust settled the team limped across the finish line with a 4-14 record and missed the playoffs for the third time in four years.

It has been an odd decade for the Double Blue. They have won more Grey Cups than any team in the CFL other than Calgary — the Stamps have also won two since 2011 — but have notched double-digit-win seasons just twice over the span and have finished last in the East three times.

For contrast, Calgary have won 11 or more games every year since 2011, have hosted a playoff game in eight straight years, and been to five Grey Cup games. The Argos and Stamps might have the same amount of titles, but one team is a perennial contender while the other gets hot once every five years.

With the team needing to become a consistent contender and gain traction in a crowded Toronto sports market, the Argos got busy bringing in a lot of big names in the hopes of changing their fortunes. CFL veterans like Charleston Hughes, Eric Rogers, Nick Arbuckle, Juwan Brescacin, DaVaris Daniels, John White IV, Henoc Muamba, Cameron Judge, and Cordarro Law have been airlifted in over the last year, bringing a ton of experience.

They also added former NFLers like Martavis Bryant, Shane Ray, Kendall Wright, Kony Ealy, Eli Harold and Bishop Sankey to compete for roster spots. They just recently added Ricky Collins Jr. and Dexter McCoil to their already start-studded roster, both of whom have had all-star-calibre CFL seasons in the past.

The Argos bringing in all these names has fans of the Double Blue understandably excited, but this much roster overhaul does come with its drawbacks (and a history of not working out).

We have seen plenty of teams try to remake their team, though few this drastically. The mid-2000s Tiger-Cats spring immediately to mind as a team that made it a habit of winning the “off-season Grey Cup” only to fail to produce any sort of on-field success.

Hamilton brought in the likes of Jason Maas, Casey Printers, Chris Brazzell, Josh Ranek, Corey Holmes, Kenton Keith, and Terry Vaughn between 2005 and 2008 all with the idea that they would help them get out of the CFL’s basement. That didn’t happen.

The Ticats would win just 15 games over those four seasons and finish last in the East Division every single year. It wasn’t until the team brought in the respected personnel man Bob O’Billovich to run the team in late 2008 that things finally turned the corner. Since then the Ticats have signed some big-name players, but we haven’t seen the turnover like we did during that horrendous four-year run for the franchise.

Hamilton made those moves over the course of many off-seasons, each year hoping a signing or two would change the team’s fortunes. It didn’t work out.

The Argos are making all of these changes over essentially one off-season, which comes with its own perils. How will all these players gel? How many will actually stick with the team? Will any of the former NFL players produce or will they fail like so many before them? Will any of it matter if Nick Arbuckle isn’t the guy at quarterback and Ryan Dinwiddie isn’t the right head coach?

That’s a lot of questions for a team that is admittedly stacked on paper.

Despite the Grey Cup win in 2017, it has been a pretty putrid run for the Argos. They haven’t won double-digit games since their ten-win season in 2015, and have won just 22 games over the last four seasons.

One of those seasons they won the Grey Cup, but they were a 9-9 team in a very bad East Division — that was the year the Ticats started the season 0-8 and finished 6-12, while Montreal would win just three games and finished the year on an eleven-game losing streak.

The 2017 Argos weren’t the 2019 Blue Bombers, who had maybe the best postseason run of any team in recent memory, dispatching of the third, second, and first-ranked teams in the CFL, record-wise, en route to winning their first championship since 1990.

The Argos have a recent championship to hang their hats on, but given how poorly the team has played the last two seasons — back-to-back 4-14 campaigns — that title must feel like a distant memory to the Argos faithful.

Maybe all these moves will get the Argos back into contention or maybe the same fate that befell those Ticats teams from the mid-2000s will turn up in Toronto this year. We won’t know how this season will go until we kick things off next month, but before we start jumping on the good ship Argonaut we better check to make sure there are enough life rafts for people to get off safely if the boat starts sinking.

Josh Smith has been writing about the Ticats and the CFL since 2010 and was sporting his beard way before it was cool. Will be long after, too.