Toronto Argonauts’ quarterback Chad Kelly has fond memories of Regina after playing hero in the 109th Grey Cup, but he wouldn’t mind making his association with the city more permanent.
Joining 620CKRM‘s The SportsCage this week, the second-year backup reiterated his desire to become a starter in the CFL as soon as possible, despite sitting behind CFL passing yardage leader McLeod Bethel-Thompson on the Argos depth chart.
“1,000 percent,” Kelly emphasized. “Am I ready? I am ready. I’ve been ready.”
Bethel-Thompson is scheduled to hit free agency next month and has been rumoured to be contemplating retirement, but Argos’ management has expressed a desire to see him return to the fold. Kelly believes the veteran will return as well, putting a wrench in his plans to take over the starting job.
While some believe that Toronto should bet on the 28-year-old’s upside and make the switch, the club has made clear that while they are comfortable with Kelly starting, they won’t hand him the reins uncontested. Ever since his heroics in November, that has led to speculation that a quarterback-needy team like the Saskatchewan Roughriders might be interested in trading for the promising prospect.
Though he was cautious not to openly advocate for a move, that’s a possibility that Kelly would not be opposed to.
“I can’t be reactive, I’ve got to be proactive in everything I do, obviously. I just want to be the best player I can be whatever situation that is. But of course, I’d love to play in Saskatchewan,” he acknowledged.
“You’ve got the best fans that are in the CFL, obviously the fan base is huge, and Naaman Roosevelt, he’s on staff. To be honest, that’s the reason why I came to the CFL, after speaking to Naaman. I went to high school at his high school and he’s really the main reason why I wanted to go to that high school. I look up to Naaman and think very highly of him. I just think that it could definitely be a good fit.”
Kelly arrived in the CFL in 2022 with plenty of acclaim, having risen to national prominence while quarterbacking Ole Miss. Off-the-field issues caused him to fall to the final pick in the 2017 NFL Draft and eventually flame out of the NFL after stints with the Denver Broncos and Indianapolis Colts, but his skillset remained highly coveted in Canada.
The Edmonton Elks traded Kelly’s rights to the Argos in exchange for quarterback Nick Arbuckle in 2021 after the Buffalo native made clear that he would only sign with Toronto. Kelly joined the team the following training camp and quickly won the backup job, but made just one start in his first CFL season. He went 23-of-35 passing for 264 yards with two touchdowns and one interception in the regular-season finale against Montreal, rushing six times for 35 yards and a score.
Despite his lack of meaningful playing time, Kelly became the biggest story of Toronto’s Grey Cup victory. Forced to come off the bench in the fourth quarter after Bethel-Thompson dislocated his thumb, he completed four-of-six passes for 43 yards and set up the game-winning touchdown with a memorable 20-yard scramble on second-and-15 to secure a 24-23 upset of the two-time defending champion Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
That win generated renewed media interest in Kelly on both sides of the border but none of it would have been possible were it not for Roosevelt. The former Riders’ receiver and recently hired assistant coach sold him on the prospect of playing in the CFL while working out during the offseason.
“I think the biggest thing was he’s like, ‘You’ve got the arm to make every single throw and imagine guys running full speed ahead at the line of scrimmage and defensive backs are sitting at eight yards,'” Kelly recalled. “The field is obviously wider and he just made everything kind of seem like it was natural. Throwing with him when I was in NFL, he still wanted to run some CFL routes waggling up to the line and everything and it just felt like it would be a fun opportunity.”
It has proven to be just that, but the clock is ticking for the nephew of Pro Football Hall of Famer Jim Kelly to achieve starting success like his uncle. The Argos’ backup came north to attempt an NFL comeback; a goal that is difficult to accomplish while riding the pine.
“Obviously, I wanted to showcase my skills,” Kelly said. “I’m still trying to reach my goal of getting to the top level and I’m trying to do whatever I have to, but I need to get on the field as soon as possible to showcase my talent.”
If that opportunity doesn’t present itself during the final year of his contract in Toronto, all options could be on the table.