Matt Dunigan believes Argos’ Chad Kelly still too ‘wet behind the ears’ to be CFL starter

Graphic: 3DownNation (Photos: Bob Butrym | Arthur Ward)

Toronto Argonauts’ backup quarterback Chad Kelly has been vocal about his desire to be a starter as soon as possible, but one of the best passers in CFL history doesn’t believe he’s ready for the gig.

Canadian Football Hall of Famer and CFL on TSN panellist Matt Dunigan joined 620 CKRM’s The SportsCage this week and addressed speculation that the quarterback-needy Saskatchewan Roughriders might attempt a trade for Kelly in order to fill their vacant starting role.

“You certainly can get him on there and let him compete for a starting job but, no, he hasn’t played the game enough to be a legitimate number-one starter to be hanging their hat on, particularly there in Saskatchewan,” Dunigan insisted. “I don’t see that happening. He’s still wet behind the ears.”

The 28-year-old Kelly signed with the Argonauts last offseason after a four-year stint in the NFL, winning the backup job in training camp. He amassed six rushing touchdowns in his first season as the short-yardage quarterback, making his lone start in the regular-season finale against Montreal. He went 23-of-35 passing for 264 yards with two touchdowns and one interception in that outing, 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 starter McLeod 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 and the quarterback has used the platform to market his potential as a starter, either in the NFL or CFL.

“Chad may want an opportunity to start and he may be seeking another opportunity in the National Football League or an opportunity to start in the CFL but he’s got to make that happen himself because he hasn’t done enough on the football field in order to be considered and be brought in and be given the reins to an organization,” Dunigan said.

“He’s gonna have to continue to earn that and prove that he knows how to read a defence consistently and hang on to the football and direct the football team both on and off the football field. I think he’s maybe a year or two out from that.”

With Bethel-Thompson still a pending free agent and rumoured to be contemplating retirement, some feel Kelly should be the quarterback of the Argos next season. However, team management has said they will not hand him the keys uncontested.

Saskatchewan has been floated as the likeliest trade destination should Toronto opt to ship away their highly-touted prospect and Kelly has stated publicly that he would “love” to play for the Riders. However, Dunigan warns about betting too much on a player with limited CFL experience.

“It took me a good seven, maybe eight, years to figure out the game before I felt like I could go out there like Rambo and say, ‘Bring it on. I’ve got everything covered here. You can’t beat me,'” he recalled.

“But you’ve got to be competitive in that process of learning the game and win football games. You can’t just be making one error and bad decision after another, you’ve got to be able to lead your team to the promised land.”

Kelly believes that his background makes him uniquely suited for an early starting opportunity. The nephew of Pro Football Hall of Famer Jim Kelly has been around the sport his entire life and became a household name while quarterbacking the Ole Miss Rebels.

Off-the-field issues caused him to fall to the final pick in the 2017 NFL Draft and eventually caused him to flame out of the league following stints with the Denver Broncos and Indianapolis Colts, but his talent level was never in doubt.

The potential is there should a team be willing to gamble on his upside, something the Riders might have no other option but to do.

“Gord Miller told me a long time ago, ‘Matty, if you don’t have a quarterback, you don’t have a chance to win in the Canadian Football League. If you do, you’ve got a chance and you’re in the game,'” Dunigan explained.

“Saskatchewan gotta find one and that’s a big question. There’s a lot on [head coach Craig Dickenson’s] head right now.”