Argos free agency analysis: Grey Cup roster with a McLeod Bethel-Thompson-sized hole

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In a league with traditionally short contracts, where a third of the roster is inevitably heading to free agency, getting back to the Grey Cup game is significantly more difficult than winning it in the first place.

There’s always a team waiting to break the bank for your Grey Cup-winning stars, and another willing to pay a premium for the role players your scouting staff discovered. That’s what makes Winnipeg’s three straight Grey Cup appearances, and Calgary’s before that, so impressive. As it stands today, the Toronto Argonauts are in a good position to defend their title, but they have a McLeod Bethel-Thompson-sized hole to fill.

With the early days of free agency over, let’s take a close look at the Argos roster by position group.

Note: * denotes National player / ** denotes Global player


Photo: Bob Butrym/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

Returning: Ben Holmes, Chad Kelly

Added: none

Lost: McLeod Bethel-Thompson (New Orleans – USFL)

Unsigned: none

Level of confidence: moderate

Bethel-Thompson’s decision to sign with the USFL’s New Orleans Breakers puts the Argonauts in an interesting predicament, though not one they weren’t prepared for. With Bethel-Thompson under centre, the Argos would have been a good bet to come out of the East again. A return to the Grey Cup is certainly possible with Chad Kelly at the helm but I’d want better odds on that wager.

What they should do: I don’t think there’s a free-agent quarterback who gives the Argos a better shot at winning the Grey Cup than Chad Kelly. That’s not to say I don’t have concerns, but his ceiling is as high as any CFL quarterback. I’m also pretty confident in Ben Holmes, who really impressed me at practice last season.

I’d officially name Kelly the starter and try to sign a proven backup with short-yardage experience like Dakota Prukop or Antonio Pipkin to compete with Holmes for the backup job. I realize it isn’t ideal to go into the season with this little CFL experience at QB, but that’s the best decision at this point. Kelly is going into his sixth season of professional football and both he and Holmes are 28, not rookies right out of college.

What they will do: I’ll admit to having raised an eyebrow at head coach Ryan Dinwiddie’s comments at the winter meetings that Kelly would have to beat someone out in camp to be named the starter. I’d dismiss this as “coach speak” but Dinwiddie has always been very forthright in interviews. His frequent support of Kelly means I think he’s still the guy, he’ll just have to earn it.

If Hamilton had released Dane Evans, I think the Argos would have made him an offer. Now that he’s been traded to B.C., they’ll look elsewhere. I wouldn’t be shocked to see a trade for a veteran, but I don’t think the team is in a hurry on this. They’ll also try to bring in someone from their negotiation list like Nate Stanley, a 2020 NFL Draft pick who was released by the Minnesota Vikings last July.

Running Back/Fullback

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Returning: Daniel Adeboboye*, Chase Arseneau*, Joe Carbone*, Adam Cofield, Javon Leake, A.J. Ouellette

Added: Quay Holmes, Mario Villamizar*

Lost: Declan Cross* (retired)

Unsigned: Andrew Harris*

Level of confidence: moderate

Considering they sometimes dressed only two backs last season, the Argos have a surprisingly crowded backfield, especially when you consider linebacker Brandon Calver spent the last four games of 2022 dressed as a fullback. It will only be made more so, as the re-signing of Andrew Harris has not been made official by the team but was reported by 3DownNation‘s Justin Dunk weeks ago.

The retirement of veteran fullback Declan Cross should be a bigger loss, but he didn’t really have a place in Dinwiddie’s offence. In two seasons under Dinwiddie, Cross didn’t have a single carry and logged only six receptions. The most underrated signing of Toronto’s offseason so far might be his replacement in Villamizar. Grey Cup aside, the Argos couldn’t generate any real threat returning punts or kicks last season due to poor blocking. Villamizar was an effective blocker on BC’s punt return team in 2022 and has served as the Lions’ blocking returner, fullback, and rattlesnake in the kickoff return game.

What they should do: I’m sure it’s too late now but I’d sooner bring Harris back as an assistant running backs coach than a player. He’s still one of the best backs in the league but I don’t like budgeting a lot of money for the position and A.J. Ouellette has already been re-signed. Harris is needed more for his leadership and mentorship than anything else, and it is hard to develop Adeboboye with third-string reps.

What they will do: The Harris contract will likely be made official soon and that will be the last running back transaction before camp opens.


Photo: Bob Butrym/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

Returning: Markeith Ambles, Dejon Brissett*, Damonte Coxie, DaVaris Daniels, Kurleigh Gittens Jr.*, Jeremiah Haydel, Tommy Nield*, Cam Phillips

Added: B.J. Byrd, Tanner Gentry, Aleva Hifo, Lonnie Moore IV, Aaron Parker

Lost: Brandon Banks (released) Juwan Brescacin* (Saskatchewan)

Unsigned: Eric Rogers

Level of confidence: moderate

I felt a lot better about this group once the Markeith Ambles re-signing was officially announced, but they’ll remain my biggest concern on the offensive side of the ball until they replace Banks. There are a number of intelligent route-runners here and Daniels and Gittens Jr. are weapons but as they’re currently constructed, this unit doesn’t have a legitimate deep threat to stretch the field and force teams to help overtop. Even with Banks, they struggled to create separation against man coverage last season. Newly signed Aleva Hifo is their only speed merchant, but he’s never played a snap of professional football.

What they should do: This team needs speed, but there aren’t a lot of options available with CFL experience. I’d try to bring in Shaquille Johnson to battle it out with Dejon Brissett out wide on the field side.

What they will do: I think they might bring in one Canadian depth piece and a few more undersized American speedsters like Hifo. Fordham’s Fotis Kokosioulis is lightning fast and on their negotiation list, but he’ll probably hang around the NFL for at least a year because of his speed and absurd highlights. I’m sure the Argos’ scouting staff is scouring the United States for burners seen as too small to play in the NFL.

Offensive Line

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Returning: Dejon Allen, Dariusz Bladek*, Isiah Cage, Theren Churchill*, Ryan Hunter*, Aron Johnson, Gregor MacKellar*, Peter Nicastro*, Shane Richards*, Trevon Tate, Kofi Appiah, Dylan Giffen*, Braydon Noll*

Added: Darius Ciraco*

Lost: Philip Blake* (Saskatchewan), Justin Lawrence* (Montreal)

Unsigned: none

Level of confidence: high

It was almost awkward at the end of last season when the Argos’ offensive line started getting healthy. They had so many quality players and not enough places to put them.

Blake is still a big loss because of his positional flexibility, but I’m not sure he would have been a starter on this team. The loss of East all-star centre Lawrence should also be a blow, but he wouldn’t have started either with Toronto’s other East all-star centre, Nicastro fully recovered from a knee injury suffered in 2021, and the recent signing of Ciraco, who can play anywhere on the inside.

What they should do: Nothing.

What they will do: Nothing.

Defensive Line

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Returning: Sam Acheampong*, Brandon Barlow, Jared Brinkman, Ali Fayad, Dewayne Hendrix, Deionte Knight*, Benoit Marion*, Damontre Moore, Shawn Oakman, Simeon Okonta-Wariso**, Michael Pezzuto*, Robbie Smith*

Added: Thomas Costigan, Tyree Johnson, Folarin Orimolade

Lost: Ja’Gared Davis (Hamilton)

Unsigned: Fabion Foote*, Shane Ray

Level of confidence: high

Toronto’s defensive line is stacked. Seven of these returning players gave Winnipeg’s offensive line fits in the Grey Cup, and they’ve added one of the best defensive ends in the CFL to the group in Orimolade.

The key to Toronto’s defensive success in 2022 was being able to generate pressure and contain mobile quarterbacks with a three and four-man rush, and they’re in an even better position to do that in 2023. It’s the combinations that are so exciting.

What they should do: Bring back Ray. The problem is he’s never been able to stay healthy. This group is deep enough that Ray could be a rotational piece able to come in situationally and go full throttle to get that all-important pressure or sack.

What they will do: Nothing.


Photo: Arthur Ward/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

Returning: Brandon Calver*, Jack Cassar*, Trevor Hoyte*, Jonathan Jones, Daniel Kwamou*, Wynton McManis, Henoc Muamba*, Enoch Penney-Laryea*

Added: Jordan Williams*, Casey Williams

Lost: none

Unsigned: none

Level of confidence: high

I believe it was always the plan to bring back Muamba. It ended up confusing a lot of people since the Argos had just traded their first-round pick to B.C. for Jordan Williams, but that was a deal Toronto simply couldn’t turn down. They’re so deep with Canadian talent, the last pick in the first round meant far more to the Lions than the Argos, and Williams is an excellent player with positional flexibility at the linebacker spot.

I expect Muamba and McManis to start, with Williams joining them on second down. Williams will also sub in for both starters when they need a breather and might end up leading the unit in snaps when all is said and done.

What they should do: Nothing.

What they will do: The Argos have needed depth at the linebacker position in each season since 2017, so I’m sure they’re overjoyed to have six linebackers with starting experience under contract. That said, while Kwamou seems a logical practice roster player, and Casey Williams may need some time to adjust to his new position, the remaining eight linebackers all expect to be active each week.

I don’t think they’re going to dress eight linebackers, especially given the number of running backs they have to field. Would they trade one of their young Canadian linebackers if the price is right? Or what about Jonathan Jones? I think a move is coming before the draft.

Defensive Backs

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Returning: DaShaun Amos, Maurice Carnell IV, Robertson Daniel, Jonathan Edouard*, Josh Hagerty*, Caleb Holden, Tarvarus McFadden, Royce Metchie*, Robert Priester, Tigie Sankoh**, Eric Sutton*

Added: Devin Hafford, JT Hassell, Chris Moore, Adarius Pickett, Quan’tez Stiggers, Keith Washington II

Lost: Chris Edwards (Hamilton), Jamal Peters (Atlanta – NFL)

Unsigned: Shaquille Richardson

Level of confidence: low

This positional group’s best three players from 2022 aren’t on the roster right now. Peters is in Atlanta, Edwards is in Hamilton, and Richardson remains unsigned. Pickett is a proper replacement for Edwards at strong-side linebacker, but I don’t see anyone on this roster who can adequately fill in for either Richardson or Peters. I like Daniel at corner but he’s only played in three games since 2019 and he didn’t make it through two of them.

What they should do: Sign Richardson. The money that had been allotted for Bethel-Thompson should be enough to bring back both he and Ray as mentioned above.

In terms of a replacement corner to play across from McFadden, there just aren’t any experienced CFL corners available who are better than what’s currently on their roster, so I think a trade is the best option. I’d try to acquire Jalon Edwards-Cooper from the B.C. Lions.

After signing Mike Jones, B.C. is probably planning to put Edwards-Cooper back at halfback, but they’ve got other options there. He’d be a great fit as a corner in Toronto. He doesn’t have the size this Argos staff generally like in their corners, but he’s a great communicator who plays with that Peters aggressiveness while still being a sure-tackler, he rarely gambles, and he’s a zone coverage specialist.

What they will do: Signing six defensive backs suggests Toronto is aware of the problem they have in the defensive secondary. The good news is that corners that fit Corey Mace’s defence are easier to find than press-man specialists. The bad news is that his cover-four system takes a lot of time to perfect. As good as Toronto’s secondary was last season, there were busts left and right early on for this exact reason.

Auditioning a number of players for one spot isn’t an efficient use of valuable reps, but I think the Argos believe they’ve got two or more starting corners on this roster. They’re going to try and find out who they are as quickly as possible.


Photo: Michael Scraper/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

Returning: P John Haggerty**, K Boris Bede, LS Maxime Latour*

Added: none

Lost: Toshiki Sato** (Calgary)

Unsigned: none

Level of confidence: moderate

Bede appeared to struggle last season after a spectacular 2021, but he had two different long-snappers and was adjusting to an inexperienced new holder. He was also called upon to use the full extent of his range far more often than he was the previous season. Of his 15 missed field goals, only two were shorter than 42 yards, four were over 50 yards, and one was over 60 yards. He also clinched first place in the East Division with a rouge that counted as a missed field goal even though his priority was to kick the ball through the endzone.

What they should do: They need to bring in a kicker for the practice roster so Bede doesn’t have to kick every ball, but it should be someone the organization at least feels comfortable putting into a game situation if required. I don’t think they felt that with Sato.

I would also try to find a long snapper to compete with Latour. His snaps were fine but not as good as Jake Reinhart’s. I think you keep churning through long snappers until you find someone at that level.

What they will do: They’ll probably pick up a practice roster kicker in the Global Draft and allow Latour to enter camp as the only long snapper.

Ben Grant has been coaching high school and semi-pro football for 20 years. He has covered the CFL and the Toronto Argonauts since 2019.