Argos expect Canadian LB Jordan Williams to ‘push to start’ over Grey Cup MVP Henoc Muamba

Graphic: 3DownNation (Photo: Scott Grant/ | AP Photo/Larry MacDougal)

The Toronto Argonauts expect to have competition for their middle linebacker position in training camp.

The team traded their 2023 first-round pick to the B.C. Lions in February for Canadian linebacker Jordan Williams, only to re-sign incumbent veteran Henoc Muamba to an extension two weeks later. Despite the return of the reigning Grey Cup MVP, Williams will have a chance to seize the top spot on the depth chart.

“We expect him to come in and push to start and play,” Argos’ assistant general manager Vince Magri told 3DownNation. “The best player is going to play. Henoc was phenomenal for us last year, obviously a key component in us winning that Grey Cup, especially in the Grey Cup game itself. We just think you can’t add enough talent, especially young talent, especially Canadian talent. It was just too good to pass up. We expect him to be on the field making plays for us.”

Muamba turned 34 in February and is entering his 12th season of pro football. The former first overall pick in the 2011 CFL Draft started 17 games at middle linebacker last season, registering 75 defensive tackles, three sacks and two interceptions. He added ten tackles and an interception through two playoff games, becoming just the second player in CFL history to be named Most Valuable Canadian and Most Valuable Player in a Grey Cup game.

Williams was taken by B.C. with the top pick in the 2020 CFL Draft, winning Most Outstanding Rookie in 2021 after amassing 92 defensive tackles, five special teams tackles, a sack and an interception in 14 games at middle linebacker. The 28-year-old split time between the middle and weakside positions in 2022, collecting 89 defensive tackles, seven special teams tackles and three forced fumbles.

Toronto gave up the ninth overall pick in the 2023 CFL Draft to acquire Williams, who reportedly sought a move to the East Division in order to maximize other business interests. Parting with valuable draft capital to acquire a player at a position with an already-established Canadian starter surprised fans, but it was an easy decision for those in the Argos’ front office.

“We’ve been evaluating this draft class for years and when you look at a player like Jordan and look at not only what he accomplished prior to coming to the CFL and his resume at (East Carolina University), but the resume he’s put together in the CFL already over the first two years, when you’re picking at the end of the first round, you’re hoping and praying that you can get that kind of production that Jordan has already shown,” Magri explained. “For us, the ability to potentially turn the ninth overall pick into a former first overall pick that’s already been a rookie of the year was a no-brainer.”

Williams is entering the final year of his rookie contract, allowing Toronto the cap flexibility to keep both him and the more expensive Muamba on the same roster. The veteran incumbent is nearing the end of his career and contemplated retirement in the offseason, with his new teammate providing a potential succession plan.

The play of the two ratio-breakers will determine whether that handover happens sooner or later, but the Argos are thrilled to have multiple options at the position. The loss of their top pick is a small price to pay for that flexibility and while the team is open to trading up in the draft, moving above their first selection at pick no. 16 is not a priority.

“We feel confident in our Canadian content already. There were times last year that we started 10 Canadians in a game, I believe we started eight in the Grey Cup,” Magri said. “We still have that flexibility to start at least seven but we could start eight or nine if we wanted to. We don’t feel like we need to press it but at the same time, you never know on draft day. We don’t want to shut any doors.”

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.