‘This is my home now’: QB Chad Kelly ‘committed’ to Argonauts, avoids NFL question

Photo courtesy: Ted Pritchard/Rattleboxmultimedia.ca/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

Toronto Argonauts quarterback Chad Kelly sent a message to the pro football world with his three-year contract extension on Thursday.

“I wanted to do this because I want everybody to know that I’m committed to making this team better, to producing for Toronto,” the star pivot told the assembled Toronto media.

“I love it here. I want to spend the next 50 years here. This is my home now and I look forward to a lot of great memories to come and I just want to show that I’m committed to being here.”

Kelly’s new deal, which will keep him with the team through 2026, will pay him $1.865 million over the course of the contract. With $615,000 coming down the pipe in 2024 and $625,000 in each of the two subsequent seasons, the 29-year-old has claimed the title of the CFL’s highest-paid player.

However, the most important detail of the agreement may be the structure of his signing bonus. Kelly can collect $250,000 up front next year, but only if he doesn’t take advantage of the NFL window included in all CFL contracts. That would mean an NFL team would have to provide significant financial or playtime guarantees to make leaving Toronto worthwhile.

While he would not completely dismiss the possibility of returning to the NFL, Kelly was adamant about where his focus lies.

“I’m committed to being here right now and our focus is being here,” he said. “Do I want to stay in Toronto? Yes, I do. My focus is this year and whatever happens beyond is out of my control, but I’m committed to being a Toronto Argonaut.”

Kelly has long expressed a desire to return to the NFL, where he spent four seasons with the Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos after being selected with the final pick of the 2017 Draft. With the six-foot-two, 216-pound signal caller establishing himself as the frontrunner for Most Outstanding Player through the first half of the year, there could be interest this offseason despite his age.

Nevertheless, the story of Nathan Rourke has provided a cautionary tale for how the league down south values CFL quarterbacks in the pecking order. Kelly has now secured financial certainty that will be difficult to turn down. In exchange, the Argonauts have locked down a franchise player who has dazzled on the field and at the box office.

Having already inked head coach Ryan Dinwiddie to a multi-year extension in July, general manager Michael ‘Pinball’ Clemons believes the groundwork has been laid for the team to become perennial Grey Cup contenders.

“Having the two pillars of our organization locked up and moving forward is paramount to our long-term success,” he told reporters. “As we keep moving forward, there’ll be some other work that we certainly have to do as a part of that foundation. Two guys don’t make a foundation but they’re a heck of a start.”

Getting Kelly to put pen to paper hardly took an elite sales job, however. The quarterback has bought in to the community, the organization and the league.

“I haven’t had this much fun, honestly, since I was playing Grand Island Junior Vikings,” Kelly laughed, referencing his old minor football team.

“It’s about dedication, really. When you’re fully dedicated to what you love, everything makes it so much easier and you’re so much more thankful for everything you’ve been through.”

In his first season as a CFL starter, the Buffalo native has been playing like a little kid again. He’s completed 149-of-213 passes (70 percent) for 2,402 passing yards with 16 passing touchdowns versus seven interceptions in 2023 while rushing for 135 yards and six majors.

The Kelly-led Argos’ offence is averaging 29.2 offensive points per game and 380.9 yards of offence per game, both rank second in the CFL. That is about more than just the quarterback’s play on the field.

“I make the comparison to Doug Flutie. When Doug is on your team, that guy watches so much film, he just tells you what to do. Chad does it a different way,” Pinball explained.

“He has guys, more than we’ve ever had, staying in after the allotted time. Coming in early or staying late or both and studying together, watching film together. He’s exceeded every expectation.”

Those extra hours and added community work have become Kelly’s calling card in Toronto. He has matured into the starting role, bidding farewell to the rabble-rousing reputation that defined his time in college and the NFL.

Expectations for the Ole Miss product are high for the remainder of the season and the duration of this monster contract, but Clemons will not give voice to more pressure.

“The reality is Chad is going to speak for himself,” he said. “This is still the first half-season that he’s played as a starting quarterback and so we won’t write that script. We’ll leave that up to him, but I’m sure that, at some level, we won’t have to say anything. Because if he continues to move in this direction, we will be speechless.”

The Argos (8-1) are scheduled to return to action on Monday, September 4 when they take on the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (4-6) in the Labour Day Classic.

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.