Chad Kelly keen to play, though Toronto Argonauts must manage player rest after clinching East Division

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

The Toronto Argonauts are facing a serious problem, even if it’s a nice one to have.

The Boatmen clinched first place in the East Division with a 23-20 victory over the Montreal Alouettes on Friday, which improved the team’s record to 11-1. Toronto has now won five straight games and remains undefeated in contests in which franchise quarterback Chad Kelly has started and finished.

With six regular-season games left to be played, however, the club will have to find a way to stay sharp for the playoffs without suffering major injuries. It’s a tough balance as the club strives to avoid complacency.

“There’s some guys that deserve to get rested and there’s some guys we’ve got to develop too at the same time. We want to get them on the field and see what they got,” said head coach Ryan Dinwiddie postgame.

“Now it’s time to get healthy, stay focused, keep working. Those guys in that locker room, they’re focused, they understand we’ve gotta be better. We haven’t played a complete game yet and they know that, but if we can, I think we’re going to be a dangerous team but we haven’t reached our potential yet.”

Toronto let a seven-point halftime lead slip away at Percival Molson Memorial Stadium as the Alouettes carried a 20-13 lead deep into the fourth quarter. Chad Kelly threw a 41-yard touchdown pass to Damonte Coxie with under two minutes remaining and Boris Bede kicked the game-winning field goal moments later after Jamal Peters intercepted a pass from Cody Fajardo.

David Côté attempted a 45-yard field goal for Montreal as time expired, though it was blocked by Dewayne Hendrix.

Kelly, who recently signed a three-year contract extension to remain in Toronto through 2026, made it clear that he wants to continue starting for the team despite having locked up first place. In the event that the team elects to give playing time to fellow quarterbacks Cameron Dukes and Bryan Scott, neither of whom have started a CFL game, Kelly would be happy to help serve as a mentor.

“I just got to keep on showing them what I see,” he said. “Keep on giving them some key pointers and see what happens.”

Dinwiddie indicated that the team hasn’t made any decisions regarding its quarterback situation, though it appears Kelly will start most of the team’s remaining games.

“We’ll see, not there yet, haven’t got a chance to talk with [general manager Mike ‘Pinball’ Clemons] and management on those things. I assume we’ll probably rest him for one but I still want to grow with Chad too and keep getting better,” said Dinwiddie.

“We can’t just put our foot on the brakes and say, ‘Hey, the season’s over with, let’s coast through the last six games.’ We’ve gotta continue to get better into the playoffs because we understand in the playoffs, once you get there, everybody’s gonna be ready to play.”

The Argos plan to rest players if they’re nursing injuries, though the salary cap won’t allow the team to rest all of their veterans. Healthy players can be added to the one-game injured list, though their salaries still apply to the cap. As such, resting healthy veterans and dressing the necessary replacements can get expensive very quickly.

CFL teams field a 45-man roster that is generally accompanied by three or four players on the one-game injured list. Putting 20 players on the one-game injured list wouldn’t be realistic for one week, much less a stretch of six. It’s simply not cost-effective.

This marks the first time Toronto has finished atop the East Division for three consecutive years since 1984, though the defending Grey Cup champions don’t appear intent on resting on their laurels.

“We’ve just got to keep motivated,” said Kelly. “Keep on working, stay focused and just keep building the camaraderie and the will to win.”

John Hodge is a Canadian football reporter based in Winnipeg.