Life isn't easy when you're the defending champions, and the Toronto Argonauts are sure finding that out this year. After winning the 2012 Grey Cup thanks largely to the superlative effort of their defensive line, the Argos appear to have likely lost all four of their DL starters (plus primary backup Ejiro Kuale) from that game. The latest blow came Monday thanks to Dave Naylor's confirmation that Canadian defensive end Ricky Foley has signed with Saskatchewan, and that blow may prove to be the most significant.
Foley wasn't the most statistically dominant member of that defensive line (that would likely be defensive tackle Armond Armstead, who had a team-high six sacks and a DL-high 43 tackles), but he may prove to be the toughest to replace. That's largely thanks to his Canadian passport. As a non-import defensive end, Foley was a Canadian playing a position traditionally reserved for Americans, and that gave the Argonauts the ability to use extra imports elsewhere. He did so very effectively, too, recording 35 tackles and three sacks during the year and dominating during the Grey Cup, where he recorded a sack and four tackles and was named the most valuable Canadian.
Of course, production comes at a cost: Foley was making approximately $150,000 a year in 2011 and likely earned similar numbers last season, and that's cash that's not easy to find in a league with such a tight salary cap. Thus, the Riders may have offered Foley more than the Argonauts could afford to match, even with a possible hometown discount (Foley is from nearby Courtice, Ontario, and much of his family lives locally). Still, Saskatchewan's landed an often-dominant ratio-busting Canadian who's just 30, which seems like a solid move for them (especially considering that their pass rush hasn't been the greatest recently), and Toronto now has to find yet another replacement on the defensive line.
It's remarkable just how much defensive line attrition the Argonauts have seen. Their four starters in the Grey Cup were Foley, Armstead, Adriano Belli and Ronald Flemons, and it's quite possible none of them will wear the double blue in 2013. Foley's signed with Saskatchewan, while Armstead is headed to the NFL with the New England Patriots. If Armstead gets cut, he could return to the Argonauts, but that isn't a certainty; see what Foley did in 2010 after being cut by the New York Jets. Meanwhile, Belli has retired (again, and after breaking the Grey Cup, to boot!), and Flemons remains a free agent following his January release. Even Kuale, one of the team's top backups who often starred in rotational packages, has left. There certainly won't be a lot of continuity on the Argonauts' defensive line this year.
That doesn't mean that Toronto's doomed, of course. Newly-extended general manager Jim Barker has an excellent eye for talent, and he may well be able to find capable replacements. Solid pass rushers are constantly in demand across the CFL, though, so it won't be an easy task. It's likely going to be especially tough to replace Foley and Belli; while some talented Canadian pass rushers are available in the draft every year, it often takes a couple of years to develop draftees into starters. At first glimpse, there aren't many proven Canadian DL veterans available right now, which may cause the Argonauts to drastically change their approach to fulfilling the CFL's mandated seven non-import starters. Foley's signing in Saskatchewan seems like an excellent opportunity for him and a gain for the Riders, but he'll leave a substantial void to fill in Toronto.