Argos pay more for Drew Willy than they did for Ricky Ray, Bombers add Glenn

Argos pay more for Drew Willy than they did for Ricky Ray, Bombers add Glenn

The Toronto Argonauts delivered one of the most surprising CFL trades in some time Sunday evening, opting to pay big for Winnipeg quarterback Drew Willy despite Dan LeFevour leading them to an impressive win over Hamilton just an hour earlier. They sent 29-year-old defensive back T.J. Heath (who led the way defensively against the Tiger-Cats with a game-high seven tackles and two interceptions), a first-round pick and a third-round pick to the Bombers for Willy. Keep in mind that Willy lost his starting job to Matt Nichols back in July after leading Winnipeg to a 1-4 start.

That's arguably more than Toronto paid (a first-round pick, kicker Grant Shaw and quarterback Steven Jyles) for the much-more-proven Ricky Ray back in 2011, and it's not much less (Glenn January, Ronald Flemons, a first and a second) than what they paid for reigning Most Outstanding Player Kerry Joseph and a third-round pick in 2008. Meanwhile, after loading up on players and picks from the Argos, the Bombers reinforced their own quarterback depth with a familiar and proven veteran at a low price, sending a fourth-round pick to Montreal for Kevin Glenn. This looks like smart maneuvering from Winnipeg and Montreal, but an incredible gamble with low odds of success from Toronto.

The big question is what Argonauts' general manager Jim Barker sees in Willy. Observation of his play in the Bombers' games this year certainly wasn't impressive, as there were countless balls majorly underthrown, overthrown or both, and he posted four interceptions and just five touchdowns in five starts. His 1,473 yards in those starts weren't terrible (that's 294.6 per game), and neither was his 72 per cent completion rate, but his inability to throw touchdowns and propensity for picks, plus his major misses on numerous throws certainly wasn't inspiring. It's also worth noting that many of Willy's stats came after games were well out of hand. Since making the change to Matt Nichols, the Bombers have improved to 7-4 and have won their last six. Quarterbacks shouldn't be judged on their win-loss record, of course, but Winnipeg has played like a different and much better team since that switch, and the superior quarterback play they've been posting is a big reason why.

Maybe Barker is hoping Willy can bring back the form he showed before getting hurt in 2015, where he threw for eight touchdowns and three interceptions in seven starts. However, Willy only posted 1,434 yards in those starts, which would be just 239 per game over six games (he got hurt partway through the seventh), and while his completion percentage of 68.6 was a big step forward over the 63.8 he posted the previous year, it still wasn't at the top level. It's also worth noting that Willy's only full year as a starter, 2014 in Winnipeg, was far from an unqualified success; yes, he threw for 3,769 yards, but with just that 63.8 per cent completion rate and with 16 interceptions against 14 touchdowns. Yes, Willy has more of a sample size as a CFL starter than LeFevour, but that sample size is far from all positive.

Even if you do see Willy as a better quarterback option than LeFevour, the price paid to get him seems incredibly steep. That's especially true when you consider that the Argos have said they expect Ricky Ray back in four to six weeks, that unlike LeFevour (who's been with the Argonauts since August), Willy will be learning an all-new playbook, and that Willy reportedly still has substantial money ($104,000 as of Sept. 2, plus playing time and other bonuses) owed on his contract this year, which could limit Toronto's cap flexibility).  Yes, LeFevour only had one good game, but the Argos do have other options such as Cody Fajardo if he falters, or could have brought back Adrian McPherson for nothing or acquired Glenn for a fourth-rounder. Spending a ton for Willy doesn't seem to make sense.

Perhaps Toronto knows that Ray's injury is more serious than they claimed, but even so, Willy doesn't necessarily seem like the best available option, especially after the way LeFevour played Sunday. Perhaps this is a gamble to try and get to the Grey Cup they're hosting this year, but it seems highly unlikely Willy will lead them there (and the loss of a guy like Heath, who's been very impressive this season, may not help their cause). Perhaps the Argos are ready to move on from Ray as their starter after this year, and they think Willy can be the answer there (he is under contract through 2017), but making him a highly-paid starter certainly didn't work out for Winnipeg. Add it all up and it looks like a risky gamble for Barker and Toronto, and one without a lot to back it up.

Meanwhile, this seems like a great move for Winnipeg, providing a vote of confidence in Nichols and also a veteran quarterback he can learn from at a very low cost in Glenn. They pulled in a talented defensive back and two important picks, and then gave away a later pick to replace Willy with a backup who might be better than him. On the year, Glenn's completed 222 of 314 passing attempts (70.7 per cent) for 2,547 yards in nine starts with 13 touchdowns and 11 interceptions; that's not mind-blowing, but it's certainly comparable to what Willy's done this year. It makes sense for the Alouettes to trade him given that they're mostly building for next year at this point and have promising young QBs Rakeem Cato and Vernon Adams Jr., and it makes sense for the Bombers to get him at that price. Both of those teams made moves Sunday that should help them out both now and in the future. The Argonauts? Not so much.