Moving on with our CFL previews, here's a look at the Toronto Argonauts. Also take a look at our previous pieces on B.C.,Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatchewan, Winnipeg, and Hamilton, and stay tuned for more!
This is setting up to potentially be a very difficult year for the Toronto Argonauts. While the team finally has some future stability thanks to the deal for Bell and Larry Tanenbaum to buy them at the end of the year and move them to BMO Field and the pending owners' decision to extend the contracts of general manager Jim Barker and Scott Milanovich, this season might not go as well. They're coming off a 8-10 year where they missed the playoffs, and thanks to scheduling issues at the Rogers Centre with MLB's Toronto Blue Jays and the Pan Am Games, the team doesn't play in Toronto until Aug. 8. (They have a "home" game against Edmonton to open the season this week, but it's in Fort McMurray, Alberta, making it a much easier trip for the Eskimos.) Also, quarterback Ricky Ray's recovery from shoulder surgery hasn't gone well, and he's been placed on the six-game injured list. Moreover, the team didn't sign any free agents around the deadline in February. Will they be able to find ways to succeed despite those hurdles, or is 2015 going to be rough?
A lot of the Argonauts' success or failure this year may depend on how quickly Ray is able to come back, how well he plays once he does, and how well understudy Trevor Harris does in the interim. None of those questions are particularly solved, though. It seems likely Ray will be gone for at least the first six games of the season, but teams do have a limited ability to withdraw players from the six-game list, so it's possible he could return sooner if his recovery makes progress. It's crucial for the Argonauts not to rush Ray back, though; they'll need him at full strength when he does return. Even if they're patient, this may not work out perfectly; Ray is 35, and while he has played very well over the last couple of seasons when healthy, it's definitely not a certainty that he'll be able to regain his old form. Thus, Toronto may need Harris for more than just a brief fill-in role.
How will Harris do as the Argonauts' starter? Well, he has the advantage of being in his fourth year in the CFL, all with Toronto and all with the same head coach/offensive coordinator (Milanovich). That means he's spent substantial time already absorbing their system, which could be extremely helpful. He also wasn't bad in limited duty last season, throwing for 449 yards and two touchdowns with one interception and a 70 per cent completion rate. Still, starting regularly is a whole new ball of wax, and issues with the rest of the roster may make things even tougher.
While the Argonauts made one very nice trade in the offseason, bringing back Canadian defensive end Ricky Foley in exchange for Canadian linebacker Shea Emry (which paves the way for them to start promising Canadian linebacker Cory Greenwood), the rest of their roster moves were more losses than gains. They saw receiver Spencer Watt leave for Hamilton, offensive lineman SirVincent Rogers head to Ottawa, and receiver Darwin Adams and defensive lineman Ivan Brown depart for Winnipeg, and while they were able to extend some pending free agents like offensive lineman Tyler Holmes and running back Curtis Steele, this still might be a weaker roster than the one that went 8-10 and missed the playoffs last season. The team did sign some big names to the practice roster this past weekend, including RB Chad Kackert (still trying to recover from his 2013 injury), receiver Dave Stala and running back Brandon Whitaker (both cut by Montreal this offseason) and offensive lineman Scott Mitchell. That may not be enough, though.
Beyond that, Toronto faces one of the toughest schedules in CFL history. They open up against Edmonton in Fort McMurray, then face the Roughriders and Stampeders on the road before a bye. Given the strength of those teams, it's quite possible they could go into that bye 0-3. After that, they face B.C., meaning that they aren't playing a team east of Saskatchewan until their Aug. 3 game against Hamilton. (And that one's at Tim Hortons Field, where the Ticats are perfect so far.) That's a heck of a road trip to start the year with, and things don't even get much easier once they finally get to the Rogers Centre; they host the Riders, then head to Winnipeg. Their first game against a non-Hamilton East team doesn't come until they host Ottawa Aug. 23. Facing the West's full gauntlet of strong teams to start the season would be difficult under any circumstances, but with an inexperienced QB and a long road stretch, it might get even harder. We'll see if the Argos can survive it and push towards the playoffs, or if the early challenges will knock them out of contention.
Prediction: 7-11, third in East, out of playoffs thanks to crossover.
Stay tuned for our final team previews Thursday!