February 08, 2011
The Toronto Argonauts displayed the CFL's best turnaround last season, going from a league-worst 3-15 campaign under Bart Andrus in 2009 to a 9-9 season and a road playoff win under Jim Barker in 2010. Barker took over as the team's general manager as well this offseason, and he made his first big personnel splash Tuesday, signing reigning CFL most outstanding special teams player Chad Owens (pictured above hurdling the Tiger-Cats' Jason Shivers on Sept. 6, demonstrating why he's been tagged "The Flying Hawaiian") to a contract extension through 2013.
This is a tremendous move for the Argonauts, and one most thought they probably wouldn't be able to pull off. After a spectacular season where he collected 2,701 combined return yards, nearly 1,000 more than his nearest competitor, Owens appeared set to jump ship for the brighter lights of the NFL. He might have had a good chance at it, too; teams are always looking to improve their prospects in the return game, and guys who can make moves like this are pretty rare:
There was plenty of NFL interest in Owens, who reportedly worked out for four different teams south of the border. However, it's possible they weren't interested enough to offer big money up front. CFL players going to the NFL haven't always found much success, with guys like Cameron Wake and Stefan Logan serving as exceptions rather than the rule, and the same high turnover at kick returner that might have given Owens a good chance could also have worked against him once he arrived in camp; there isn't a lot of room for error. Without a decent signing bonus, he could have found himself cut quickly and on the outside of a job looking in.
The NFL's looming labour issues may also have played into Owens' decision. There's an excellent chance that there may not be a 2011 NFL season, and if that happens, CFL players who signed NFL contracts can't return up north. Thus, signing an NFL contract this offseason is a significant risk. It's one some, including Emmanuel Arceneaux and Andy Fantuz, have proven willing to take, and it comes with huge potential rewards. However, there are plenty of ways signing with the NFL this year could go very wrong, and that might have helped motivate players with NFL options, like S.J. Green and Owens, to stay north of the border for now.
Regardless of Owens' motivation, his return is fantastic news for the Argonauts. Owens' strong performances in the return game were one of the keys to their success last year, particularly considering that the Cleo Lemon-led aerial attack often failed to move the chains. Field position is a critical element of the game, and Owens provided that in spades; he also put up points all by himself and convinced teams to try and avoid kicking to him. Moreover, Owens also served as a valuable part of Toronto's receiving attack; he caught 46 passes for 576 yards and three touchdowns. That made him the team's third-leading receiver, behind only wideout Jeremaine Copeland and running back Andre Durie. Barker said in a statement that he expects Owens to be a bigger part of the offence as well as the special teams this coming year, and that might be enough to give some defenders nightmares. For Argonauts fans, though, this news should bring plenty of pleasant dreams of Owens putting up another season like his 2010 campaign.