March 30, 2011
Going into this off-season, both the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Toronto Argonauts had some form of quarterback issues. Both franchises faced questions about who would be taking snaps under centre to start the 2011 campaign, but in Winnipeg, those queries spawned from strong performances from both Buck Pierce and Steven Jyles (before injuries intervened), while Toronto's uncertainties were more thanks to a disappointing showing by Cleo Lemon as their starting quarterback. This afternoon, TSN's Dave Naylor broke the news that both teams appear to have found a way to resolve their quarterback questions, with the Blue Bombers trading Jyles (pictured above runnning against B.C. in a Oct. 11 game) to the Argonauts for a first-round pick (their fourth-overall selection, one presumes) and another draft pick. That report was quickly confirmed by the Argonauts, with the extra detail that the second pick is a conditional selection in the 2012 draft (likely based on how Jyles does in Toronto).
This could be an excellent move for both sides, but it also carries plenty of questions. For Winnipeg, this looks like a reasonable return for Jyles, especially considering that most teams have their quarterback depth charts basically set at the moment; the Argonauts appeared to be the only team in the market for a potential starter, and most of the other squads have their top backups locked up as well, so there wasn't exactly a thriving quarterback market out there. A fourth-overall pick is nothing to sneeze at, especially considering the rising importance of the CFL draft, and the conditional pick in 2012 could pay off as well.
What exactly is the value of a fourth-overall pick? Plenty of quality players have been taken at that position; from the last five drafts alone, we have Danny Watkins (likely a high pick in the NFL draft this year after strong combine and Senior Bowl showings), James Yurichuk (currently a solid special-teams player with B.C. who may wind up seeing more snaps on defence), Keith Shologan (a regular starter at defensive tackle for Saskatchewan, and the choice of both the FRC and myself as the 2010 Grey Cup's top Canadian), J.P. Bekasiak (who's beginning to have more of an impact for Montreal at that DT spot) and Ricky Foley (who tore up the CFL with B.C., had a solid shot at the NFL and then did decently with Toronto in his CFL return last season, even if he got there through unconventional means). Before that, you have players like Jason Clermont in 2002 and Angus Reid in 2001. A fourth-overall pick isn't a guarantee to find a good player, as there were also forgettable selections like Emmanuel Casseus in 2003 and Mark Moroz in 2004, but there are generally some excellent players still on the board at that point; Marwan Hage and Josh Bourke were chosen later in 2004, while Wes Lysack and Paris Jackson went fifth and sixth in 2003. If the Bombers get their scouting right (something they have an excellent chance at, thanks to the work former Guelph head coach Kyle Walters has been doing for them), they could be set to pick up a pair of extremely valuable players in this draft, as they now have the first- and fourth-overall picks. That's tremendously important for Winnipeg, as their Canadian content isn't the strongest at the moment.
This trade does carry some risk for Winnipeg, though, despite Buck Pierce being a solid choice as their starter, and perhaps the better one by the numbers. If we compare the 2010 stats of Pierce and Jyles, we find Pierce comes out significantly ahead in completion percentage (66.7 per cent to 61.6), one of the most important gauges of a CFL quarterback's success. However, Jyles was very effective too, and he beat Pierce in quarterback rating (100.9 to 97.9) and TD/INT ratio (19/7 versus 6/4). Pierce has the better career numbers (65.4 completion percentage versus Jyles' 61.3, 94.1 rating versus 88.7, 54 TDs and 35 INTs versus 24 TDs and 18 INTs), but he also has a significant history of injuries (including concussions, knee injuries and shoulder issues), and with Jyles gone, the next man in line to replace him would appear to be the much-less imposing Alex Brink (who head coach Paul LaPolice did briefly favour over Jyles last season, but that didn't turn out terribly well). Brink may have potential, but his stats from last year certainly aren't all that promising (37.5 per cent completion percentage, 36.5 QB rating, no touchdowns and one interception). If Pierce can stay healthy and effective, this could be a tremendous deal for the Blue Bombers, but if he gets hurt, quarterback issues may rear their ugly head again.
For the Argonauts, there's also plenty of upside to this trade. Jyles has spent five years in the CFL, but last year was his only real chance to start, and the results were certainly impressive. A 61.6 completion percentage isn't ideal (in fact, it's right next to the 61.7 per cent Cleo Lemon put up last year), but that would be less of a concern for me with Jyles than Lemon; many of Lemon's missed passes were short throws that a successful CFL quarterback has to make, while Jyles' misses often came on longer routes. Moreover, Jyles was demonstrably better in almost every other category (19/7 TD/INT versus Lemon's 15/19, 100.9 rating against 78.1, 14.3 yards per completion to 12.0), and his extra mobility (452 rushing yards against Lemon's 274, even though both averaged 7.0 yards per carry) and ability to evade pressure could make him a great fit in Toronto's run-heavy offence.
There's still risk involved in this deal for Toronto, though. It's definitely not a guarantee that Jyles can repeat his Winnipeg success in a new offensive system, and the Argonauts' receiving corps isn't the best out there. It's notable that Jyles suffered a season-ending injury to his throwing shoulder last year, too, and those injuries have derailed many promising careers. However, Argonauts coach and general manager Jim Barker said in the team's release that Jyles is in good medical shape and should be ready to compete for the starting job by training camp:
"He underwent surgery to his throwing shoulder this off-season and our medical staff is extremely confident that he’ll be 100% for training camp. We believe Jyles is very much worth the first round pick we gave up to bring him to Toronto and we’re excited to see him compete for the starting position in June."
This trade could work out very well for both teams involved. The potential benefits for the Argonauts are immediate, while the ones for the Blue Bombers are just as significant, but more about the long-term picture. It isn't a sure thing for either side, though; we'll see in the coming seasons if the risks outweigh the rewards.