As the February 11th free agency deadline nears, CFL.ca is breaking down each team’s potential needs, wants and wish lists. Today we take a look at last year’s East Division leading Toronto Argonauts.
Although his potential retention list is not as long as last season, General Manager Jim Barker likely has his focus placed on securing two critical members of his defence in stud cornerback Patrick Watkins and bruising middle linebacker Robert McCune.
Watkins built off a solid 2012 season as a CFL rookie with a stellar 2013, forcing many to pay if they ventured over to the Argos field corner, now referred to as ‘Watkins Island’. Both he and McCune earned Division All-Star nods, with the latter retaining his reputation as one of the most fierce, hard-hitting and hard-working defenders in the league.
A good fit?
The Argos have lost and could be losing more non-imports on special teams come free agency. Could an experienced teams player such as Marc Beswick be on their radar?
New defensive coordinator Tim Burke’s job could be a lot easier with two of the few mainstays left from the 2012 defence that won the 100th Grey Cup. It also wouldn’t hurt the former Blue Bomber bench boss to have David Lee under contract who was quiet yet effective in Chris Jones’ system and would be a ratio-buster could he grow into a full-time starter along the Argos’ front four.
Offensively, a lot of decisions have already been made for Barker.
At an impasse with talks with backup quarterback Zach Collaros, Barker freed up a bit of cap space early by releasing the upstart pivot (who signed in Hamilton last week). Collaros’ play last season proved that he is at least worthy of a shot to become a starter and as long as a healthy Ricky Ray is behind centre in Toronto, Collaros would have been regulated to the bench.
Dontrelle Inman would have become a free agent but was granted his release early to ink a contract with the San Diego Chargers. A departure that is eased slightly by the emergence of John Chiles in an already busy receiving corps. Meanwhile, a staple in Double Blue since 2002, Jeff Johnson, retired in December.
The work done so far
It has been relatively quiet for Barker so far, large in part to the fact that his to-do list is significantly smaller than years past. Running back Andrew Woodson – who was acquired in a trade with Winnipeg for offensive lineman Marc Parenteau last year – signed an extension last month.
Losing the aforementioned tandem of Watkins and McCune could change the complexion of the Argos defence but Toronto’s willingness to fork over large salary could depend on the philosophy of Burke.
Saying goodbye to non-import depth could become a reality as well for Barker and the Boatmen. Alexander Robinson, Chad Rempel and Mike Bradwell are all slated to hit the market on the 11th. Robinson switched to the offensive side of the ball last year and became one of the more true tight-ends in the CFL, while Bradwell and/or Rempel’s departure could loom large given their play on special teams and the aforementioned retirement of Johnson.
We have already mentioned Lee on the defensive side and on the offensive side, Wayne Smith and Andrew Jones both could see their tenure in Toronto end after two seasons. The Argos have done a solid job stockpiling Canadian depth on the offensive line but have already lost Joe Eppele to Ottawa in the Expansion Draft.
Other notables: K Swayze Waters
Who may be on the radar?
Johnson’s departure on special teams, combined with the potential loss of Bradwell or Rempel could force Barker to go out and find an experienced non-import with stellar special teams credentials. Nobody fits that description better than Hamilton Tiger-Cat defensive back Marc Beswick. Another ‘Cat, Luca Congi could be an option as well as he could give the Argos a replacement for Waters should he walk. Akeem Foster could be an option for the Boatmen to add some non-import depth. A local product that has shown flashes of brilliance, Foster became lost in Winnipeg after being traded to the Bombers from BC mid-season for Buck Pierce.
Barker has repeatedly said that he doesn’t believe in building his team’s through free agency, so don’t expect some of the bigger names to land in Toronto. That said, the few moves he has made in previous years have paid dividends while other teams make headlines. Last year Barker signed James Yurichuk and he became a crucial contributor on special teams. The year before, he signed Parenteau and Jones, both of whom provided depth en route to a Grey Cup.