April 20, 2017

Landry: Despite injury, Green acquisition a no-brainer for Argonauts

Adam Gagnon/CFL.ca

On one hand, the Toronto Argonauts have to wonder what they’re getting.

On the other, they wonder not at all.

With the acquisition of veteran receiver S.J. Green in a deal with the Montreal Alouettes – the Als get a sixth-round draft pick and a conditional pick in return – the Argos have quite possibly bolstered their receiving corps in a big way. That’s a question.

What is not in question is whether they have bolstered their locker room in a big way as training camp comes up around the bend.

You know S.J. Green. He’s the guy that continually hauled in passes in Montreal, racking up big chunks of yards and eye-popping receptions.

He’s had four seasons of a thousand yards-plus since hitting his stride in 2010. So many times he’s had football fans sitting up in their chairs and wondering “did he just do that?”

We just don’t know if he still can, through no fault of his own, of course.

Green has high hopes of being all that he has been, even though he comes into the 2017 season off a winter of rehabilitation on his right knee. The Argonauts hope he can be, too. A vintage Green would inject some octane into the offensive hopes of veteran quarterback Ricky Ray, whom the Argos hope to keep upright and well-protected in the pocket this season.

Johany Jutras/CFLRELATED:
» Trade Alert: Argos acquire SJ Green in deal with Als
» Bio: S.J. Green by the numbers
» Green on Injury: ‘I should be ready for Camp’
» Comeback nearly complete for Green

Despite the uncertainty, the Argonauts don’t take much of a chance here, giving up just a sixth round draft choice in this year’s draft and a conditional pick in 2018 for Green. If his recovery from a knee injury and/or the advancement of age prove too much for him to overcome, they will not have much to answer for, comparatively speaking. The critical glare of giving up a late round pick for a veteran on a comeback is much less than that of, say, a first-rounder and an all-star defender in return for a former starting quarterback.

The Argos will suffer the slings and arrows of whatever the Winnipeg Blue Bombers do with the first overall pick in this year’s draft – nabbed from Toronto along with defensive back T.J. Heath in return for pivot Drew Willy – but to suggest they’d suffer the same fate should Green not pan out would be stretching it.

There haven’t been a lot of household names to come out of that round in the last decade, although Saskatchewan Roughriders’ running back Kienan Lafrance was picked there by Ottawa in 2015, and the Argos themselves selected defensive back Matt Black in the sixth round back in 2008.

While the risk they take is low, there are no guarantees for the Argos either.  Green’s ability to come back and be the same receiver – even a reasonable facsimile would do, he was so good – is certainly in question. The 31-year-old veteran (he’ll be 32 when the regular season starts) is climbing a tall, tall mountain after damaging two different ligaments and aggravating a third in a game against Ottawa last June 30th. At the same time, the meniscus in that knee was also damaged.

While two of the ligaments healed themselves, the ACL was surgically repaired, as was the meniscus.

Things could have been much worse. There was talk that Green’s career could be over. Instead, he has been working hard at a momentous return (as chronicled here at CFL.ca) and is on track to play again, although no one can be certain at what particular level.

It’s a bit of a gamble, then, as to what Green can be on the field and exactly when, though he and the Argos hope he can be ready for game action as soon as the regular season opens. “I’ve been busting my ass to try to get to that point,” he told CFL.ca.

Johany Jutras/CFL.ca

Green will bring his vociferous personality to practices, meetings and games and his new teammates will listen, if they’re smart.

– CFL.ca columnist Don Landry

What is not a gamble for the Argonauts and their new regime led by General Manager Jim Popp and Head Coach Marc Trestman is the locker room and on-field leadership Green will bring to a team that has re-tooled and is looking to bounce back from a terrible 2016, finishing with a 5 and 13 record. Green’s abilities from the highlight reels of his career may be obvious; his skills as a captain may be less so at a casual glance, but they have been anecdotally documented, over the years, by comments from his Montreal teammates.

As Popp and Trestman endeavour to re-launch the Argos, Green will bring his vociferous personality to practices, meetings and games and his new teammates will listen, if they’re smart. That should come naturally, when a player with his resume pulls on a jersey, but there is more.

Green has a long history with Popp and Trestman and while they, themselves, may also wonder just how great a receiver he can still be, they know absolutely what they’re getting when it comes to the recipe for team success. He’s been brought in to do that job and will get their full backing as the Argos shift gears on their culture.

It’s not surprising to see Trestman and Popp make a move of this sort, even with the great question mark hanging over Green’s durability in the wake of such an injury. They are, after all, behind in what’s considered the usual off-season schedule for a football team, having been hired in early March. For this season at least, they could use the comfort that familiarity brings and in Green they get that. It’s likely one of the reasons for re-signing running back Brandon Whitaker as well, the former Alouette who’s had two very good seasons in Toronto (over a thousand yards rushing in 2016) but would be considered by some to be a little long in the tooth at the age of thirty-one. He hit free agency and was available for a few weeks, leading to speculation that his time might be over.

Both Green and Whitaker are well-schooled in Trestman’s ways, which seem to be in lockstep with their own, anyway, and that will give the new Argos’ regime what feels like continuity as camp approaches.

On that end of things, the Argos are certain in what they are getting, in S.J. Green. While the physical side of things could be in question, the intangibles are not.

That makes a low-risk gamble worth it, with the potential for a big payoff.