October 14, 2019

Steinberg’s MMQB: Argos face crucial off-season questions

Geoff Robins/CFL.ca

It’s great to see Pinball Clemons back with the Toronto Argonauts. While many were caught off guard when the Argos replaced general manager Jim Popp with Pinball last week, it’s hard not to like the hire. Now that the excitement surrounding Pinball’s return to the GM chair has died down, though, it’s time for Toronto to start tackling a trio of important off-season questions.

What are they doing at quarterback?

Toronto started searching for Ricky Ray’s successor before the Hall of Famer called it a career, which was the right proactive approach. Unfortunately for the Argonauts, they haven’t definitively found their guy yet. Figuring out their long-term plan at the game’s most important position has to be priority number one, but is far easier said than done.

Toronto can’t just snap their fingers and find the next franchise quarterback. Instead, the Argos probably have to break this task down into a couple smaller ones, starting with their internal situation. Is there a potential number one pivot in the fold right now?

» Jim Popp relieved of duties as Argos’ GM
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The two candidates would be McLeod Bethel-Thompson and James Franklin, with the former coming off a strong outing Friday at home to Ottawa. Of the two, Bethel-Thompson has been the more impressive and consistent this season, and probably going back to last year, too. What Pinball needs to decide is whether a 31-year-old journeyman quarterback is an ideal candidate to be a long-term starter.

From the outside, I like the idea of bringing Bethel-Thompson back. Even if the Argos look outside the organization for their next quarterback, Bethel-Thompson is a solid fallback plan and a good veteran to have in the fold. I’m less certain on what I’d do with Franklin, mainly because we’ve seen his form fluctuate so much in two seasons with Toronto.

The second question to tackle is a little juicier: does Pinball have an external candidate in mind? A number of potential names come to mind when thinking about a potential fit.

Nick Arbuckle is the one that jumps out right away, mainly because he’s probably not elevating beyond number two on Calgary’s depth chart anytime soon. With Bo Levi Mitchell under contract for the foreseeable future, Arbuckle will likely need an opportunity elsewhere to start. He was impressive in Mitchell’s absence earlier this season and opened a number of eyes in the process.

A little more complicated is Hamilton’s situation. With the way Dane Evans has played since Jeremiah Masoli’s season-ending injury, the Tiger-Cats have a decision to make this winter. Because he hasn’t played in so long, it’s easy to forget Masoli is the defending East Division MOP and had entered the elite conversation in 2018. But with Evans presenting a viable, and less expensive, option going forward, I’m fascinated what Hamilton decides.

Regardless, one of Masoli or Evans could very well be available come the off-season if the Argos are so inclined.

How do they feel about Corey Chamblin as head coach?

For various reasons, Chamblin’s first season as head coach in Toronto hasn’t gone as planned. The interesting part here is that Pinball is inheriting a head coach, which is always crapshoot when trying to predict the future. Sometimes a new GM is comfortable with the coach already in place, but many times a new decision-maker wants to bring in his own guy.

Despite a rough first season in Toronto, I like a lot of what Chamblin brings to the table as a head coach. He brings a strong defensive mind to the position, has a Grey Cup ring, and at 42, is young enough to easily relate to his players. In saying that, you can’t ignore the fact Chamblin-coached teams have lost 17 of their last 19 games, dating back to his final year with the Riders.

Buy Week 19 Tickets
» Friday, 7:00 p.m. ET: Toronto at Montreal
» Friday, 10:00 p.m. ET: Saskatchewan at BC
» Saturday, 4:00 p.m. ET: Ottawa at Hamilton
» Saturday, 7:00 p.m. ET: Winnipeg at Calgary

Chamblin said last week he wouldn’t be interested in taking a step back and becoming defensive coordinator if asked, which is understandable. As such, it comes down to whether Chamblin is the right fit as head coach, which is in the hands of Pinball.

Which veterans are part of the plan?

Perhaps the biggest decisions faced by Pinball, and new VP of football operations John Murphy, is what to do with a number of high profile veterans going forward. The Argos have numerous big names, and big salaries, specifically on offence, and this management group needs to determine who fits and who doesn’t.

The biggest names are probably on offence, led by receiver Derel Walker. The Argos splashed some big cash on Walker in free agency ahead of this season, but does he fit the long-term plan? The same question applies to fellow receivers SJ Green and Armanti Edwards, along with tailback James Wilder Jr.

It’s unlikely Toronto will go forward with all of the names above, which will open up salary flexibility for other moves this off-season. It’ll also likely put a few big names on the open market, which is something else to keep an eye on come winter.

Quick hits

I don’t know exactly how they do it, but the Eskimos have to keep Shaq Cooper involved in their offence, even with CJ Gable healthy. Gable is an extremely reliable and consistent tailback, but look at what Cooper has done when given a chance.

Cooper helped Edmonton to a 19-6 win over BC on Saturday, which clinched a playoff spot in the process. Cooper finished the night with 94 rushing yards and a touchdown. In two starts this season, Cooper has averaged 111 rushing yards and a touchdown, which is something the playoff-bound Esks can’t ignore.

Friday night’s back and forth battle between Calgary and Saskatchewan was a lot of fun to watch and drove home an important point for me: there is very little between these two teams. Even with seeding still to be decided, there’s a high probability the Riders and Stamps meet in the West Division playoffs at some point. After Friday’s showdown, sign me up for another round.

Of course, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers have a big part to play in how things play out. The Bombers took a much-needed 35-24 win over Montreal on Saturday afternoon, which puts them a half game back of Calgary and Saskatchewan for top spot in the division. After three straight losses, and setbacks in four of five, Winnipeg needed a solid outing like that against a quality opponent.

The Bombers finish the season with a huge test: a home-and-home set with the Stampeders before hitting their final bye in Week 21. With a pair of games left with the team they’re chasing, Winnipeg still has eyes on first.