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The Toronto Argonauts have made substantial changes in the last few months, but that doesn’t mean they’re not taking stock of what they have.
Michael ‘Pinball’ Clemons took on the GM title in October, with John Murphy named VP of player personnel. On Dec. 12, they let head coach Corey Chamblin go, in favour of Ryan Dinwiddie.
A quarterbacks coach in Calgary the last four years that spent three years before that in a variety of offensive coaching roles in Montreal, Dinwiddie should provide a boost to the team’s QB stable for 2020.
Now they just need to figure out which horses they’ll have in that stable.
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Canadian Michael O’Connor is the only QB on the Argos’ roster that’s under contract for 2020. Dinwiddie has long been a fan of O’Connor’s but he doesn’t want to rush the young pivot into anything.
The assumption has been that the team would go into free agency and find a new quarterback. They might do that, but both Clemons and Dinwiddie were very clear this past week at the league’s president and GM meetings that they’re also looking at what they’ve gotten from McLeod Bethel-Thompson.
“McLeod Bethel-Thompson is still ours at this moment,” Clemons said when the topic of quarterbacks inevitably came up at Blue Mountain.
“He threw for 300 yards nine times in games this year, that’s certainly not anything to sneeze at. (Former Argos coach) Adam Rita used to say the best guys that you’ve got are the guys that you’ve got. I want to respect that process first.
“We’ll have further conversation about this as a group as Ryan continues to fill out his coaching roster. We do expect that in 10 days to two weeks we’ll have further conversation before free agency about our entire roster. You can be sure that that’ll be the front-half of our conversation.”
As Clemons points out, Bethel-Thompson had a lot of big games in 2019. His 4,024 yards were the third-best total in the league last year and he led the league in passing touchdowns, with 26. He did post 13 interceptions, but nine of them came in the team’s first six games. His ball protection and productivity increased as the team’s troubled season went along.
As a pending free-agent, Bethel-Thompson will be able to evaluate things from his side, too. The Argos won the Grey Cup in 2017, when he was a backup behind Ricky Ray. Since then, the team has won just eight games in two years. Bethel-Thompson began both of the past years behind James Franklin, stepping in for him first through injury and later in 2019 after Franklin lost the starting gig.
At 31, Bethel-Thompson has shown he can play in the CFL but has never had an offence designed for him as the starter. If that appeals to him, Toronto could be his best option. After a year that saw the league ravaged by starting QB injuries, there should be a lot of teams interested in Bethel-Thompson if he’s willing to play that backup role. That could be his best path to a Grey Cup.
“I like McLeod,” Dinwiddie said, after acknowledging that the team will look at free-agent options.
“I thought McLeod did some good things last year. He obviously put up really good numbers.”
“There are two guys on our roster now that I really, really believe in. O’Connor is a young guy. He’s got a ways to go. You don’t want to throw young guys in the fire too quickly or you burn them out.”