- FREE AGENCY
TORONTO — The Toronto Argonauts have gone from a team that was in dire need of stability under centre to one that has an abundance of throwing talent in just a few short days, and general manager Michael ‘Pinball’ Clemons couldn’t be happier about it.
“We have two top-10 quarterbacks,” Clemons said to CFL.ca senior writer . “It was a deficiency a year ago and now we have two top-10 quarterbacks and two high draft choices that go with that. I think that puts us in a good position right now.”
The Argos have made a pair of quarterback signings in the past four days. They got 2019 standout McLeod Bethel-Thompson back in house, signing the veteran to a one-year extension. The Double Blue followed that up by bringing in Matt Nichols on a three-year deal on Friday — the two sides had been linked closely since Nichols’ release from Winnipeg.
Nichols helped the Blue Bombers to a 7-2 start to the 2019 season, throwing for 1,936 yards and 15 touchdowns with just five interceptions through the first nine games of the year. However, he was injured last in Week 10 against BC and was forced from the game.
He’d be placed on the six-game injured list shortly after that game and didn’t suit up again for the rest of the season. Nichols was able to watch the Bombers go all the way to the 107th Grey Cup presented by Shaw, albeit from the sidelines.
Now, questions are bound to arise regarding the Argos’ starting quarterback situation heading into training camp.
Bethel-Thompson said to O’Leary earlier this week that he’s going into camp with the mindset that he’s the starter and that he’s ready to battle for the right to be the man under centre for the Boatmen. However, Nichols has been a proven starter in the league with Winnipeg for the past four years.
Nichols is coming off season-ending shoulder surgery that he’s still recovering from. So that will be a situation to monitor heading into the year. However, the Argonauts aren’t worried about the status of their new pivot.
“The first thing is that Matt is ahead of schedule. May 1 was the idea that he could be ready by then and he seems to be ahead of schedule,” Clemons said. “His regimen is incredible. The very first thing is making sure he’s ready to go. You don’t want setbacks. If you go in, you have to think that right now, until he is classified as healthy, Mac is the guy that’s going to be in control there and we’re very comfortable with that.”
The Argonauts also have the caveat of not having to rush Nichols back into the fold. On top of Bethel-Thompson being able to run the offence efficiently, 23-year-old Michael O’Connor is also around to serve as the backup if needed. Toronto has made it no secret that they’re high on the UBC product and he’s going to be able to continue developing his game while learning from two of the league’s best passers.
There are still needs for the Argonauts heading into the first day of free agency, which opens on Feb. 11. They’ve addressed their secondary already, trading for the rights to Bo Lokombo — who still isn’t signed — and signing his former Montreal teammate Tommie Campbell.
The team has also brought receiver Natey Adjei back into the fold. However, Toronto officially granted S.J. Green his request to be released on Friday, and with Derel Walker and Armanti Edwards also poised to hit the open market, the Argos will need to get some more targets under contract for Nichols and Bethel-Thompson to throw to.
On top of that, the defence could be improved to help further solidify the squad on both sides of the ball.
“You have to be careful to not have the culture (of free agency) have you do things. In a rebuilding stage, it’s important that we do the foundational things and we don’t get distracted,” Clemons said.
“We try to review, review, review. Constantly, we’ll go back through just to make sure that we are being disciplined in our approach and…because of what’s happening outside of us that we’re not losing our way and our focus in understanding what we have to do in order to build a product.
“Building is providing that foundation first and you constantly have to remind yourself that you don’t need the chandelier before you build your foundation.”
The most important thing was getting a signal-caller for this upcoming season and they’ve accomplished that. Now, they’ll shift their focus to improving other areas and building towards getting back to the playoffs in 2020.