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When looking over the options this off-season, DaVaris Daniels was convinced that he was going to be a member of the Edmonton Eskimos for another year.
But just days before the opening of free agency, the Toronto Argonauts came calling, and the opportunity was one that the 27-year-old pass-catcher felt he couldn’t pass up.
Heading into 2020, the Notre Dame product will be one of the focal points of a new-look Toronto offence that should turn heads.
Daniels began his CFL career with a bang, posting 51 catches for 885 yards and nine touchdowns in 11 games with the Calgary Stampeders in 2016. His stellar play earned him Most Outstanding Rookie honours for that season.
“It was a real confidence booster coming off of not being picked up by an NFL team, being cut by Minnesota and not playing my senior year,” Daniels said. “After being off for two years, I kind of forgot what kind of player I was or if I would ever be that kind of player ever again.
“I just kind of stayed patient and persevered and learned from the vets, and I had a good one in Joe West. He really took me under the wing and showed me the ropes and showed me the little things that could help my game. Once I got in there, I just didn’t look back Just winning that award after coming in so late in the season, it was just a big boost for me. From there, I just felt like I could get back to what I was and maybe excel if I just put the work in and took my time.”
He made the choice to stay in Calgary, re-signing with the team before hitting free agency in 2018. However, a year later, he was able to explore the market once again. After a talk with his agent, he decided to explore options other than the Stamps.
“He really boosted my confidence and showed me some stats that I didn’t even know about. He was comparing me to some of the top receivers in our game and how I matched up with them,” Daniels said. “He said, ‘There’s a lot of money and things that could help out your family that you’re missing out on if you just want to re-sign (in Calgary).’
“We just took it to market and kind of saw what was happening. And then I got a call from Trevor Harris. He told me that he was thinking about going to Edmonton and that was a no-brainer for me. They were really big on me and I was really big on Trevor. So once he called me, it was kind of a done deal.”
Daniels teamed up with Greg Ellingson and Ricky Collins Jr. to create one of the scariest trios of receivers in the entire league in 2019.
He played in 13 games in total for the Esks, reeling in 54 balls for 738 yards and two majors.
He set a new career-high in yards during the team’s Week 10 game against Toronto, with 155 yards on five grabs. A week later, he upped that with a 10-catch, 207-yard performance against Winnipeg.
“That was just Trevor telling me, ‘I think you could go be a 180-yard-per-game guy. I’m like no way,” Daniels said. “He said, ‘I’m dead serious. I promise I’ll put you in the right positions,’ and he always did. My whole career, I’ve always had good games against Toronto. He knew that going into the game and he said he was going to get me my career-high, and he did it.
“The next week, I was saying that there’s no way we could top that, and he said, ‘I think I can get you 200,’ and he did it. He’s a great guy and a great quarterback and that just kept boosting my confidence.”
With another solid campaign under his belt, it was time to test the waters once again ahead of the 2020 season.
Daniels said that the newly implemented legal tampering window allowed for him to get an idea of what the market would be like come Feb. 11.
He was no stranger to the Toronto area and Ontairo, as his fiance was from Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. So when the opportunity presented itself to join the Double Blue, he said it was a natural fit.
Along with knowing the city, he also had a number of connections in the organization, starting with new Argonauts head coach Ryan Dinwiddie, who was the quarterbacks coach during Daniels’ time with the Stamps.
Natey Adjei, his Edmonton running mate, was released by the Esks and signed with the Boatmen ahead of free agency.
Before Daniels officially put pen to paper with the Argos, it was another former teammate, Juwan Brescacin, who was the team’s first official signing of the day.
Brescacin, a Northern Illinois graduate, spent his off-season working out with Daniels. The pair even lived in the same appartment building — Brescacin lived in the unit above Daniels.
“The crazy thing about Juwan and I is that we met in 2015 and then ended up on Calgary. We had no idea that they had both of our rights, so when we got there and just became the best of friends,” Daniels said. “Even if we weren’t going to sign in Toronto and play together again, it was fun to be able to train with him in Chicago, where I’m from.
“It was kind of a return to the old 2015 us and So to get the call and hear everything that was going on (in Toronto) and end the anticipation, it was fun. It was that one of those moments where we knew we were going to play together again, and we celebrated.”
Daniels is one of the most pivotal pieces to the Argonauts’ off-season overhaul at the receiver position.
Following their 4-14 season, the team — now led by new general manager Michael “Pinball” Clemons — had a drastic change in strategy once free agency hit. Veteran receivers Armanti Edwards and S.J. Green took their respective chances to compete in the now-defunct XFL while star pass-catcher Derel Walker was expected to be one of the most sought-after players on the open market.
Edwards has since signed with the Esks while Green and Walker remain free agents.
While he has been able to stand out on his own while being a part of some truly talented receving cores during his CFL career, Daniels now looks to be arguably the top option in the receiving game for the Argos. He admitted that it wasn’t something that he was openly seeking out in free agency, but the competition and chance to fill that role does fuel him.
Daniels is now in Toronto, trying to get ready for the 2020 season alongside his teammates. He’s been able to go to BMO Field to get work in and meet some of the staff and members of the organization.
“They have it all kind of taped off, they take your temperature in the front and the training staff is there,” Daniels said of the measures they’re taking at the stadium. “…They’ve definitely taken all the proper steps to make sure that everybody is safe and that everybody is getting in all the work they need to win without causing any hard to anyone else.”
Daniels said that quarterbacks Matt Nichols and McLeod Bethel-Thompson have been leading the way in helping everyone learn the playbook. They’ve had multiple meetings every week to make sure that everyone is on the same page.
Soon enough, football will come back in full swing, and when it does, Daniels and the Argonauts will be doing everything in their power to make sure that the past two seasons are fully in the rearview.
It’s a new team with an influx of local talent, and with Daniels becoming a bigger focal point in the offensive gameplanning, 2020 could be the stage for his best campaign yet.