When you’re the defending Grey Cup champions, you make your entrances in style. With how this past weekend went, the Toronto Argonauts have staged a red-carpet arrival to the CFL’s off-season party.
You knew the Argos weren’t going to remain idle indefinitely. Winnipeg, the team they beat in the 109th Grey Cup, has been busy reloading for another shot at the title since December. Then there’s the Tiger-Cats, Toronto’s No. 1 rival, who landed one of the top off-season prizes in quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell. If you had any doubts the Argonauts were focused on repeating as champs, well, you shouldn’t now.
It feels like the first domino that had to fall was the quarterback. More specifically, Toronto needed to know what McLeod Bethel-Thompson was thinking for the 2023 season. According to TSN’s Farhan Lalji, Bethel-Thompson has informed the team he’s planning on playing again.
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While never publicly declared or expressly stated as such, it was widely believed in CFL circles Bethel-Thompson was going to seriously consider retirement following the 2022 playoffs. Now that the 34-year-old has reportedly made his choice, you probably don’t have to squint too hard to determine his reasoning.
As we know, Toronto is the team that gave Bethel-Thompson his first true shot at being a professional starting quarterback. Bethel-Thompson is also coming off his best season to date where he set new career highs in passing yards (4,731) and starts (17). Oh, and did I mention the Argonauts are defending Grey Cup champions?
But Bethel-Thompson is just one of many big-name players signing on the dotted line over the last 72 hours or so. Budding superstar Kurleigh Gittens Jr. is back in Double Blue, too, after signing a three-year deal over the weekend. The Canadian receiver went for 1,101 yards and five touchdowns last season in what seemed like was just the beginning. Still only 25 years old, it feels like 2022 was less of a breakout and more of an opening act for Gittens.
Right behind Gittens on Toronto’s receiving yards table last year was DaVaris Daniels, with 860 to go along with four touchdown catches. Daniels also re-upped over the weekend, which means he’ll be back with the Argonauts for a third straight season. With six years of CFL experience under his belt now, Daniels is a valuable asset for Toronto on and off the field.
And then there’s the defensive side of the ball. Coming off a dominant season, the Argos have extended linebacker Wynton McManis. In 14 games last year, McManis racked up 88 defensive tackles, three sacks and two interceptions while forming a terrifying tandem with Henoc Muama. If Muamba, also a pending free agent, decides to return … look out.
Rounding out the returnees are DaShaun Amos and Boris Bede. Amos was Mr. Consistency in the Argonauts’ backfield in 2022 and started at the field halfback position all season. In the process, Amos recorded four interceptions and recovered two fumbles. Bede, on the other hand, returns for a third year as Toronto’s kicker after hitting 43 field goals last season.
General manager Michael ‘Pinball’ Clemons still has work to do ahead of free agency opening next week. But the Argonauts have already made it known they’re back to defend their crown with a vengeance and aren’t the only CFL team interested in running it back.
Speaking of which…
It’s already become automatic, but … another week and we have another few massive extensions for the Blue Bombers. Yep, Winnipeg just keeps scratching names off their list of elite core players to bring back. This week, they went around the horn: a special teams ace, a defensive gem, and one of their most important playmakers.
I’m curious if anyone will be interested in kicking to Janarion Grant this season after the show he put on in the playoffs. He signed a one-year extension with Winnipeg on Friday before defensive back Alden Darby and receiver Nic Demski agreed to new deals a couple days later.
Darby, who returned to the Bombers late last season, is one of the league’s best SAM linebackers so making sure he didn’t get away this winter was crucial. Then there’s local product Demski, who signed a three-year extension on Sunday. One of the league’s most versatile and unique receivers, Demski went for 10 touchdowns in 13 appearances last season.
The Bombers only have a few key players left to sign before next Tuesday.
I liked Edmonton’s decision to pounce on suddenly available A.C. Leonard last week. Shortly after being released by Saskatchewan, the Elks and defensive end Leonard agreed to terms on a new deal that fits both sides well. Leonard had a down year with just three sacks in 2022 but had 20 combined the prior two seasons. It’s a worthy gamble for Edmonton after recording just 35 team sacks last season, the lowest total in the league.
Quarterback Nick Arbuckle is back for another season with Ottawa after signing a one-year extension on Sunday. It’s a good bet for Arbuckle, who has had nothing but instability since he left Calgary following the 2019 season. Even though Jeremiah Masoli is also under contract, Arbuckle knows the REDBLACKS’ offence and personnel after last season and will be ready to seamlessly step in when called upon.