January 12, 2024

Steinberg: Argos, Clemons thinking ‘reset, not regret’

The Canadian Press

It was one of the most dominant regular seasons in CFL history. And it finished with one of the most stunning playoff exits in recent memory. Now the Toronto Argonauts are attempting to put their 2023 campaign into proper perspective.

As defending champs, the Argos tied a league record and became the second team ever to post 16 regular season wins. But in their first playoff test, Toronto turned the ball over nine times en route to a 38-17 Eastern Final loss against the eventual Grey Cup champion Montreal Alouettes.

It leaves the Argonauts in a fascinating spot as they prepare for the 2024 season. On the one hand, Toronto was unquestionably the league’s best team for the balance of 2023. On the other, they didn’t get the job done when it mattered the most. And while you can’t ignore a 16-2 body of work, it’s also impossible to forget how things ended.

That’s the balance general manager Michael Clemons is wrestling with this winter.

“Ultimately, reset not regret,” Clemons said this week in Nashville, where the league held its annual president and general managers meetings. “But it does take a minute to get there. When you have a year where you’ve reached sort of a legendary landmark, but you don’t finish the deal…it reminds you that good enough is not good enough.

“Unless you end up with the Cup.”

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It’s clear the only goal for the Argos in 2024 is getting back to the top of the mountain, as it should be. Toronto was elite across the board last year and finished top two overall in crucial categories like points scored, offensive points against, net offence, and forced turnovers. There’s absolutely no need to panic after losing one playoff game to an eventual team of destiny.

But that doesn’t mean the Argonauts can’t take lessons from how things wrapped up in November. And that includes reigning Most Outstanding Player Chad Kelly. In his first year as a full-time starter, Kelly took the league by storm and was a deserving recipient of the CFL’s highest individual honour.

In his first professional playoff start, however, Kelly threw four interceptions against the Als as Toronto never seemed to get off the starting blocks. According to his general manager, Kelly’s Eastern Final experience is a significant growth opportunity.

“When we talk about Chad and moving forward, we want to compliment him on how far he’s gotten,” Pinball said. “So far, he’s moved right from being a backup quarterback to having the best regular season in CFL history. He just stepped up to another level.

“And so, we’d like to see him to continue to grow as people desire to do. His growth last year was phenomenal. That whole idea of continuing to improve is something that’s fundamental to perfection of sport. Because if you don’t improve, that means you’re declining.”


As Kelly and Toronto look to take that next step in 2024, they’ve got a few significant areas to address over the next few months. First up is free agency, which opens on February 13th. For instance, as of this publishing, core players like tailback AJ Ouellette, linebacker Wynton McManis, and defensive back Adarius Pickett need new contracts.

And then there’s the matter of replacing defensive coordinator Corey Mace. After two years with the Double Blue, Mace was hired as head coach of the Saskatchewan Roughriders in late November. And Mace’s shoes will be tough to fill after the Argonauts finished first in key defensive categories like turnovers, sacks, and rushing yards in 2023.

But even with a few important questions to answer, Toronto’s Grey Cup focus should be singular going into 2024. Kelly is already under contract for next season and history suggests the Argos will be able to retain a solid number of their key free agents. This is a really good team.

As such, it won’t surprise anyone if Toronto is once again one of the league’s best regular season squads in 2024. For Pinball, though, that’s only one piece of the ultimate puzzle.

“It’s one thing to be a good team who wins the Grey Cup. And we’ve done that a few times. Two of the last three times we were 9-9 teams. And so, we won the Grey Cup, but we certainly weren’t dominant teams in that construct. So now, we have to ask ourselves: how do we become a dominant team?

“Dominant means you’ve got to win all the ones that are important, and especially the last one. So that’s our trick now. It’s a new opportunity. New voyage.”

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