The Toronto Argonauts Football Operations staff deserves a lot of credit for vastly improving the team’s roster. The CFL season is only three weeks in, but the early returns on the players that the Boatmen’s front office has brought on board have been very promising.
You can attribute the Argonauts’ early-season success to the hire of Ryan Dinwiddie as head coach and his coaching staff. But the Argos front office has set the Boatmen’s ship on the right course by effectively using several avenues to improve the team’s roster.
The Toronto Argonauts Roster Transformation
After two straight four-win seasons, the mission for the Argonauts franchise was to change its losing culture and build a model of consistency. Michael ‘Pinball’ Clemons was brought back into the Argos family to do just that. Also aiding Pinball are two important figures in the front office, VP of Player Personnel John Murphy and Director of Scouting, Vince Magri.
Under the new leadership of this trio, the Boatmen have undergone a complete roster transformation since 2019.
It’s relatively commonplace for losing franchises to undergo a massive overhaul. And there’s no doubt that the two-year layoff between 2019-2021 has contributed to the amount of turnover on the Argos Roster. But the number of new players on Toronto’s football team is staggering.
The Argonauts 2021 depth chart has only two returning starters from 2019. OT Jamal Campbell and DB Shaquille Richardson.
On both offense and defense, the Boatmen have new anchors at every single position. The team has 22 new starters. The expansive rehaul of the roster extends to special teams with Boris Bede, a player who the Argos front office astutely acquired through trade with Montreal.
Much of the focus has been on the Argonauts’ high-profile acquisitions like Charleston Hughes, Nick Arbuckle, DeVaris Daniels, etc. However, unheralded signings like Philip Blake have also helped Toronto from a leadership standpoint. The Argonauts have two other prominent veterans currently on the injured list, DE Cordarro Law and DT Drake Nevis, who could also end up paying dividends as the season progresses.
The Argos front office is getting good returns from its free-agent class on the field and off, but what’s more impressive is the value they are getting from other significant areas.
Toronto Argonauts Draft Picks
Toronto Argonauts Vice President of Player Personnel John Murphy, General Manager Michael ‘Pinball’ Clemons, Director of Scouting Vince Magri, have done a great job compiling a roster with proven CFL players. But in the two years between seasons, the Argos scouting department has also put together some strong building blocks for the team’s future through the draft.
In a strange set of circumstances because of the two-year delay between seasons. Some teams like Toronto are trotting out rookies from the 2020 and 2021 CFL Drafts.
Typically, it takes time for teams to see the value of their draft classes. But in the first three games of this season, the Argos are getting instant production from their most recent first-round draft selections. 2020 draft pick, WR Dejon Brissett, and 2021 selection OL Peter Nicastro.
Because of an injury to wide receiver Juwan Brescasin, Dejon Brissett, and 2019 third-round selection Kurleigh Gittens Jr. are receiving extended playing time. Gittens scored a big touchdown in the Argos come from behind victory week one in Calgary. Rookie Dejon Brissett emerged in week three’s victory over Winnipeg with two big second-half receptions for 51 yards. Both national receivers are giving Toronto a glimpse of what’s to come in the future.
The Argos rookie who has stood out the most is Peter Nicastro. The Dinos standout has been thrown directly into the fire as a starter. Based on his performance this season. The rookie has been fireproof. Nicastro has done an excellent job playing against some stiff competition.
The University of Calgary has a strong track record for developing players. See former Argos stalwart, Sean McEwen. But Nicastro is way ahead of schedule. The original plan was to ease the rookie’s transition into the CFL, but the absence of Cody Speller has expedited that process. The early returns on Nicastro suggest that Toronto was correct in rating him as the #1 player on their draft board.
What’s most impressive about the Argos early season success is how it’s come from some unlikely sources. The team is getting production from players with no track record in the CFL.
Look no further than the team’s current depth chart. The Argonauts have six CFL rookie starters on the American side. Three on the defensive line. (Oakman/Harold/Hendrix) The Agos have started eight CFL newcomers this season. Two of those players, Defensive Linemen Shane Ray and Kony Ealy, are currently injured.
The Argonauts starting cornerbacks Treston Decoud and Jamal Peters have held up well in coverage.
It hasn’t been perfect for starting LT Dejon Allen, making the difficult transition to playing offensive line in the CFL. But all things considered, the Hawaii standout has done a commendable job.
Former Baylor DL Shawn Oakman has transitioned nicely into the league. He’s done an outstanding job against the run.
Turning Over Every Stone
The most significant contribution from a CFL newcomer came in week three from DJ Foster. The former Arizona State standout is one of five D1 players to finish their careers with over 2,000 yards rushing and receiving.
Foster spent the last four years with the Arizona Cardinals after starting his pro career with New England in 2016. However, after the 2020 NFL season, Foster was sitting on the sidelines without a football home despite his impressive resume. That’s until the Toronto Argonauts front office made the call for his services.
Once Toronto came calling, Foster lived up to the football player mantra of “staying ready, so you don’t have to get ready.” Foster was fully vaccinated with his passport and immediately flew to Toronto to get up to speed with his new surroundings.
After spending two weeks on Toronto’s practice roster, DJ Foster made an unforgettable first impression last Saturday in his first-ever CFL game. Foster provided a great spark to Toronto’s offensive attack by rushing for 101 yards and a touchdown on ten carries. He also added a 14-yard reception in the game.
DJ Foster is an excellent example of the stellar work that the Toronto Argonauts front office has done in turning over every stone to make the team better.
Even with the season in progress, something tells me that they’re not done. Especially since Edmonton’s issues have given Toronto’s brain trust some extra time to reset and reassess their next moves, after all, to this point, all of their previous ones have been working.
- Update: As reported a few days back. The Toronto Argonauts have now officially announced the signing of now former Hamilton Tiger-Cats left tackle Trevon Tate. The Boatmen’s brass continues looking for reinforcements on the waiver wire. Already adding former Edmonton linebacker, Vontae Diggs a few weeks back. Diggs contributed with a sack in Toronto’s victory over Winnipeg in week 3. The Argos also signed former XFL standout WR Cam Phillips off of waivers from Hamilton before week one. Phillips is currently on Toronto’s practice roster.
Tate, 25, was Hamilton’s week one starter at left tackle, winning the job in training camp. But an injury sidelined him in week 2, and this past Saturday, the Tiger-Cats released him. When Hamilton head coach Orlondo Steinhauer was asked why his team released Tate, he told the media. “Just a collective decision. We’re doing some shuffling on the O-line, and we released a very good player who has already been picked up. We knew he wasn’t going to be on the market long, and we moved forward in a different direction”.
Trevon Tate started 49 games at the University of Memphis. The All-American Athletic Conference first-team left tackle spent time with the Cleveland Browns and Oakland Raiders before signing on with Hamilton in 2019. If he is fully healthy, Tate could face his former team in weeks 5 and 6.