"You are what your record says you are!"While I agree with Hall of Famer Bill Parcells in his now famous assessment, I will say this: I believe the 2014 Toronto Argonauts were a better team than their results indicated.
I realize that injuries, and player and coaching departures happen to all teams, but the Argos' ship was pirated and ransacked at this time last year. Chris Jones' move out west and subsequent plundering of his former vessel was borderline larceny. In a way I actually felt sorry for Toronto and that is coming from a Tiger-Cats Fan!
That being said, the Double Blue controlled their own fate much of the season and had every opportunity to clinch first place in the East or at least lock-up a playoff position. All of which makes missing out on the playoffs an obvious disappointment for the Boatmen and spells out that they were exactly what their record says they were.
We now know that Ricky Ray was playing with an injured shoulder during the 2014 campaign. That’s not meant to be an excuse for the team's poor performance, but obviously a 100 per cent healthy Ricky Ray at the helm makes the Argos automatically better.
Having many of their other oars repaired and in the water will also greatly help the Boatmen. A healthy Chad Owens, Andre Durie and Anthony Coombs gives the league's best pure passer the weapons he needs to set sail down field and score a boatload of points.
That’s not to say that there will not be any changes to the Double Blue Offense. Five Receivers: Darvin Adams, Jason Barnes, John Chiles, Maurice Mann and Spencer Watt, are set to become free agents in February. Of those, I believe retaining Chiles and Watt is critical for general manager Jim Barker. I don’t see The Gambler Jim being tremendously active in free agency, especially at the receiver position. Barker has found a knack, and a well-deserved reputation, for finding speedsters, playmakers and game-breakers south of the border.
Changes will occur to the boys up front as three of those who were tasked with protecting their franchise quarterback are also poised to hit the open market in 2015. There will be significant interest in Tyler Holmes and it may very well take more money than they are willing to part with in order to keep him from going home to Ottawa. Having former first-round picks Matt Sewell and Scott Mitchell on the roster, and being able to step into starting roles, will help offset such a loss, while keeping the all-important ratio intact.
Offensive linemen SirVincent Rogers and Jarriel King are also slated to hit the open market this winter. While Rogers has been solid at left tackle, I see King as being more important in retaining since he has played multiple positions along the line during his tenure with Toronto.
Yet, it was not the offense or scoring that sunk the Argos in 2014. It was a very leaky defense that ranked near the bottom of every category that was the leading contributor to their swamping and ultimate submerging.
Toronto needs to improve drastically in getting after the opposition quarterback, taking the ball away and not giving up so many big plays. In a sentence, the Double Blue needs more playmakers on the defensive side of the ball.
Defensive back Jalil Carter is drawing attention down south as a wide receiver. If they cannot get the versatile standout to stay in the Big Smoke, his ball skills will have to be replaced. Strong-side linebacker Matthew Ware was also solid in his return to professional football. But at 32-years old, and questions about his future firefighting career, it is unclear whether he will be back in Double Blue.
Odell Willis would be a very interesting acquisition should owner David Braley be willing to loosen the purse strings. Willis has relationships with both Jim Barker, who brought him into the league in Calgary, as well as Defensive Coordinator Tim Burke and Line/Linebackers coach Casey Creehan, thanks to the time the three of them spent in Winnipeg. Toronto has had some flamboyant and controversial mayors in their past – how about another one?
Jerald Brown or Geoff Tisdale would be attractive acquisitions for a sub-par secondary. Montreal may be hard pressed to retain both of these All-Star calibre defenders once they dole out the dollars to S.J. Green and Bear Woods. Having already spent their 2014 salary cap savings on four higher-priced players – Chip Cox, Eric Deslauriers, Nicolas Boulay, and Tyrell Sutton – there might not be enough room under the cap for Brown and/or Tisdale.
However, the biggest challenge that Toronto faces may very well be the turbulent waters that they attempt to navigate going forward off the field. Continued turmoil as far as where they will play in the future needs to be remedied, and the futures of both head coach Scott Milanovich and general manager Jim Barker also have to be solidified.
With an uncertain and cloudy view on the horizon from the quarterdeck, it could be a challenge for Toronto to acquire the recognizable free agents necessary to right the good ship Argonaut.