2018 CFL Season Preview: Toronto Argonauts need-to-know

Toronto Argonauts quarterback Ricky Ray (15) calls out a play against the Saskatchewan. (Frank Gunn/CP)

The 2017 season was one of change for the Toronto Argonauts. A new front office and coaching staff were given a roster put together late in the off-season well after free agency had begun.

The change produced a magical run to the 2017 Grey Cup.

Entering 2018 the on-field product is much the same, with continuity throughout the roster. The main differences are new ownership with MLSE adding the team to its sports portfolio. As defending champs, the hope will be added infrastructure and a more settled work environment means an even more consistent on-field product for a team that was .500 before it got hot in the playoffs.

General Manager: Jim Popp
Head Coach: Marc Trestman
2017 Result: 9-9, Grey Cup champions
Starting QB: Ricky Ray
Key Departures: Lirim Hajrullahu, Jeff Mathews, DeVier Posey, Victor Butler, Mason Woods
Key Additions: James Franklin, Ronnie Pfeffer, T.J. Heath, Taylor Reed, Ronnie Yell, Greg Morris, Rodney Smith and Abdul Kanneh

Expected team strengths:

The Argonauts QB room is the envy of the league. Ricky Ray is coming off a career year and his best-ever Grey Cup performance. In the off-season they acquired the most coveted backup in the league and the likely heir apparent in James Franklin. Pushing Franklin for the second spot on the depth chart is McLeod Bethel-Thompson who had a great training camp. And Dakota Prukop might be the most physically gifted of the group, so much so he excelled for the Argos on special teams last year as he patiently waited his opportunity behind centre.

Leading the group is the QB whisperer on both sides of the border Marc Trestman, and the new QB coach, Hall of Famer Anthony Calvillo. The mixture of talent and institutional knowledge Toronto has at the league’s most important position is second to none.

Expected team weakness:

Special teams will be an area of concern early. They lost the best Canadian kicker in the league when Hajrullahu signed with Hamilton. Pfeffer beat out Swayze Waters for the job and is handling the full-time kicking duties from Day 1 for the first time in his career. With Martese Jackson being used more on offence they could take a step back in the return game. Last season they averaged just 10 yards per punt return and only Hamilton averaged less yards on kick returns than Toronto.

Kicker Lirim Hajrullahu is taking his talents down the QEW. (Darryl Dyck/CP)

2018 Schedule Quirk:

The Argonauts finish the season with four games in twenty days all against divisional opponents. Smack in the middle of that four is a home-and-home with Montreal. Their last two games are on the road against Montreal and then on the road against Ottawa just five days later. Securing a bye in the playoffs and being able to do it before the end of the regular season would be paramount as this team is scheduled to play a lot of football heading in to the playoffs.

What a successful season would look like:

The continuity of player and coaching talent alone means the Argonauts will compete to represent the East in the Grey Cup for the foreseeable future. But oddly enough the defending Grey Cup champs’ biggest litmus test will not be on the field.

Now that they are owned by MLSE they will largely be judged at the gate. The Argonauts have abandoned the parking lot tailgating concept, slashed ticket prices in most areas over 50 per cent, have limited the upper stand seating to making the BMO Field experience more intimate and enhanced the in-game entertainment options by leaning on the expertise of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto Raptors and Toronto FC in-game operations staff. Attracting unique fans is as important as playing attractive football.

What a disappointing season would look like:

See above. Somehow missing the playoffs would be a wild disappointment. That would be due to Ray not being able to stay healthy after deciding to push off retirement for at least one more year. But more importantly if the team isn’t able to leverage its championship success and new ownership into new fans and a bigger piece of the Toronto sports conversation then this era will be seen as a wasted opportunity that not only impacts the future business projection of the franchise but jeopardizes the upward mobility of the league.

Pre-season Grey Cup odds (via OddsShark):

+700

Notable findings/quotes from CFL Media Poll:

• James Wilder Jr. was the only East player to receive votes as a potential Most Outstanding player award winner receiving 19 per cent of the votes (14 in total). He also led the vote for “Who will lead the league in rushing yards” with 51 per cent of the vote (37 votes).

• After just a year back in the league Marc Trestman got 65 per cebt (48 votes) for which current head coach you would want coaching your team.

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