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  • Reeve Batstone

Steady As She Goes

The good ship Argonaut came under fierce attack in free agency but its hull was not breached and it was not dismasted. Its rigging has been visibly damaged but it sails on under repair.

Everyone knew that the Argos "Grey Cup" roster would come under siege this offseason. I think that, on paper, management can be pleased that they protected, if not enhanced, its overall Canadian talent. The top priority of this team should have been to keep its stellar offensive line, the core of the team and its best unit. It did so. Secondly, to protect its Canadians, it managed to do very well.

On the defensive side they took some big hits, the worst of which was the loss of the East's top defensive player, Adarius Pickett. There is no getting around it, he will be almost impossible to replace. They may have to do it by committee. Pickett makes the RedBlacks better immediately. Thank goodness he didn't land in the Hammer.

It was especially tough to see three Argos: Barlow, Hendricks and Peters leave for the Ti-Cats. Peters was the only all-star although I expect that Barlow will become one with more playing time in Hamilton. It was a relief that they re-signed Oakman given these losses on the defensive LOS. Oakman was outstanding in the East Final loss to Montreal. I love players who play their best when it matters most.

In a perfect world I would have preferred the Argos traded Kurleigh Gittens to the Elks for a Canadian (ie., Tre Ford) or high round draft picks rather than a highly paid American. Jake Ceresna is a tremendous player but this may have allowed them to go younger and cheaper by signing Barlow. For Barlow, the best is yet to come. Time will tell of course, but I see him as all-star material. The Ti-cats got a lot better on defence in free agency. I still have serious questions about their starting quarterback but Ed Hervey is going to return tough defence to Steeltown. Signing their athletic Canadian DB Adeleke helps alleviate the pain for the Argos.

I love the signing of former Argo Lirim Hajralahuh. He has made very big field goals in the past for the Argos and is of course Canadian. While Bede may have the strongest leg in football, he has struggled with consistency from time to time. Bede also struggled in the 2022 Grey Cup. His late game field goal was blocked when he was slow to get his kick away. A herculean effort by Robbie Smith to defeat a Casey Sayles block, to thwart a Bombers FG saved both the Argos and Bede from ignominy. Ask yourself this question, "who would I want to be kicking a decisive 50-yard walk off field goal, Hajralahuh or Bede?" In fairness to Bede, he had a career year last season and his kickoffs were like weapons. He will be a major upgrade for Edmonton, albeit, classified as American. Hajrallahuh will allow the Argos to dress an additional American on its game day roster which could mean an extra DB or lineman. I seem to recall the Argos running very low on DBs when several were hurt in a game last season.

Losing AJ Ouellette is probably tougher on Argo fans than anyone else. He averaged 5.7 yards per carry last season and reached 1,000 yards. He also brought personality to his play and team celebrations. He is a very good running back but he may be the easiest of their stars to replace. Much of the Argos success in running the ball over the last two seasons can be attributed to the improved offensive line. Keep in mind that Daniel Adeboboye gained a sparkling average of 7.0 yards on 41 carries this past season. With the retirement of Andrew Harris and the departure of Ouellette, this young man deserves a shot at a lot more carries. Riders fans are going to love Ouellette, but I also think Argo fans are going to love Adeboboye. The signing of Ka'Deem Carey is great insurance along with Deontae McMahon. Carey is an outstanding talent, and if he can remain healthy, the Argos backfield may be better than ever, even if it's more by committee than one featured back.

There are not a ton of running backs available in the CFL draft but it would be nice to see the Argos bring in another capable Canadian to provide depth now that Harris is gone. Not one running back has cracked the ranking of top 20 prospects for this year's draft. Nevertheless, one intriguing prospect is record-setting Queen's running back Jared Chisari, who averaged 7.4 yards per carry this past season and runs a 4.5 second 40. His running mate Anthony Soles, is the son of late Alouette star running back, Michael Soles. A star in his own right, Soles is also eligible for the 2024 CFL draft.

Losing record-setting returner Javon Leake to the Elks was also a blow, but the truth is that the improvement in the Argos return game over the last season and a half is largely due to better blocking on special teams. You may recall that Jeremiah Haydel also returned a kickoff 86 yards for a TD in 2022. If brought back, he may get a chance to compete for Leake's vacancy along with Deontae McMahon, record setting NCAA returner Savon Scarver, and others.

Around the league

From my point of view, the team that improved the most from free agency, on paper, was the Ottawa Redblacks. They came out with a promising starting QB in Dru Brown, the league's best defensive player in Adarius Pickett, and improved their porous offensive line (Dariusz Bladek). Saskatchewan also did well in improving their poor offensive line. I was somewhat surprised that Corey Mace did not sign any of the Argos defensive players. Ouellette looks poised to pick up where he left off in Toronto behind Sask's revamped offensive line. I'm sure Trevor Harris is equally pleased about the prospect of better pass protection.

Edmonton, on the other hand, did not do especially well along the line of scrimmage. They traded their best defensive lineman to the Argonauts and look worse on defence than they did last season. Defence has been the Elks biggest problem over the last season, not quarterback. Their defence cannot hold a lead. They don't appear to have done much to change that. Adding former Argos: Gittens, Bede and MBT to their offence is great but it does nothing to improve their greatest weaknesses.

Losing Mathieu Betts is devastating for BC but I think he is a long shot to make their namesake NFL franchise. At 29 years old I expect he will be back to the CFL, possibly before the end of 2024 season.

Tim White re-signing in Hamilton will likely prevent the Ti-Cats from taking a run at Betts should he be released by Detroit before the end of the CFL season.


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