"I don't believe in building through free agency."
Argos general manager Jim Barker uttered those words during an interview with TSN 1050 radio just prior to the CFL's annual free agent frenzy.
If you turn back the clock Barker is true to his word. Last February the only free agent the team added was LB/DE James Yurichuk. He proved his worth as a situational player who excelled on special teams, but it was far from being the kind of deal that captured the attention of more than just the die-hard fan.
This may be a similar season in terms of who the Argos bring in according to Barker.
"I do believe in plugging holes (via free agency) and trying to find that right guy that's going to bring our club up a notch," Barker noted.
The bigger question may be what the club does about three specific players who may opt to not return to Toronto, Pat Watkins, Robert McCune and Swayze Waters.
Watkins, a league all-star at cornerback last year, would be the toughest to replace. He's also been the hardest to find.
"Honestly we have not been able to get in touch with him. He doesn't return our calls, which is a bad thing," chuckled Barker. "If a guy doesn't want to be in Toronto then god bless him and good luck. We're persistent. We're sending players to his house, doing all those kind of things to try and run him down. But Pat is one of those guys who is very elusive. It's not a shocking development for us. It's possible he's just involved in something and not worried about it."
Swayze Waters led the CFL in punting average and was virtually automatic on field goals down the stretch and is looking at returning to the states.
"He's tried out for a couple of NFL teams," Barker told TSN 1050. "Every indication he's given us is that he's coming back to Toronto if he comes back to the CFL."
The Argos are preparing for the scenario where Waters makes an NFL team, and last week signed LSU grad Josh Jasper.
Robert McCune's worth was evident in the team's loss to Hamilton in the Eastern Final. The middle linebacker, who was third in the league with 99 tackles, missed the game with a shoulder injury. It seemed every time Henry Burris scrambled, he ran right where McCune would have been.
"With Robert we're kind of waiting," said the GM. "Obviously Robert had a great year for us. He's 34 years old. That's a decision that we're in the process of making, to which direction we're going to go with him."
If the Argos and McCune were to part ways it would leave the team down a couple of middle linebackers, as Jason Pottinger was selected by Ottawa in the expansion draft. Barker has a replacement all picked out, someone who may not be thought of as an MLB.
"Shane Horton. That's his natural position." Barker said, then may have tipped his hand about McCune's future. "(Horton) played out of position playing rush end last year. He's going to be a very, very good middle linebacker."
Barker added he feels that at 215 pounds, Horton is big enough to play in the middle. Herve Tonye-Tonye, a non-import who just completed his rookie season, can also play the inside.
As far as non-imports are concerned, it may be an interesting free agency period because of the recent expansion draft. Stocking the Ottawa RedBlacks took its toll on the existing teams' rosters, so there will be a desire to restock the shelves with fresh talent.
Barker commented on a few of the Canadians on the Argos that are on the verge of free agency.
Chad Rempel, long snapper: "Chad worked out with Tampa Bay (NFL). He wants to give that a chance until that's exhausted."
Zander Robinson, tight end/fullback: "Zander loves being in Toronto and loves how we've used him in the offence. He's a valuable guy for us, but he's also exploring NFL opportunities."
David Lee, defensive end: "Is a guy that had a real good year for us. I think he wants to try the free-agent market. It's his first time going through that and I think he's a guy that wants to go out and see what the market is all about."
Mike Bradwell, wide receiver. "I think we're really close. He loves being in Toronto."
Coaching Moves/Tryout Camp:
The Boatmen lost several coaches in the off-season. Special teams coordinator Mike O'Shea left to become the head coach of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, while defensive coordinator Chris Jones took over the head coaching job with the Edmonton Eskimos. Jones also took a handful of assistant coaches with him. Barker says there will be announcement about the new-look staff in the immediate future.
"We're excited about what our staff is going to look like" said Barker. "Scott (head coach Milanovich) will be announcing those (soon). He's come up with a couple of guys who have great CFL experience.”
Barker spoke to TSN 1050 from Atlanta, where the Argos were hosting a tryout camp. Over 60 players were in attendance and Barker was happy with what they found.
"There were two players that we're going to attempt to sign" said the GM. "We're pretty excited."
If those players head north in June they'll attend training camp. Where that will be is still anyone's guess. The team will not be back at the University of Toronto's Erindale campus and at present are homeless. Where are they heading?
"Those are questions for (Executive Chairman and CEO) Chris Rudge. "I know that there's some different things going on with York University," said Barker. "Other than that, I'm not privy to those things.”