The Edmonton Eskimos executed a blockbuster trade with the Toronto Argonauts on Monday, shipping quarterback James Franklin and a 2018 third round draft pick to the Big Smoke in exchange for offensive lineman Mason Woods. While Franklin is still slated to become a free agent on February 13, 2018, the deal made sense for both clubs.
Toronto is the perfect fit for Franklin…
There’s no guarantee that Franklin signs a long-term contract with Toronto (more on that in a moment), but the young pivot is a perfect fit for the double blue (and vice-versa).
Playing under Marc Trestman should be a tantalizing prospect for any quarterback. Trestman knows how to coach the position as well as anyone in the CFL and his passer-friendly system helped Anthony Calvillo and Ricky Ray win Grey Cups well into their late-thirties.
The Argos also have a lot of talent on the offensive side of the football. Receivers S.J. Green, DeVier Posey, and Armanti Edwards are pending free agents, but star running back James Wilder Jr. and the versatile Anthony Coombs are both under contract for 2018. The club also has a solid offensive line anchored by stud Canadians Chris Van Zeyl, Tyler Holmes, and Sean McEwen, none of whom are pending free agents.
Toronto is also the perfect city for a young quarterback to develop into a full-time starter. While the spotlight can shine too brightly in cities like Regina, Winnipeg, and Edmonton, a busy market like Toronto will protect Franklin in the event that he struggles out of the gate.
There’s also the matter of divisional strength. The Argos just won the Grey Cup after going 9-9 in the regular season — a record that wouldn’t have earned them a playoff spot in the West Division. This record was good enough for first place in the East Division, however, giving Toronto a bye into the East Final (played at home, of course). This easier road in the playoffs would help Franklin earn playoff dollars as well as assist in his goal of winning a championship as a starter.
…but this is far from over
James Franklin was unwilling to remain in Edmonton because he no longer wants to be a back-up quarterback. Now 26, Franklin is entering the prime of his career — he deserves a chance to become the face of a CFL franchise as his club’s undisputed starter.
This led people to speculate following the trade that Ricky Ray will, in fact, be retiring this winter. Ray has been undecided about his future so far this off-season, hinting that he both will and won’t be back for a seventeenth CFL season. Argos’ general manager Jim Popp was quick to quash those rumours on Monday, making the following statement.
“This has nothing to do with Ricky. This wasn’t a decision based off anything to do with Ricky. Ricky Ray will make his own decision when the time is right whether he is going to be back with the Argonauts or not.”
With all due respect to Popp — the guy’s got five Grey Cup rings, for Pete’s sake — this isn’t sound logic. Ray will one day be a first-ballot inductee to the Canadian Football Hall of Fame, but the Argos can’t wager another season on the health of a quarterback who’s missed 25 of a possible 54 regular season games over the past three seasons.
Ray announcing his return for next season could spell disaster for an Argo club that gave up a lot in exchange for Franklin’s rights. If Franklin is indeed unwilling to be a back-up in 2018, it’s possible he’ll never sign with Toronto, choosing instead to reach free agency in February. This would mean the Argos losing Mason Woods for virtually nothing, a scary prospect for a team that didn’t have a first round pick in this past year’s draft.
I hate to say I told you so
I’m not afraid of admitting when I’m wrong — for example, I didn’t have Toronto on my list of potential landing spots for James Franklin — but I’m also not afraid to take credit when I’m right. I’ve been telling people for over a year now that Franklin was (and still is) unlikely to end up in Saskatchewan, the team that most people saw as his inevitable destination.
— John Hodge (@JohnDHodge) August 26, 2017
While the Riders were in the mix for Franklin’s negotiation rights, I never saw the green and white as a real contender for the young pivot’s services.
#Argos won Franklin lottery amid interest from at least 3 other teams, #Riders,#AlsMTL & #Ticats, no immediate guarantee of a payout as Franklin is currently focused on working out for as many NFL clubs that will see him before he commits to another #CFL team. @GerryModdejonge
— CFL News (@CFL_News) December 12, 2017
Esks general manager Brock Sunderland spoke to the importance of trading Franklin to an East Division team, preventing the young pivot from helping a division rival. He did just this, with Montreal as the runner-up for Franklin’s services.
This isn’t to say that Franklin won’t be in the West Division in 2018, but Edmonton has done its part to make that as unlikely as possible. I’ll say this, though — if Franklin is playing in the West in 2018, expect it to be with B.C., not Saskatchewan.
N if L
The possibility of getting an NFL look will weigh heavily on the future of Franklin as a CFL quarterback. If Franklin receives an NFL offer, he would have to be a CFL free agent in order to accept it.
Should Franklin fail to receive an NFL offer, he could choose to sign a one-year CFL contract in order to try the NFL again in 2019. The issue with signing a one-year CFL deal is money — teams will want Franklin to make a long-term commitment to their team if he’s to earn the type of money typically allotted for starting quarterbacks.
I understand that the NFL dream never dies for some, but I’d like to see Franklin sign a long-term CFL deal if he doesn’t get a serious offer from down south this off-season. The Missouri product would be 28 by the time he could try the NFL again in 2019 — getting a look as a training camp arm doesn’t seem worth it when a lot of star CFL quarterbacks make comparable salaries to NFL rookies.
Oh, that o-line
Franklin is the biggest player involved in Monday’s trade, but Mason Woods is a name that shouldn’t be overlooked. The Eskimos have quietly built arguably the CFL’s best stable of Canadian offensive linemen over the past three seasons and Woods — 6’9 and barely 23 years of age — is just the latest blue chipper to join that bunch.
Simeon Rottier’s time with the club may be coming to an end — almost 34, the left guard has missed a large number of games due to injury over the past three seasons — while 2015 draft selections Danny Groulx and David Beard are pending free agents. That still leaves Edmonton with 2017 CFL all-star Matt O’Donnell, 2016 West Division all-star Justin Sorensen, and a trio of fine developmental players in Jacob Ruby, Jean-Simon Roy, and Woods.
You can never have too many Canadian offensive linemen, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Brock Sunderland move out a veteran in order to lock-up his younger hogs. Could Ed Hervey, the man who built much of Edmonton’s existing offensive line depth, make a trade to bring one of his former players to Vancouver? This is pure speculation, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a trade happen — particularly if that veteran is originally from the west coast.