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December 12, 2017

O’Leary: Popp gives Argos every option they need under centre

Two weeks after winning the Grey Cup, Jim Popp took the first step in trying to secure the biggest win of the offseason for his team.

After Monday’s trade with the Edmonton Eskimos, the Toronto Argonauts’ GM holds the rights to James Franklin, the most coveted pending free-agent QB in the league. Sitting on the same clock is his current starting QB, Ricky Ray, who’ll also be a free-agent on Feb. 13, 2018.

There are certainly worse problems to have. The reigning Grey Cup champs have two months to first, get an indication from Ray on whether he wants to sign a new deal or end his hall-of-fame career at 38 as a four-time champion. They’ve got the same amount of time to figure out what Franklin’s intentions are in regards to his NFL options and then how he might fit into their double-blue framed picture for the future.

“This is all new,” Popp said on the phone from his home in Charlotte, North Carolina.

“This just happened. We talked to (Franklin) today and he seemed excited. He has a new agent and these things don’t just materialize in 24 hours. We’ll start working on it and see where we’re going with it. But I think he’s excited that it’s Toronto and the prospects of what could be moving forward.”


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Franklin, 26, was clear with Esks’ GM Brock Sunderland about his football future when the team had its exit interviews after their West Final loss to Calgary. Franklin told him flat out that after three years in Edmonton backing up MOP Mike Reilly, he wanted a chance to go somewhere that he could start.

In limited use through those three years, Franklin has shown that he has all of the tools to be a starting QB in the CFL. He’s got the arm, the quickness, the smarts and demeanour needed to lead a team. The question for him in Toronto might be how patient is he?

There was a different regime in place when the Argos traded for Drew Willy in 2016. And Ray was in a different place in terms of injuries and on the outlook of his football future when he willingly dropped back to a backup role. Popp said that he didn’t see it necessary for Ray to make that sort of sacrifice again.

“If Ricky is going to continue playing, which we hope he does, he will be our starting quarterback,” Popp said.

“As we also said a year ago, we’re still going to go to camp and compete. All our guys are going to compete. Some guys, it’s their job to lose. We don’t look at Ricky as going into anything being the backup to someone. He’s the starter and he will be if he decides he’s going to play further. But it’s also a situation where anybody that is there or they do play and they are backing him up, the next guy has to be ready to go.”

 

There’s an opportunity in Toronto for Franklin, depending on what he wants. Is working with Ray, battling him for a job in training camp and settling in under coach Marc Trestman and working with offensive coordinator Marcus Brady enough of a lure to him? Can Popp’s idea of the Argos love boat resonate enough with him to maybe wait another year to assume starting duties? Or will he go to free agency and hear out other suitors? Chris Jones or Kavis Reed, maybe even Ed Hervey and Wally Buono could tempt him with something more immediate.

“If (Ray is) going to play, he’s going to play as long as he can and the people that are with him, he’s going to help bring them along,” Popp said.

“I think the perfect example is Zach (Collaros) and Trevor (Harris). He helped bring them along. It’s a situation where you have coach Trestman, you have Marcus Brady you have (senior assistant coach) Steve Walsh that are all great quarterback people. It’s a situation that anybody that’s a part of, they can benefit greatly.”

Popp said that before the team parted ways after its Grey Cup win, the coaches and front office staff sat down and went through possible quarterback options. Franklin was one name that everyone said they’d be interested in.

“We’re all excited,” Popp said. “We’re getting a player that we don’t know everything about. There are a lot of different evaluations of him by us and different teams. He played more probably his first year in the league than he did total the last two years but he’s learned a lot, he comes from a similar system that we run so it’ll be an easier learning curve.

“What I do understand about James is he’s an outstanding young man. I know coach (Trestman) is really going to enjoy working with an individual like that.”