Argos acquire QB Ricky Ray

The Argos acquired veteran Eskimos QB Ricky Ray on Monday in a deal that will see Argos QB Steven...

The Argos acquired veteran Eskimos QB Ricky Ray on Monday in a deal that will see Argos QB Steven Jyles head west. (David Bloom/QMI Agency/Files)

BILL LANKHOF, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:52 PM ET

TORONTO - The Toronto Argonauts finally have a quarterback who doesn’t lead the league in sulking, injury timeouts or unfulfilled potential.

They have Ricky Ray: Two-time Grey Cup champion.

The Argonauts Monday traded Steven Jyles, recently heralded as their quarterback of the future when he signed a two-year deal Dec. 3, to the Edmonton Eskimos, for Ray. Also going west are kicker Grant Shaw and a first-round pick in the Canadian draft in 2012.

In return they get Ray, who has smashed virtually every Eskimos’ passing record in his nine seasons in the CFL. “We had every intent of making (Jyles) our quarterback of the future when we signed him. But you get into talks and things change. When we saw a crack; a chance to get a franchise quarterback, then you have to make the deal,” said Argonauts’ general manager Jim Barker.

With a dwindling fan base, a culture of defeatism, a string of miscast quarterbacks, and nobody this side of Andre Durie who has been able to catch the ball, this was the franchise’s chance to begin turning around its fortunes.

It may be the last chance. With the eyes of the league, and the country, on Toronto as it plays host to the 100th anniversary of the Grey Cup in 2012, the future for the Argos has to be now.

Ray doesn’t come with guarantees. But he gives them a chance to prove they are still a viable part of the Toronto sports scene. And, while Jyles shows promise, the Argonauts couldn’t afford to wait and find out.

“It was a matter of getting a guy who has done it all while giving up a guy who hasn’t proven himself yet,” Barker said. “I still believe Steven Jyles is going to be a superstar in this league. A couple of years down the road we’ll be looking back on this and he’s going to be a great player in Edmonton but hopefully by then Ricky will have won a couple more Grey Cups in Toronto.”

The deal gives the Argonauts their first proven CFL quarterback since Damon Allen retired after the 2007 season. It ends an experimentation that blew up in the hands of Michael Bishop, Kerry Joseph, Cleo Lemon and Jyles. The Argonauts were perennial tailgaters in almost every league passing statistic.

All the Argonauts expect from Ray is leadership.

All they expect is a passing game that has wallowed between pathetic and laughable.

All that’s expected is for him to tickle fans’ interest. And, oh yeah, a couple of championships would be nice, too, starting with the 100th anniversary of the Grey Cup.

Other than that, no pressure.

This is Barker’s biggest move since starting the Argos’ makeover prior to the 2010 season, and he doesn’t hide the great expectations, drawing comparisons to both Doug Flutie and Anthony Calvillo.

“This gives us a guy at that position like we had in ‘96 and ‘97 with Doug Flutie. When you went on the field you expected to win. And, you were surprised if you didn’t. We expect that out of Ricky, the kind of guy you don’t worry about the outcome ... they haven’t had that type of guy here in years.”

Ray, 32, had a down year in 2010 but rebounded last season throwing for 4,594 yards, while completing 65.2% of his passes, with 24 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He has thrown for at least 4,500 yards six times in his career.

It has been nine seasons since he broke into the CFL. He began his rookie season as a third-stringer and ended it as the league’s top-rated passer. He came up one game short of a Grey Cup ring in 2002, won it the next season, then again in 2005.

“He’s been in the league since 2002 but he’s only three years older than (Darian) Durant and Jyles and he’s eight years younger than A.C. You look at Calvillo, he didn’t really hit his stride until he was Ricky’s age,” said Barker.

“We’ve got a guy who is in the prime of his career, a guy at the peak of his abilities.”

While the Eskimos weren’t actively shopping Ray, there had been speculation that he was available. The Argos pursued the deal aggressively, particularly in the past week. But when Barker, who had been attending CFL meetings in Calgary, boarded a plane Monday morning for Toronto the deal was still in limbo.

“This was not an easy deal to make for either team. It was not easy for (Edmonton coach) Kavis Reed and (general manager Eric Tillman) to make this deal. They were going to do it; then they weren’t. They were going to do it; then they weren’t. When I got on the plane at 7 a.m. we weren’t announcing it ... then all hell broke loose.”

The Eskimos described the decision as difficult and “emotional.”

The deal, from their side, wouldn’t appear to make much sense: a future Hall of Famer in return for an unknown future. But they denied any league involvement in boosting Toronto’s fortunes as the league tries to boost interest in the 100th anniversary celebrations.

The Argos will introduce Ray during a Wednesday news conference in Toronto.

RICKY RAY’S CFL HIGHLIGHTS

— In 2002 started the season as the Eskimos third-string quarterback but ended up replacing Jason Maas and throwing for 2,991 yards, 24 touchdowns, and nine interceptions with the highest quarterback rating in the league (101.3).

— In 2003, he led the Eskimos to a 34-22 Grey Cup win over Montreal. It was Edmonton’s first Grey Cup in 10 years with Ray completing 22 of 32 passes for two TDs and 301 yards against Don Matthews’ renowned blitzing defence.

— Named the most outstanding player of the 2005 Grey Cup as he led the Eskimos to a 38-35 victory. He threw for 359 yards and two touchdowns while completing 35 of 45 passes.

— In 2006, playing with a non-contender, Ray led the league in passing with exactly 5,000 yards. He was also more evasive in the pocket than many observers expected. Playing behind a suspect offensive line he came in with 469 yards rushing with nine TDs.

— He became the Eskimos’ all-time leader in career passing yards in 2007, eclipsing CFL and NFL hall-of-famer Warren Moon.

— In 2008, Ray completed 422 of 608 passes to set a single season Eskimo record of 5,661 yards.

— This past season, Ray threw for 4,954 yards, 24 TDs and 11 interceptions for a 99.3 QB rating. He also showed that at age 32 he still had some scrambling ability, running for 258 yards and one touchdown.


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