February 18, 2012
Losing Eiben the reality of having Ray
By FRANK ZICARELLI, QMI Agency
With so much money invested in Ricky Ray, it was inevitable as it was unavoidable the Argos would lose players who brought more to the table than just tackles, interceptions or blocks.
Regardless of what people say, or have you believe, money is often at the root at every move that gets made, especially during free agency.
And while the Argos expected to lose to some pieces, what they’ve lost in the opening week of free agency are players who can’t easily be replaced.
In losing Byron Parker, who signed with B.C., and Kevin Eiben, whose expected move to the Hammer was confirmed on Saturday, the Argos have lost pieces to their past, pieces, one could argue, who have lost a step, but they are pieces nonetheless whose experience in three-down football is indispensable.
Suddenly, the pressure on Ray mounts, the urgency to win this year when so much resources are being committed to play in the 100th Grey Cup becomes intensified.
Whether it’s the Argos or the Ticats, nothing short of an appearance in the CFL’s showcase game will suffice, but there are no guarantees.
To say Toronto did not want Eiben back would be wrong, but clearly the Ticats offered a package, or at worse a promise, that lured this long-time Argo to Steeltown.
In another era, this would jolt a fan base which had grown accustomed to Eiben making tackles, persevering through pain and evolving into one of the game’s premier linebackers.
In this era where change is part and parcel of any sporting landscape, the loss of Eiben won’t register to many, but it should.
“I’m very excited to join the Ticats organization for their 2012 Grey Cup run,’’ Eiben said in a statement released by the club. “I’m looking forward to sharing my 11 years of CFL experience with the team and building camaraderie with my new teammates. I can’t wait for training camp.
“I’d like to thank the Toronto Argonauts organization, fans and teammates for 11 great years and great memories. Toronto will always have a place in my heart but I’m excited for the next chapter of my career.”
It remains to be seen how the Ticats plan on using Eiben, who missed most of last season when he underwent surgery to repair a torn pectoral muscle in August.
In a realistic scenario, Eiben should be used in situational downs, on special teams and as the team’s holder on field goal attempts.
With so much to prove, especially to the Argos, the Ticats acquire a proud veteran who will leave everything out on the field.
Eiben’s signing did not create the fanfare of Andy Fantuz’s arrival, but Eiben looms as a valuable piece on a Ticat team that continues to make news and waves.
“Kevin’s had a very productive career to date, and we’re expecting him to add flexibility and depth to our group of linebackers,’’ Ticats vice president of football operations Bob O’Billovich said in a release. “He’s an intelligent player with tremendous character.
“The wealth of experience he brings makes this a great signing.”
As expected, once the Fantuz domino fell into place, the Ticats, who were very aggressive in reaching out to the former Saskatchewan slotback, were able to move forward in their free-agent plans.
On the same day that Hamilton announced Eiben’s signing, the team also ushered in the Greg Peach era.
Peach, in a nutshell, will replace Justin Hickman, one of the CFL’s premier sack specialists who signed with the NFL’s Colts, who plan to audition Hickman at linebacker.
The 6-foot-3, 255-pound Peach played the past three years in Edmonton, where he had 94 tackles and recorded 13 sacks.
Hamilton also addressed their need on the offensive line by coming to terms with Tim O’Neill, a Victoria, B.C., native who spent the past four years with the Stamps.
In Calgary last year, O’Neill dressed in all 18 games, starting 15 at centre. He can also slide over and play at guard.
BATTLE'S ON TO BE BACKUP
Just when you thought Jarious Jackson was out of the picture in Toronto, the backup quarterback is now back in.
When the Argos announced former third-string Ticat quarterback Adam Tafralis had been signed, it was speculated Jackson, formerly of the B.C. Lions, was no longer a fit.
With Ricky Ray entrenched as the starter, the battle for the backup will be one of many areas to watch during training camp and the pre-season.
Both Jackson and Tafralis have a lot to prove, which should lend to a heated competition, which is what all teams strive to achieve.
But given Ray’s status, a rookie head coach in Scott Milanovich and the veteran Ray needing every single snap to familiarize himself with a new system and new teammates, whomever emerges as the backup will be there strictly as an emergency.
The Argos have also added along the offensive line with the acquisition of Andrew Jones, who was born in Toronto and who was drafted by B.C. in 2007 after attending Mac.