When I first heard that the Edmonton Eskimos had traded quarterback Ricky Ray to the Toronto Argonauts for quarterback Steven Jyles, my first thought was: “Is Eric Tillman crazy?”
Turns out, he’s not crazy. He’s courageous. Just ask him.
“Ultimately, though, you have to have the courage to do what you believe is right,” the spiky-haired Esk GM said after the fact. Ah, so he’s not crazy, or stupid, or a dupe. He’s courageous.
My second thought upon absorbing the news that Ray, the face of the franchise for nine years and two Grey Cups, was now an Argo was that there had to be something else in this deal. I mean, it couldn’t be just Jyles (who has bumped around the CFL with Edmonton, Winnipeg, Saskatchewan and Toronto without ever making an impression), some kicker named Grant Snow and a draft choice, could it? There had to be a Part II to this deal. Was Brett Favre making his final comeback with the Eskimos? Was Toronto going to ship the Skydome roof to Edmonton? I mean, c’mon… what else was there?
Turns out, as of this writing, there is no Part II. This is it. Grey Cup winner, multiple Eskimo record holder, one of the CFL’s best QBs in the past decade, stand-up guy all around, for … seriously, there has to be more than this.
Tillman said Toronto was aggressive in its efforts to get Ray, and their offer was too good to pass up. Good lord, what were the other offers?
Barker: “OK, Eric, here’s the deal. A bad of practice balls and a wad of used tape for Ricky Ray.”
Tillman: “Jim, that is insulting. It has to be at least NEW tape, or no deal.”
Barker (stifling a laugh): “You drive a hard bargain, Eric, but let’s talk…”
At the Toronto press conference, Barker actually managed to say that the Argos “gave up a lot” for Ray without bursting out in maniacal, Sideshow Bob-style cackling.
Now, I am willing to concede that Eric Tillman knows a little bit more about the inner workings of the CFL than I do. And I am also willing to admit that there were many times last season when I thought Ray was, if not washed up, at least in the rinse cycle. I called for him to be pulled in probably half the Eskimo games this year. But the old saw in sports goes that the team that got the best player wins a trade, and if that’s true, than the Argos win this hands down.
The Argos go into the 2012 season with a proven winner at QB. The Eskimos enter 2012 with a QB who has failed to impress in every city he’s played in, and backup QBs whose names I can’t recall. The Eskimos gain about $250,000 in cap space (which, in the CFL, should be good for about a dozen players), and a QB who is three years younger. The Argos get a proven winner, the Eskimos get potential, at best.
Tillman had a chance to unload his highest paid player, get a younger and cheaper QB, and look like a genius if this works out. And maybe that’s the real reason for a trade. Eric Tillman has been given his chance to burnish his reputation as a Machiavellian CFL genius. But, I don’t see this working. The one thing I know for certain is that the Eskimos are a poorer team today than they were two days ago.