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Tuesday, November 8, 2016

FOLEY, ARGOS, BRACING FOR CHANGE

TORONTO - Experience has taught Ricky Foley the only constant in pro football is change.

So despite being under contract for two more seasons, the Toronto Argonauts' veteran defensive lineman is bracing for an unsettled off-season following the club's dismal 5-13 campaign. CFL contracts aren't guaranteed so there's no assurance Foley, or another player, will return next season.

"Being a free agent or having two years left on my deal, when you're 5-13 it might as well be the same thing,'' Foley said matter of factly. "I think a lot of us are kind of concerned ... whether we're on a contract or not.''

Toronto opened 2016 winning four of its first six games but dropped 11-of-12 from that point on. The Argos finished their disappointing season losing seven straight to finish last in the East Division behind Ottawa (8-9-1), Hamilton and Montreal (both 7-11).

But Toronto also missed an opportunity to become relevant in its own market. This was the franchise's first season under new ownership - Bell and Larry Tanenbaum, the chairman of Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment - and it relocated from the cavernous Rogers Centre to a refurbished BMO Field, the site of the 2016 Grey Cup game.

However, the Argos were just 2-7 at BMO Field and never a threat to play for the Grey Cup on home soil like they did in 2012 when they beat Calgary at Rogers Centre in the 100th Grey Cup game.

Then again, six of the CFL's nine teams posted losing home records this year.

With 24 players slated to become free agents in February, Toronto will definitely sport a different look in 2017. Some Argos will look for more lucrative CFL offers, others will pursue NFL opportunities and a few will be forced to ponder retirement.

But the change might not stop there. The organization will also undoubtedly evaluate general manager Jim Barker and head coach Scott Milanovich following the worst of their five seasons together in Toronto, although both have two years remaining on their deals.

And there's plenty of work to do considering Toronto's offence averaged just 21.3 points per game (tied for second-last with Montreal) while the defence surrendered a league-high 31.6 points.

Eleven defensive starters - including Canadian linebacker Cory Greenwood, safety Matt Black and defensive linemen Bryan Hall and Justin Hickman - are among Toronto's free agents. So to is kicker/punter Lirim Hajrullahu, who made 37-of-42 field goals and sported a 43.9-yard punting average.

"This is the one year in my career where I feel like I have no idea, I really don't,'' Foley said when asked what changes he expects this off-season. "Usually I have a pretty good idea about the plans of the staff and the head guys in the organization.

"This year I don't have a bead on it. When you're 5-13 ... jobs are going to be lost and people are going to be fired. That's how it goes. That's part of the business.''

Not surprisingly, Milanovich shouldered the blame for Toronto's miserable season, saying he was unable to get the team to play consistently enough to overcome the issues it faced. But those issues included a practice facility that's minus a weightroom and where, according to numerous players, the Argos aren't allowed to practise on any of the grass fields there.

Ownership and the team's upper management are expected to meet with Barker to review the season although it's unclear if that'll happen before or after the Grey Cup game.

"I just hope the guys who get it, the guys who know what it takes to win, guys who have won, guys who've paid the price to win, I hope those guys stick around,'' Foley said. "The only thing I do know is everybody has to be on the same page.

"Coaches need to be on the same page with the veterans, the veterans need to then echo the coaches mantra to the young guys and the young guys need to buy in. Xs and Os are one thing but I just didn't see the locker-room being on the same page at all.''

Toronto has two veteran quarterbacks - Drew Willy and Ricky Ray - under contract for next season although Ray, 37, will ponder his future this off-season. Ray led the Argos to a Grey Cup win in 2012 - his first season with the club - but has been plagued by injuries throughout his Double Blue tenure.

"It will come down to can I still do it,'' Ray said. "Part of it is how I feel and part of it is getting some perspective from the coaches as well.

`"We'll just have to kind of wait and see, take a little bit of time and have those conversations and see what the course of action will be.''

(Canadian Press)

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