Shea Emry and Tim Burke are together again.
The Toronto Argonauts signed the veteran linebacker to a three-year deal Tuesday, hours after the start of CFL free agency. The move reunites Emry with Tim Burke, the new Argos defensive co-ordinator who held the same post in Montreal when Emry began his pro career in 2008.
“We (Emry and Burke) had a brief conversation after I signed and it was great, it was just like old times,” Emry said during a conference call. “I’m super excited with the dynamic aspects he wants to bring to it.
“I’m a guy who’s been in the defence that really allowed me to flourish and be the player I want to be.”
Toronto also signed former Edmonton Eskimos offensive lineman Scott Mitchell as a free agent Tuesday.
Emry will replace veteran Robert McCune in the middle of Toronto’s defence. McCune was the club’s tackling leader last season but became a free agent Tuesday as well.
“I think you’re getting a player of similar mould,” Argos head coach Scott Milanovich said when asked to compare Emry with McCune. “One of the things I’ve always said about Shea from when he was a rookie is there’s a certain number of players in the league that when the game’s on the line and you need a play, you hear it said all the time, this guy is around the ball and making a play.
“That’s one of the biggest strengths Shea has, is when the moment is at its biggest, that’s when he seems to make a play and change the game. I don’t know that’s different from Robert McCune but I’m certainly thrilled. I’ve watched Shea since he was a rookie ... I’m sure he had many many offers and I’m honoured he chose to join the Double Blue.”
Emry, 27, of Richmond, B.C., spent the first six years of his career with Montreal, helping the Alouettes earn Grey Cup titles 2009 and 2010. Burke was the defensive co-ordinator on those championship teams but left to join head coach Paul LaPolice’s staff in Winnipeg in 2011.
Burke became the Bombers’ head coach after LaPolice was fired in August 2011 and held that position until being let go by Winnipeg following the 2013 campaign.
“The one guy we highlighted was Shea Emry and if he stayed available he was the guy we were going to go hard on,” Argos general manager Jim Barker said. “We felt like he’s the right guy, the piece to help us and Tim Burke in terms of putting in his defence a guy who’s played for him and obviously is a ratio changer.
“He just brings all the things we look for on this football team.”
Milanovich is also intimately familiar with Emry, having won Grey Cups as Montreal’s offensive co-ordinator before coming to Toronto prior to the 2012 campaign. Also, offensive co-ordinator Marcus Brady is a former Alouettes assistant.
“I wanted to make my decision based on the football club,” Emry said. “I know Jim and Scott run a tight ship around there, no pun intended.
“I really respect Scott and respect Marcus and Tim ... I recognize there’s a culture in there I want to be a part of. That was a big part of the decision. I want to be part of a winning culture and a culture that allows players to play together and flourish as a team.”
The seventh overall pick in the 2008 CFL draft, Emry has 261 tackles, 13 sacks, three fumble recoveries and four interceptions in his career.
Emry’s best season came in 2012 when he totalled a career-best 87 tackles, including seven sacks, and was named the East Division’s top Canadian and defensive MVP. He was also an East Division and CFL all-star. He said leaving Montreal is hard.
“It was a difficult decision to make but on the other hand it came down to something that was really easy, it was a values-based decision,” he said. “Going into this free-agency market, I knew I wanted to make a decision based on values and not where my heart laid.
“I wanted to give Montreal the proper gratitude for drafting me and for having given me six great years of football and the opportunity to play football. Coming down this morning and having all the offers on the table, it made it an easy decision to go to a franchise ... that presents a great opportunity for me to step in and allow myself to be the man I want to be.”
The six-foot-four, 295-pound Mitchell was the second player taken in the 2011 CFL draft by Edmonton. The 24-year-old Ottawa native spent the last three years with the Eskimos.
The addition of Emry and Mitchell certainly fill definite needs for Toronto, which lost starting offensive lineman Joe Epelle and versatile linebacker Jason Pottinger, both Canadians, to the expansion Ottawa Redblacks in December.