Eric Tillman might be having second thoughts, but Ricky Ray is not.
The veteran quarterback says he’s settled nicely into his new life with the Toronto Argonauts, seven months after Tillman’s stunning decision to send Ray east after nine seasons in Edmonton.
Earlier this week, the Eskimos general manager told an Edmonton radio station if he had it all over to do again, he probably wouldn’t make the trade.
That sentiment is of little solace to Ray.
“Yeah, I’ve been over that for a while,” he said with a chuckle after practice Thursday. “You know, it’s football.
“I was lucky to play in one place for so long. The trade happened and, yeah, I was a little shocked and upset in the beginning, but throughout the off-season I was definitely really excited to come here and work with [Argos rookie head coach] Scott Milanovich. The trade was done and I’m happy to be here in Toronto. This is a great spot for me.”
Tillman has come under heavy criticism in Alberta since trading Ray – one of the most accurate and purest passers in CFL history – last December for journeyman quarterback Steven Jyles, kicker Grant Shaw and the No. 2 selection in the 2012 CFL draft.
Not only did Ray lead Edmonton to a pair of Grey Cup titles during his time there, he was also a huge fan favourite.
What’s more, at 32, Ray is still in his prime and should have many years of solid production left, considering Montreal Alouettes quarterback Anthony Calvillo – another outstanding pure passer – is still going strong at 39.
Ray led Edmonton to an 11-7 record and a second-place finish in the West Division in 2011. He finished the season third overall in passing with 4,594 yards – the sixth time in nine seasons he has surpassed 4,500 – while completing 65.2 per cent of his passes. Ray also threw 24 touchdown passes against just 11 interceptions.
The Eskimos beat the Argos 19-15 at Commonwealth Stadium in the season opener for both teams. Ray finished 29 of 39 for 298 yards and a touchdown; Jyles was 21 of 36 for 236 yards and an interception.
The real star of the game was Shaw, who hit all four field goals he attempted, while Argos veteran Noel Prefontaine missed two of the three he tried.
It was a different story last Saturday, as Ray threw for 407 yards and two scores while leading Toronto to a thrilling 39-36 home victory over the Calgary Stampeders. The following night, Jyles was a dismal 10 of 19 for 91 yards and Edmonton’s offence mustered just 137 net yards in a 17-1 road loss to the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
Moments later in Regina, Tillman stepped forward to shoulder the blame for the embarrassing defeat. On Tuesday, he took to the airwaves to publicly second-guess his decision to trade Ray.
“Honestly, I would probably not,” Tillman said. “I would have listened to my wife, who begged me not to make the trade because she talked about the fact that we had just gone 11-7, that we could actually have an off-season where I might be semi-popular in Edmonton for a change, and to stay status quo.”
Ray joined a Toronto team that finished last in the East Division last year with a 6-12 record. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound quarterback was slow to adjust to Milanovich’s offence – Ray was eight of 15 for 99 yards and two interceptions in two exhibition games – but is currently the CFL’s passing leader with 705 yards through two games.
“I think the offence is better designed to handle my strengths, so I’m really excited to play in this offence,” Ray said. “This opportunity is just a great opportunity for me.”
Ray said returning to Edmonton early in the season helped him achieve closure.
“For sure, that was a good game to kind of get out of the way,” Ray said. “I think the weirdest part of that game was just knowing so many guys on the other team.
“Usually you know a guy or two and that’s about it but I pretty much knew the whole team and it was kind of weird watching them. But now we can just get back to playing football.”