It remains the least favourite part of Jim Barker’s job: Telling a player he doesn’t fit into the team’s plans.
But it got even more difficult Saturday when the Toronto Argonauts general manager had to deliver the bad news to defensive tackle Kevin Huntley, a four-year CFL veteran who helped the squad capture the historic 100th Grey Cup title last season.
“It was probably the hardest cut I’ve had in three years here because I love Kevin,” Barker said. “It’s the worst part of the job and this is the most difficult day of the year because it’s always difficult to tell a guy this isn’t going to be the place for him.
“But there comes a point where you have to make difficult decisions and then you move forward and that’s what we’ve done.”
Former Argos defensive lineman Ricky Foley, who signed with the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the off-season as a free agent, echoed Barker’s sentiment.
“I had cutdown day,” Foley tweeted. “So many good relationships formed over the yrs and T.C...Blessings & Good Luck 2all the players looking 4new teams.”
Toronto also released linebacker Bryan Payton, running back Gerald Riggs Jr. and receiver Reggie Williams as teams had until 10 p.m. ET on Saturday to reduce their active rosters to 46 players. Clubs could carry up to nine players on the practice roster.
The regular season kicks off Thursday night with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers hosting the Montreal Alouettes at new Investors Group Field. The Argos begin their title defence Friday night at Rogers Centre against their arch rivals, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
The six-foot-eight, 305-pound Huntley has 26 career sacks, but only had two last year. Still, the 31-year-old’s departure was surprising given the Argos opened training camp minus defensive line regulars Ron Flemons (released), Armondo Armstead (New England Patriots, NFL), Foley and Adriano Belli (retired).
However, Barker said veteran tackle Khalif Mitchell — obtained this off-season from B.C. — rookies Jonathan Williams and Cleyon Laing and newcomer Jermaine Reid (trade with Edmonton) all were impressive.
“For two spots we had a lot of players that we liked so that’s what it came down to,” Barker said. “I still think he (Huntley) can play in this league.
“We felt like we had a couple of other guys that augmented what we’re trying to do better.”
Riggs, the son of former NFL star running back Gerald Riggs, was entering his second season with Toronto. But the Argos opted to go with Curtis Steele, a five-foot-11, 206-pound rookie from Memphis as the backup to incumbent Chad Kackert, last year’s Grey Cup MVP.
“Curtis is a good, young player that we’ll groom behind Chad,” Barker said. “Gerald Riggs had a good pre-season as well, he did everything that was asked of him and was very good.
“We just felt to go younger with Curtis. He’s a different kind of back than Gerald and felt that was a better fit for us and we don’t have the luxury of keeping three.”
Barker also said Toronto will start the season with defensive back Brent Vinson and receiver Romby Bryant on the injured list after both were hurt in Thursday night’s 24-20 exhibition win over Montreal. Vinson will require surgery for a broken ankle and is expected to miss four months, while Bryant is out indefinitely with six broken ribs.
Bryant signed with Toronto this off-season shortly after being granted his release by Calgary. The 33-year-old spent three-plus seasons with the Stampeders, registering 211 catches for 3,028 yards and 22 touchdowns before adding two receptions for 31 yards in the club’s 35-22 Grey Cup loss to the Argos.
Over five CFL seasons, the six-foot-one, 191-pound Bryant has 295 career receptions for 4,428 yards and 31 TDs.
On a more pleasant note, Barker said all-star cornerback Pat Watkins passed his physical and should begin practising this week. Watkins missed all of training camp dealing with personal matters in Florida.
Elsewhere, Winnipeg let 21 players go Saturday just two days after dropping a lopsided 52-0 exhibition decision to Hamilton. Included in the cuts was quarterback Chase Clement, meaning Justin Goltz and newcomer Max Hall will back up veteran starter Buck Pierce.
Saskatchewan also released 21 players, including defensive back Eddie Russ, who re-signed with the Riders rather than become a free agent after registering 33 tackles and two interceptions in 2012. Also let go were long-snapper Jordan Matechuk and kicker Brody McKnight, both CFL veterans.
Hamilton made a series of moves. Defensive tackle Torrey Davis, offensive lineman Marc Dile and defensive back Terrence Parks were added to the roster while quarterback Chris Amrhein, defensive back Emanuel Davis, receivers Justin Hilton, Simon Le Marquand and Eric McCree, linebacker Nick Rosamonda and defensive linemen Eze Obiora, Donovan Robinson and Matt Singletary — the son of former NFL star linebacker Mike Singletary — were all released.
Defensive backs Raymond Brown — who had three interceptions, including one that was returned 115 yards for a TD against Winnipeg — Erik Harris (who had an interception and fumble recovery versus the Bombers), Harold Mutobola (who scored a TD against Winnipeg) and Arthur Hobbs, linebacker Phillippe Dubuisson-Lebon, offensive linemen Mike Filer and Landon Rice, receivers Lyle Leong and Ouslet Volcy were added to the practice roster. Defensive back Michael Daley has been suspended.
The B.C. Lions released receiver Elvis Akpla, defensive tackle Chris Clady, tackle Ben Ossai, linebacker Glenn Love, kicker-punter Steven Shott and safety Bobby Davis and placed offensive lineman Adam Baboulas on the nine-game injured list.
On Friday, the Montreal Alouettes released 11 players, including quarterback Quinton Porter, who spent his first five CFL seasons in Hamilton before being released and signing a three-year deal with the Als.