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Toronto Argonauts quarterback Chad Kelly (12) protects the ball from Calgary Stampeders defensive lineman Julian Howsare (95) during first half CFL football action in Toronto on Aug. 25.The Canadian Press

Chad Kelly is staying put.

Kelly signed a three-year, $1.865-million extension with the Toronto Argonauts on Thursday that was negotiated by his Saskatchewan-based agent, Chris Lambiris.

The deal makes Kelly, in his first season as the team’s starting quarterback, the CFL’s highest-paid player.

“I wanted to do this because I wanted everybody to know I’m committed to making this team better,” Kelly said following Thursday’s practice. “I love it here, I want to spend the next 50 years here.

“This is my home now and I look forward to a lot (more) great memories to come. I just want to show I’m committed to being here.”

Winnipeg quarterback Zach Collaros ($600,000 annually) entered the ‘23 season as the CFL’s top earner.

“When we talk about the importance of this signing it cannot be disguised by any other thing than this guys is just exciting, he’s fun to watch,” Toronto GM Mike (Pinball) Clemons said. “It’s must-watch TV every time he gets out there.

“For us, this was an important step in sort of saying, ‘Hey, listen, we’re going to try to be competitive every year. We want to have a chance to be a playoff team and win the Grey Cup on a yearly basis, that’s what our goal is.’ It’s our hope that not only is he going to be here, he’s going to attract those same kind of people to come here and play with our team.”

Kelly, 29, from Buffalo, N.Y., has guided Toronto (8-1) to top spot in the East Division standings. The Argos’ offence stands second in the CFL in offensive points (29.2 per game), offensive TDs (30) and net offence (380.9 yards) while surrendering a league-low 10 sacks.

Kelly, the nephew of former Buffalo Bills quarterback Jim Kelly, leads the CFL in rushing touchdowns (six), quarterback rating (118.7) and has completed 149 of 213 passes (70 per cent) for 2,402 yards and 16 TDs. Toronto’s offence is averaging 29.2 offensive points and 380.9 offensive yards per game, both second in the CFL.

“Chad’s play on the field and leadership off the field make him the perfect fit for us here in Toronto,” said Argos head coach Ryan Dinwiddie. “You’ve seen what he’s done so far this season and we have no doubt the best is still yet to come with Chad.

“He is a player who can lead us to where we are trying to go and that is to compete consistently for Grey Cups each year. We are beyond thrilled he is our guy going forward.”

Not since his final season at Ole Miss (2016) has Kelly been a starting quarterback. Following his college career, Kelly spent time in the NFL with the Denver Broncos (2017-18) and Indianapolis Colts (2019-20) before joining the Argos last year.

Kelly appeared in one game with Denver in 2018 but didn’t attempt a pass.

“I haven’t had this much fun, honestly since I was playing Grand Island Jr. Vikings over in Grand Island,” Kelly said. “My job is so easy having the team around me, my coaches, the support staff.

“It means the world to me.”

Kelly served as Toronto’s backup behind veteran McLeod Bethel-Thompson in 2022, making his first CFL start in the club’s regular-season finale versus Montreal. But Kelly came up huge for the Argos in their upset 24-23 Grey Cup win over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

Replacing an injured Bethel-Thompson (dislocated right thumb) in the fourth quarter, Kelly completed four of six passes for 43 yards. But it was Kelly’s crucial 20-yard run on second-and-15 that set up A.J. Ouellette’s game-winning five-yard rushing TD.

Kelly became Toronto’s full-time starter when Bethel-Thompson signed with the USFL’s New Orleans Breakers in the off-season.

As impressive as Kelly’s play has been on the field, he’s also taken to doing community service for the Argos. Following practice Thursday, he spent time with youngsters from the Toronto Flag Football League, a role Kelly relishes.

He’s also the face of a franchise that’s struggled to attract fans and re-establish the foothold it once had in the Toronto sports landscape.

“I remember when I was a kid being able to just be around or see a professional athlete was an eye-opener and, honestly, was a dream come true,” he said. “Now, this is my time to be able to give back to the city, the community, Toronto Argonauts fans, the city of Toronto and Ontario. Now I have the ability to give back for years to come.”

Toronto resumes action Monday in Hamilton for the traditional Labour Day clash with the rival Tiger-Cats.

With a new deal in tow, there’s little doubt Kelly will have a bigger than usual bull’s-eye on his jersey at Tim Hortons Field, especially considering Kelly said he felt some of his teammates were looking at him differently after news of his extension broke.

“I think there’s obviously some pressure now,” he said. “I’m still the same guy and I’m obviously just trying to prove my worth and what I can do on the football field every day ... every day I want to prove I belong.

“As long as everybody is on the same page as I am of wanting to get better each and every day on and off the field the sky is the limit, not only for myself but our team and franchise.”

Added Clemons: “We have to be careful here now that we don’t get outside of ourselves and think that this signing means everybody is going to bow down to us. It is not the case. It’s now going to make every game a little bit more difficult.”

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