Argos and Wilder Jr. part ways in a move that seemed inevitable
The Argos and running back James Wilder Jr. officially parted ways Monday, a move that should not come as a surprise to anyone remotely familiar with the team.
The writing on the wall for Wilder Jr. appeared months ago, if not a year ago, when he couldn’t stay healthy. And when he did appear in games he lacked that big-play ability that took the CFL by storm in his rookie season in 2017, the year the Argos won the Grey Cup.
It was also the year in which Wilder Jr. earned top honours as the league’s rookie of the year.
In the absence of a true marquee quarterback, Wilder Jr. became the face of the franchise, in part because there was no one else to embrace that role.
Wilder Jr. and newly anointed GM Mike (Pinball) Clemons often spoke and there was a sense once the Argos cleaned out their locker room earlier this month that the team would do what’s best for Wilder Jr., who, to his credit, would do whatever was necessary to reach out to the community.
A good guy whose upright style made him an easy target, Wilder Jr. emerged as a dual threat mid-way through the 2017 season.
Simply put, without his presence and ability to make big plays, both in the run game and as a receiving threat coming out of the backfield, there’s no way the Argos would have won their second championship in six years, which is not to diminish the role Ricky Ray had in each title run.
By releasing Wilder Jr. now and not waiting for the CFL’s official free-agent window to open in February, it allows Wilder Jr. to pursue whatever options that may exist down south, including the XFL.
He dabbled in wrestling this past off-season.
In the CFL, it’s very common for teams to release players well before free agency, either as a good-faith sign hoping the player returns once all football options have been pursued or a simple acknowledgement that there was no interest in bringing the player back.
A.J. Ouellette is a hard-nosed, down-hill runner whom the Argos auditioned late in the season.
The team also brought former NFLer Bishop Sankey to town, but Sankey never appeared in a game.
Brandon Banks is a free agent, the kind of player the Argos should have an interest in bringing back, but one never knows until all the free-agent dominoes fall into place.
As for Wilder Jr., his time came and went in the CFL, in with a bang and out with whimper.
Realistically speaking, once his rookie season wrapped up followed by a public demand for more money, which the Argos buckled under, Wilder Jr. was never the same the past two seasons, for a variety of reasons.
He’ll be missed because he was a good dude who never took a snap off. He loved the attention, but his on-field production never did match up with the buzz generated off the field.
At the end of the day, there are far better options the Argos must explore in addressing their need for a legitimate game-changing running back.
Wilder Jr. wasn’t the answer and he wasn’t going to be.
Releasing him now was the right move to make.