TORONTO — Like the Toronto Argonauts, James Franklin is waiting on Ricky Ray.
Franklin signed a two-year contract extension with the Toronto Argonauts on Friday, less than a month after they acquired his rights from the Edmonton Eskimos. Franklin, 26, opted to forego CFL free agency even though he could again be relegated to backup duties if Ray returns.
Ray capped a stellar 2017 season by leading Toronto to a stunning 27-24 Grey Cup victory over the favoured Calgary Stampeders. But the 38-year-old is pondering his football future this off-season.
“Ricky has earned this,” Franklin said Friday. “If he comes back he’s earned the right to be the starter.
“I didn’t come here because (the Argos) told me they were going to give me the keys. I came here because they told me they wanted me and saw that I could become something great. I believed them, I believe in myself and hopefully in time that will happen.”
Being patient is nothing new for Franklin. The six-foot-two, 225-pound Oklahoma City native spent his first three CFL seasons (2015-17) backing up Edmonton veteran Mike Reilly, the CFL’s outstanding player last year.
Reilly isn’t only one of the league’s best quarterbacks he’s also one of its toughest, having missed just one regular-season game the past two years.
Franklin appeared in 12 games with Edmonton, completing 116-of-176 passes (65.9 per cent) for 1,449 yards with 12 touchdowns and one interception. He also ran for 145 yards and a TD on 18 carries (8.06-yard average).
Franklin went 2-1 as a starter with Edmonton, completing 60-of-89 passes (67.4 per cent) for 775 yards with five TDs and no interceptions. That included a 41-17 home win over Toronto in 2016 when Franklin finished 18-of-23 passing for 335 yards and four touchdowns.
Buoying Franklin’s patience is seeing Ray win a Grey Cup last year after a 41-year-old Henry Burris led Ottawa to a CFL championship in 2016.
“Hopefully I can have a long and healthy career,” Franklin said. “But seeing some of those guys like Ricky and Henry play until they’re a lot older than most people would think, that’s encouraging because I’m 26 now, I could potentially be playing for 14 more years.
“It’s encouraging to know if I have to sit out another year or so … it’s not like I’m never going to have a chance to play.”
The respectful and cordial Franklin makes no bones about wanting to start but is willing to wait for that chance.
“The nice thing about patience is it teaches you a lot,” he said. “I waited and kept a positive attitude in Edmonton but it also gave me a lot of drive, made me focus better and want to work harder so I could accomplish more.
“So if I have to wait another year then it’s just going to be more drive that hopefully will help me develop as a player. I know patience pays off eventually.”
Should Ray return, Franklin expects to learn plenty from the future Hall of Famer who’s won a record four Grey Cups as a starter.
“If you look at what he’s done, he’s accomplished a lot,” Franklin said. “I’m not naive to think I don’t need any help or could learn anything else.
“I don’t know what exactly I can learn from him because I haven’t had that opportunity. But if I do, I know I’m going to increase my knowledge quite a bit.”
Franklin played collegiately at Missouri, backing up current Arizona Cardinal Blaine Gabbert as a freshman in 2010. Franklin became the Tigers’ starter the following season after Gabbert went in the first round, No. 10 overall, to the Jacksonville Jaguars in the 2011 NFL draft.
After being bypassed in the ‘14 NFL draft, Franklin signed with the Detroit Lions but was released. The ‘11 Independence Bowl MVP said a return south was an option, but only briefly.
“They didn’t offer me a contract or anything,” he said. “That was something I could’ve kept pursuing but I didn’t see anything realistically happening.”
Franklin also decided against CFL free agency even though he would’ve been a hot commodity on the open market.
“It’s not about the money,” he said. “It’s about going somewhere with opportunity, a good place with a good family environment.”
And the chance to play for Toronto head coach Marc Trestman, who has a well-earned reputation as a quarterback guru. In 2002 as the Oakland Raiders offensive co-ordinator, Trestman helped a 37-year-old Rich Gannon become the NFL’s most valuable player and has also worked with San Francisco’s Steve Young, Arizona’s Jake Plummer and Detroit’s Scott Mitchell.
In Montreal, Trestman also re-energized Hall of Fame quarterback Anthony Calvillo’s career. Last season, Ray posted career highs in passes (668) and completions (474) while registering his first 5,000-yard season since ‘08 to finish behind Reilly for the CFL’s outstanding player award.
“After the trade he (Trestman) called me and just talked about what he wanted and hoped we could accomplish,” Franklin said. “He’s really been encouraging to me and positive and just saying he can’t wait to compete and coach me and hopefully help me become a better quarterback.”