Free Agent signings begin – Argos Active

The Toronto Argonauts didn’t wait long to dip into the CFL’s free-agent waters.

The Argos signed cornerback Byron Parker and offensive lineman Cedric Gagne-Marcoux on Tuesday. Parker spent most of last season with the Edmonton Eskimos while Gagne-Marcoux was with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

Both Parker and Gagne-Marcoux had their previous CFL deals expire at 12:01 am ET on Tuesday, meaning they were free to sign with any team.

The B.C. Lions also got into the act, signing defensive lineman Keron Williams, who helped the Montreal Alouettes win a Grey Cup title last season.

Parker, who was also in conversation with Hamilton, said his familiarity with Toronto played a role in his final decision. Parker spent his first four CFL seasons with the Argos before being dealt to Edmonton last year.

“I love it there,” Parker said. “I’m familiar with the city and the people are familiar with me.

“I have people up there who I consider my family. And it’s also easy for my family to get in and out of, as far as if they want to drive up of if they want to fly up.”

Earlier, the Argos announced they re-signed veteran receiver P.K. Sam, hours before he was slated to become a free agent. And the Saskatchewan Roughriders also re-signed long-snapper Jocelyn Frenette, offensive lineman Marc Parenteau and fullback Chris Szarka.

Also, the Ticats dealt all-star defensive back Chris Thompson to Edmonton for receiver Maurice Mann.

The six-foot-one, 260-pound Williams was named a CFL all-star last season after registering 32 tackles and eight sacks with Montreal.

“Keron is quick, athletic and brings a lot of skill to his position,” said Lions head coach/GM Wally Buono. “He was one of the top free agents available and we’re excited to have him join us.”

The six-foot-two, 290-pound Gagne-Marcoux comes to Toronto after being selected in the first round, eighth overall, by Hamilton in the 2006 CFL Canadian college draft. He joins an Argos squad that posted a league-worst 3-15 record last season and missed the playoffs for the second straight year.

Much of Toronto’s struggles last year came because of an anemic offence that finished last in scoring (18.2 points per game) total yards (283 per game), yards rushing (82.5 per game) and sacks allowed (55) and was second-last in yards passing (229.3 yards). Gagne-Marcoux, 27, of Baie-Comeau, Que., should also have no trouble stepping into the lineup as he’s very good friends with current Argos offensive linemen Dominic Picard and Taylor Robertson.

“There are many, many reasons,” Gagne-Marcoux said. “First of all I played high school with Dominic Picard and we’ve stayed really really close friends. And then I played in college (at Central Florida) Taylor Robertson.

“But I’ve always enjoyed playing in Toronto. I think it’s a great stadium, great fans and a great atmosphere.”

Gagne-Marcouzx leaves a Hamilton team that finished second in the East Division with a 9-9 record and hosted a CFL playoff game for the first time in seven seasons. But he admitted he wasn’t a good fit with Ticats head coach Marcel Bellefeuille.

“I had some good and bad experiences in Hamilton,” he said. “Unfortunately last year with the new coaching staff it wasn’t quite my fit.

“People say it’s a rebuilding team (in Toronto) but it’s not a big deal for a rebuilding team when all the pieces are there. It’s just a matter of building a chemistry. I think they brought in the right coach (Jim Barker) and I think it’s all there. I think it’s going to be one of the big turnarounds in CFL history.”

Parker returns to Toronto, where he was twice named a CFL all-star before being traded to Edmonton early last year after getting in rookie head coach Bart Andrus’s doghouse.

Parker holds Argos club records for most interception return yards in a season (348 in 2006), interception return yards in a game (135 versus Hamilton on Sept. 9, 2006), career touchdowns by interception (six) and single-season touchdowns by interception (four).

Parker, who makes his off-season home in Atlanta, said initially being free to choose where he’d play was exciting but now he’s just glad to know where he’ll be in 2010.

“It was exciting at the beginning of the day,” Parker said. “But then, when your phone rings all day, it feels like college recruiting all over again.

“So it was like, ‘I’m excited to be recruited, but I’m ready for it to be over with.”

Sam has spent the past two seasons with Toronto, appearing in 15 regular-season games. He has registered 63 catches for 884 yards and five touchdowns

Frenette will return to the Riders for his ninth CFL season. He was selected in the third round, 33rd overall, by Saskatchewan in the 2001 Canadian college draft out of the University of Ottawa and has appeared in 119 regular-season games with the club.

Parenteau is heading into his fourth season with the Riders and sixth in the CFL. The Boston College grad has appeared in 62 games with the Riders and last year started all 18 contests at right guard.

The six-foot-three, 235-pound Szarka, of Vancouver, has spent his entire 13-year career with the Riders. He’s appeared in 206 career regular-season games, having rushed for 1,702 yard and 32 TDs on 429 carries and adding 97 catches for 1,295 yards and five touchdowns.

The acquisition of Mann gives Hamilton another play-making receiver to complement all-star slotback Arland Bruce III (88 receptions, 1,243 yards, 10 TDs). The six-foot-two, 190-pound Mann had 73 catches for 917 yards and six touchdowns last season with Edmonton.

“Maurice provides our offence with an experienced wideout with size,” Ticats general manager Bob O’Billovich said. “He’s been productive throughout his CFL career and has shown an ability to make tough catches.”

The six-foot, 189-pound Thompson had 49 tackles and an interception in 18 games last season with Hamilton. But he was a CFL all-star in 2008 when recorded 60 tackles and nine interceptions.

Thompson began his CFL career with Edmonton in 2007 before being dealt to Hamilton in February 2008.

“Chris is a CFL all-star that can play multiple positions within the secondary,” Edmonton GM says Eskimo General Manager and Director of Football Operations Danny Maciocia. “He has proven to be one of the better defensive backs in the CFL and we are excited to see what he brings to our team.”


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