Toronto Argonauts general manager Jim Barker spent some time on the phone with ESPNBoston.com on Thursday, with the goal to learn more about defensive lineman Armond Armstead.
The Patriots signed Armstead, who played at Southern Cal and then with the Argonauts last season, on Tuesday.
“I don’t think it’s very often that an NFL team can get a first-round pick without using a first-round pick,” Barker said of Armstead.
Here is the Q&A with Barker:
What type of player are the Patriots getting?
“They’re getting a 6-5, 280-pound active player who plays very smart. He plays with great leverage. He’s an above-average pass-rusher who plays the run well. He’s a solid all-around player, a phenomenal young man. As good a player as he is, he’s a better person. I think at a young age – he was 21 when he came up here – I think he grew a lot just living in another country on his own. I think his maturation level is going to be higher than if he were to come off a university campus. Not only a great player, but a fantastic person; he’ll be great in the community.”
Can you describe how Armond was utilized on defense with the Argonauts?
“He was used for us both as a nose guard – he’s obviously not Vince Wilfork, that’s not what he does, he’s not a two-gap player in a 30 front – and 3 technique [outside shade on the guard]. He played on the edge some in the 30 front but not much. It wasn’t that he couldn’t do it, it’s that we didn’t play a lot of 30 front. He was moved around inside and was mainly an inside player for us. He ended up being named All-CFL as a rookie, which is very rare.”
How did you bring him to the Argonauts?
“I went to USC myself, so I was aware of Armond’s story. When I saw that USC was not going to allow him to go through Pro Day, I put him on our negotiation list. I didn’t know all the details. We kind of went through the process. His agent is Don Yee, a good friend of mine, and we worked out that if in fact he can play, this might be the best solution for him to come to Canada. If things worked out at the end of the first year, he could either come back for a second year or we would allow him to go and pursue his dream if he was ready for that. This was just a rare, once-in-a-lifetime case. I don’t think it’s very often where an NFL team can get a first-round pick without using a first-round pick. When he came up, about the second or third day of training camp, I told somebody on our coaching staff ‘this guy is going to be the highest paid guy out of Canada ever.’ The details of his [contract] I’m not sure, but from everything I understand, that in case is the fact. We’ve had some good players from our league go down and be very successful – Cam Wake, Jeff Garcia, Doug Flutie. This guy is young and his best years are ahead of him. He just fits the mold of the type of player the Patriots look for – high character, great athlete, still growing into being a great pro football player.”
One article framed this past year in the CFL for him as one that he had to show that medical issues weren’t a factor in his career. From your understanding of it, does that seem like a fair characterization?
“Yeah, I think when you’re dealing with a heart attack, and dealing with those kind of things – if in fact that’s what it was; there are a lot of legal issues going on about what really happened. I don’t really know. None of that made any difference to us. We brought him up and doctors and our cardiologist put him through a battery of what we do in Canada, which obviously is extensive. Our doctors gave him the go-ahead that he was fine to play and he not only played 23 games, but he never missed a practice. There was never any kind of an issue at all when it came to whatever the issue happened to be with him at USC.”
How would you characterize the interest from NFL teams over the course of the season?
“I can say he was highly sought-after. The players up in our league are different, because it’s a different game. We’re more of a space game. For Armond, he’s not going to have that yard off the ball. It’s a much tighter game in the NFL. Some of the things we look for, there are players who play in the NFL that couldn’t play up here. There are some different skill sets, but in certain positions and areas there is obviously carry-over. We have a phenomenal group of players up here. I would say we get more and more [NFL] teams every year come through. The teams that are very thorough come through and do a real good job and they know all the players in our league, as they should – just like we have to go down and we scout all 32 NFL teams. On an NFL roster, we’re not going to get the people who are going to make their team, but there are a lot of guys they have in training camp who can’t play for us. In fact, over half of them probably can’t play for us, but we have to go down and scout them. That’s what good teams in our league do, just like the best teams in [the NFL] do up here. There is a good relationship between the two leagues. We honor each other’s contracts. It’s a good relationship.”
Did anything stand out to you from a Patriots perspective in their pursuit, or was it more standard business?
“It came down to which team had the most to sell, and what Armond was looking for. I think this year, being on a Grey Cup champion, we went out last year and traded for Ricky Ray – one of the top quarterbacks in the league – and I think Armond saw how important it was having a team that was going to compete to win Super Bowls. There were a lot of teams that were after him. I think he sifted through and it came down to – obviously money to an extent, but I think there were a lot of other factors for Armond. He’s young, he knows he’s going to make plenty of money, and I think being involved in a winning organization is very important to him. I know he was looking very, very closely at four or five teams that were right there, and he made the decision that was best for he and his family.”