TORONTO - Leading the CFL in rushing wasn't enough to save Cory Boyd's job with the Toronto Argonauts.
The Argos made the shocking announcement Sunday that they had released the third-year tailback. Sophomore Chad Kackert, who has spent most of the season on the practice roster as Boyd's backup, replaces him in the starting lineup.
A few hours later, Boyd came to terms with the Edmonton Eskimos. That's curious, considering Eskimos tailback Hugh Charles is fifth overall in CFL rushing with 400 yards.
"Cory will be flying into Edmonton Monday morning, where he will take a physical and sign a new contract with our club," said Eskimos general manager Eric Tillman in a statement. "We feel that Hugh Charles, Calvin McCarty and Cory Boyd will give us one of the best backfield combinations in our league."
What made the Argos' decision so stunning was the six-foot-one, 209-pound Boyd had run for a league-high 447 yards this season and averaged a solid 5.5-yards per carry. He was on pace to end the year with over 1,300 yards.
But after rushing for 168 yards and a TD in a 36-27 loss to Hamilton on July 14, the 27-year-old Boyd had run for 130 yards combined over his last three contests, including just 23 yards on eight carries in Toronto's 18-9 home loss to B.C. on Aug. 6.
"Numbers are going to mislead you from time to time," Argos first-year head coach Scott Milanovich said. "Cory certainly did a lot of good things this year and you can argue the fact he is leading the league in rushing but there's more to playing tailback than the numbers.
"You can read between the lines. The bottom line is we felt like we needed to get more production there and whether than happens or not remains to be seen but we're moving ahead. Chad is going to have a great opportunity to do that and we'll see what he can do with his opportunity.''
With Boyd firmly entrenched in the starting lineup, the five-foot-nine, 198-pound Kackert had just two carries for minus-3 yards in 2012. But he did rush for 349 yards (6.1-yard average) and four TDs while adding four catches for 58 yards and a touchdown in spot duty last year. But he also had three fumbles.
Milanovich said the Argos are planning to sign another running back.
The Argos (3-3) are tied with Hamilton and Montreal atop the East Division standings and return to action Saturday in Calgary. While Toronto is showing signs of marked improvement — the club missed the CFL playoffs last year with a 6-12 record — Milanovich, who won two Grey Cups as Montreal's offensive co-ordinator before joining the Double Blue, has much loftier goals than a .500 record.
"Three-and-three, while some people are pleased with that we're not and we understand we have to get better to go where we want to get in November," Milanovich said. "Sometimes you have to something that maybe is a bit unpopular but I think the fans in the city will recognize in the long run we're doing what's best for the Argos.
"Chad is a dynamic player. That's not to say Cory wasn't but sometimes you just have to do things like this to take a step forward.''
Boyd had established himself as one of the CFL's top runners, finishing second overall in rushing the last two seasons. But Toronto's offensive emphasis this season had gone more towards the passing game under Milanovich — himself a former NFL and CFL quarterback — and veteran passer Ricky Ray, acquired in a huge off-season deal with the Eskimos.
While Boyd was a definite asset in the rushing game he didn't exactly flourish as a receiver with 23 catches for just 70 yards. And staying in to pass block and provide protection for Ray wasn't necessarily Boyd's forte.
However after six weeks, Toronto's offence isn't exactly striking fear in the hearts of rival defensive co-ordinators. The Argos are ranked fourth overall in passing, fifth in total yards and sixth in rushing despite leading the CFL in time of possession.
All of which, Milanovich said, could mean further changes in Argosland.
"There are a number of issues offensively that need to be addressed and this was just one of them," Milanovich said. "We need to get tougher offensively, we need to get more physical and that may be the No. 1 thing we need to address as a unit.
"Today was Cory and Chad. We'll see how it goes down the line for everybody else.''
Still, the decision to let Boyd was indeed a stunner and one that caught Boyd by surprise.
"Man, my Life just took a huge 360 turn....Bless up to God," Boyd tweeted afterwards.
Boyd wasn't alone.
"Wow #speechless,'' tweeted Calgary Stampeders offensive tackle Edwin Harrison.
"Really???'' former Saskatchewan receiver Matt Dominguez said on his Twitter account.
Tweeted Hamilton tailback Avon Cobourne, who was released by the Ticats in the off-season before rejoining the CFL club in June: "Nobody safe.. now Toronto just cut the leagues leading rusher... Guess the RB position means nothing anymore..''
But the recently retired Rob Murphy, a former Argos offensive lineman and teammate of Boyd's, wasn't nearly as conciliatory.
"My thoughts on Cory Boyd? He was a fraud who fooled the media for 2yrs Good player when healthy but not a good teammate Media just ate it up," Murphy tweeted.
Milt Stegall, a former all-star slotback now a football commentator with TSN, felt there were non-football reasons for Boyd's release.
"Cory Boyd was not let go for reasons pertaining to football," Stegall tweeted. "There is something else to this story. He's leading the league in rushing.''
Barrin Simpson, a former CFL linebacker with Saskatchewan and Winnipeg, said Boyd would be a solid fit with the Blue Bombers (1-5), who are currently last in the East Division.
"A little shocked at the releasing of Corey Boyd smh," he tweeted. "But I do understand fitting into a system.
"Well BBombers there's the workhorse u need.''
Boyd leaves Toronto having rushed for 2,947 yards in 36 games, averaging a solid six yards per carry. He also added 83 catches for 551 yards.
Milanovich was asked whether the Argos considered moving slotback Andre Durie to the backfield, and with good reason. Durie was a dynamic tailback during his collegiate career at York and has had a handful of carries with Toronto but Milanovich wants Durie to stay put.
"It's too much beating for Dre,' Milanovich said. "It's not that he couldn't handle it but he's fitting in nicely where he's at in the slot.
"We have the ability still to get him a run here or there and get him the ball out in space. We'll continue to use him back there a little bit but it's not something we'd like to see him doing on an every-down basis.''