The CFL’s quarterback carousel

Rourke’s departure highlights lack of stability teams other than Bombers experiencing behind centre


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How concerned should we be over the current crop of starting quarterbacks in the CFL?

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How concerned should we be over the current crop of starting quarterbacks in the CFL?

It’s something I’ve been thinking about for some time now, ever since Nathan Rourke departed for the NFL. Rourke, a Canadian who signed a three-year contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars, spent just two years in the CFL, the second in which he set several records, and would have set even more had he not suffered a serious foot injury midway through the season.

Indeed, Rourke dominated headlines throughout the 2022 campaign, with all the attention on the budding star overshadowing an otherwise underwhelming group of passers, with one notable exception in Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the league’s reigning back-to-back most outstanding player, Zach Collaros. Beyond Collaros, you can make the argument no other franchise in the league has even close to the same level of stability at the most important position heading into this season.

Frank Gunn / The Canadian Press files

Trevor Harris (left) has the tall task leading a Saskatchewan Roughriders team that failed to make the playoffs last season.

If it’s not a talent issue, then it’s circumstance, most notably a QB having to start over with a new team and teammates. That’s no easy transition, even for a league known for plenty of turnover.

In the West Division, you have a pair of unproven pivots in Calgary’s Jake Maier and Edmonton’s Taylor Cornelius. Maier has certainly had more success than Cornelius over the last couple of years, but he was pulled in the West semi-final against the B.C. Lions after producing a measly six points in just over three quarters.

Veteran Trevor Harris needed to beat out Vernon Adams Jr. in Montreal for a starting job last season, which he eventually did, but now has the tall task of leading the Saskatchewan Roughriders following a dismal 2022 that saw the team miss the playoffs — in a year in which they hosted the Grey Cup — and then overhaul their offensive coaching staff. That leaves Adams in B.C., where he’ll once again take over for Rourke and try to prove for a seventh season he can be a reliable option behind centre on a consistent basis.

Head over to the East Division and things don’t get much better. The reigning Grey Cup champion Toronto Argonauts have opted to fill the void left by McLeod Bethel-Thompson by promoting Chad Kelly, who has a grand total of 45 pass attempts (26 completed), including two touchdowns and three interceptions.

As is the case in Saskatchewan, the Montreal Alouettes, with Cody Fajardo, and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, who inked Bo Levi Mitchell to a three-year pact, are hoping to see massive improvements from two players who seemed destined for a backup role or retirement in 2023. That leaves the Ottawa Redblacks, who have a seemingly solid option in starter Jeremiah Masoli. But Masoli is coming off another season-ending knee injury and at this point in his career — he’ll be 35 in August — his ability to stay healthy has to be a major concern.

With that, let’s get into the latest edition of CFL Rundown, in which we go over some of the main storylines in the week that was in the three-down loop.

1) Some eyebrows were raised after news broke that the Tiger-Cats had released veteran receiver Bralon Addison. Addison, who had a breakout year in 2019, in which he was named a league all-star, has been limited to just 11 games over the past two seasons, owing to injury. He played in eight games in 2022 before suffering a torn Achilles – a brutal injury that has the potential to end a career. Turns out, Addison is doing just fine, with his release the result of he and the Tiger-Cats being unable agree on a restructured contract. A day later, Addison signed with Ottawa. At 29, the assumption is he still has plenty left in the tank and if he can recapture any of the magic from a few years ago — when he reeled in 95 passes for 1,236 yards and seven touchdowns — it might end up being a steal of a deal for the Redblacks.

2) It’s not rare to see veteran players call it a career as training camps get underway and this year is no different. The Redblacks announced the retirement of O-lineman Terran Vaughn and Canadian receiver Lemar Durant, both of whom were signed as free agents over the winter. Meanwhile, Stampeders defensive tackle Mike Moore has also decided to leave the game, marking yet another player who signed with a new club over the off-season, only to decide later to hang up the cleats.

3) Steven Richardson’s disappointing run with the B.C. Lions came to an end this week, with the 27-year-old defensive tackle released while he continues to heal from a ruptured Achilles. The former Bomber signed a two-year deal with B.C. ahead of the 2022 campaign but suffered the serious injury that spring before ever playing a game. He re-injured himself in October while rehabbing, which had the Lions questioning whether Richardson would be able to play in 2023. At just 27, you have to wonder if he’ll ever make it back. Here’s hoping he can.

4) My start-of-the-year, way-too-early power rankings: 1) Bombers; 2) Tiger-Cats; 3) Stampeders; 4) Lions; 5) Argonauts; 6) Redblacks; 7) Elks; 8) Roughriders; 9) Alouettes.

5) A couple familiar faces have joined the Tiger-Cats’ coaching staff. Jeff Reinebold returns for his third stint with the team and will once again be tasked as special-teams co-ordinator, a role he played between 2013-16 and 2019-21. Scott Milanovich is also back in the CFL after a two-year hiatus, which he spent as quarterbacks coach with the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts. You hear a lot about how the non-player football operations cap has affected how teams attract talented coaches, but it clearly didn’t hurt the Tiger-Cats here.

6) The Elks announced earlier this month a net operating loss of $3.3 million in 2022. It’s the fourth straight year Edmonton has finished in the red. There was a significant dip in revenue this past season, with the Elks coming up $4 million short of what they had budgeted. It certainly didn’t help that they went 0-9 at home.

7) The CFL has made six new rule changes ahead of the 2023 season, all of which were unanimously approved by the league’s board of governors after being proposed by its rules committee. Among them are, on kickoffs, the football will no longer need to be touched for a single to be awarded; on field goals or convert kicks, no more than six players, within two yards of the line of scrimmage, can be on either side of the long snapper; when a team is in possession of the ball in their end zone, if a holding call is assessed, the non-offending team can now opt for a safety; it’s now illegal for a player or authorized member of a team’s bench area to make avoidable contact with an official during the game (play is reviewable and may result in a 10-yard objectionable contact penalty); if a kicked ball hits the goalpost while in flight, the returning team will now get the ball at the 30-yard line rather than the 25; and, finally, teams will no longer be allowed to have players wearing both 0 and 00 (only one player will allowed to wear either number).

8) The CFL is also incorporating a few new safety measures this year. Of note, Guardian caps – padded shells installed on the outside of helmets – will now be mandatory during training camp and padded practices during the regular season for running backs, offensive and defensive linemen, as well as linebackers. Teams will also have collapsible tents on the sidelines during games — like they have in the NFL — that will be used to assess injuries. There will also be pre-game medical meetings to ensure that in the event of a medical emergency during a game, there will be a quicker and more effective response.

Twitter: @jeffkhamilton

Jeff Hamilton

Jeff Hamilton
Multimedia producer

After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.

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