Chris Merchant has earned a shot to compete for a CFL roster spot as a quarterback.
Fellow Canadian QB Michael O’Connor’s background playing in the United States is well known but Merchant’s resume includes a NCAA Division I scholarship from the University of Buffalo – choosing the Bulls over several other offers.
Merchant redshirted in 2014 and appeared in one game during the 2015 season. During spring camp in 2016, there was a competition for Buffalo’s starting quarterback job. Tyree Jackson had been recruited by current head coach Lance Leipold. Merchant was a Jeff Quinn recruit and after a 3-4 start in 2014, Quinn received the pink slip.
That meant it would be an uphill battle politically for Merchant to earn the trust of the new coaching staff. And Jackson brought a unique size and athleticism combination to the position. Merchant didn’t back down and had arguably a stronger Buffalo spring game – completed 7-of-10 passes for 132 yards – but the Bulls coaches were leaning towards Jackson as the starter.
That led Merchant to transfer and Western University was the destination as he became the Mustangs starter. He led Western to a perfect 12-0 season in 2017 and capped it off by beating Laval in the Vanier Cup. For his efforts, Merchant earned MVP of the national title game completing 13-of-20 passes for 276 yards and one touchdown while adding 89 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries. After leading Western back for the rematch with Laval in 2018, the Rouge et Or counter punched and won at home, but Merchant was solid in a hostile environment.
Meanwhile, Jackson improved each season at Buffalo, finishing with 6,999 passing yards, 49 touchdowns against 24 interceptions plus 757 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns, including 3,131 yards, 28 touchdowns versus 12 interceptions during his senior season. The six-foot-seven, 249-pounder ran a 4.59 40-yard time at the NFL combine and displayed explosion as an athlete – 34-inch vertical, 10-foot broad jump – along with a strong right arm.
Jackson is one of the most intriguing talents available in the NFL draft and that’s the type of player it took – politics included – to beat Merchant out at Buffalo. After returning to Canada, Merchant guided Western to one of the best seasons in USports history and the quarterback opposing him in two Vanier Cups has been signed by a CFL team, Hugo Richard is a member of the Montreal Alouettes.
Athletically, Merchant is above average. As a quarterback, he is a tough leader who commands the respect of his teammates. Montreal, Ottawa, Hamilton and Edmonton interviewed Merchant at the CFL combine and each team asked the St. Andrews College product if he would consider playing other positions in the pros. Versatility does help in the CFL game as rosters are smaller than in the NFL, but Merchant deserves a long look as a quarterback.
Merchant was coached hard by Greg Marshall, the former Hamilton Ticats head coach, at Western. The Calgary native has already been at two CFL training camps, Stampeders in 2017 and Ticats last year. Stamps head coach Dave Dickenson had a lengthy conversation with Merchant at the CFL combine and his squad did develop Andrew Buckley into a backup pivot who might have had starter potential if medical school didn’t beckon.
Learning and growing in the pro game as a quarterback is possible when you consider the background Merchant has in football and top tier talent he’s competed against at Buffalo or in Canada.