In the wake of the franchise’s worst season since their inaugural campaign in 2014, Ottawa Redblacks’ general manager Marcel Desjardins has been aggressively overhauling his team.
It started with extensions for key Canadian players on the eve of the last game of the season, continued with the hiring of head coach Paul LaPolice and in his latest act, trading for the rights to pending free agent quarterback Nick Arbuckle.
Arbuckle allowed the Stampeders to remain in West Division contention while franchise quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell recovered from a shoulder injury. In seven starts, Arbuckle completed 174-of-238 passes (73 percent) for 2,103 yards, 11 touchdowns and five interceptions, winning four games and losing three.
Although trading a third-round pick just to have the right to talk with a pending free agent seems like a pricey gamble, it’s a crafty move by Ottawa’s GM. If Arbuckle were to hit the open market, he would undoubtably be the No. 1 quarterback option for any team looking to improve under centre.
The fact that Ottawa has an exclusive month to chat with and charm him cannot be overlooked. Perhaps the lure of heading to Toronto and reuniting with Ryan Dinwiddie, his former quarterback coach and good friend, will be too strong for Arbuckle to ignore.
But until February 11, the Redblacks have Arbuckle’s ear. As such, here are four things Desjardins should emphasize as he makes his sales pitch over the coming weeks.
Ottawa’s new head coach doesn’t just have a reputation for forging strong relationships with his players, he’s also one of (if not the best) offensive mind in the league. In three of the last four seasons, LaPolice has directed a top-three scoring offence.
LaPolice has a proven track record of success with every single quarterback he’s worked with from Kerry Joseph to Kevin Glenn, all the way to last season’s trio of Matt Nichols, Chris Streveler and Zach Collaros.
When LaPolice calls plays, his quarterback produces. Period. For a young and relatively inexperienced pivot like Arbuckle, the thought of pairing with such a quarterback-friendly coach and taking his game to the next level should be appealing.
A strong supporting cast
Unlike some teams around the league, the Redblacks boast a strong offensive line, with plenty of depth. Given that a quarterback is only as good as the guys up front blocking for him, Arbuckle should be encouraged that veterans like offensive linemen Alex Mateas, Evan Johnson, Nolan MacMillan and Mark Korte are all under contract for the 2020 season.
Furthermore, Arbuckle won’t be expected to carry the load on his own. Running back John Crockett forces defences to respect the run and receiver Brad Sinopoli has multiple 100 catch seasons under his belt. Not to mention that Desjardins will surely be bolstering his receiving corps in free agency.
First class facilities in a world class city
When OSEG renovated Lansdowne, they made sure to equip TD Place with excellent team facilities; from meeting rooms to medical facilities to the gym. Everything a player could need is within walking distance and the team practices at TD Place itself, meaning no time is wasted each day commuting across the city for practice.
In terms of off the field activities, Lansdowne boasts a variety of shops and restaurants and the Glebe is only a few blocks away and further down is the downtown core. While Ottawa doesn’t boast quite as much nightlife and entertainment as certain other quarterback-needy cities (Toronto), there is still enough going on every week to keep busy.
An engaged fan base
Any player will tell you, there’s a lot to be said for playing in front of a full house. In a typical season, R-Nation sells out TD Place every game. Even with a historically bad offence and a team that limped to 3-15, the Ottawa faithful still averaged 22,605 per game in 2019.
R-Nation’s passion, be it in the stands, or at community events such as the weekly QB Clubs held before home games, is an asset. And something Arbuckle might not find in a place like Toronto.