Danny Maciocia: Vernon Adams Jr. gives Alouettes first elite QB since Anthony Calvillo

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/CFLPhotoArchive.com

Vernon Adams Jr. has finally put a stop to the seemingly endless list of quarterbacks who have tried to guide the Alouettes since Anthony Calvillo retired in 2014.

The following quarterbacks have started games for Montreal since Calvillo stepped away from the spotlight: Jonathan Crompton; Troy Smith; Alex Brink; Rakeem Cato; Kevin Glenn; Tanner Marsh; Brandon Bridge; Darian Durant; Drew Willy; Matt Shiltz; Jeff Mathews; Johnny Manziel; and Antonio Pipkin.

Adams Jr. is included, but he’s the exception to the large group and the answer the Als have been searching to find at QB.

General manager Danny Maciocia signed Adams Jr. to a lucrative contract extension which could be worth nearly $1.5 million in total and anointed the dual threat pivot the face of the franchise. Under the leadership of head coach Khari Jones and Adams Jr., Montreal made the playoffs for the first time since 2014 — the same year Calvillo finished his career — with a 10-8 record and hosted a playoff game.

“The last few days I’ve been hunkered down in my office and I watched him play. We haven’t had a bona fide, elite quarterback since Anthony Calvillo. We’ve got an elite quarterback,” Maciocia said.

Adams Jr. took over the starting QB role in Week 3 last season. The five-foot-11, 200-pounder produced a 10-5 win-loss record while throwing for 3,942 yards, 24 touchdowns versus 13 interceptions and rushed for 394 yards with a league-high-tying 12 majors on the ground. For his efforts, Adams Jr. was named an East Division all-star.

But it wasn’t a straight line from university to pro stardom for Adams Jr. The Pasadena, California native threw for 13,081 yards with 136 touchdowns to 37 interceptions and ran for 1,352 and 13 touchdowns during 44 starts in the NCAA. Adams Jr. played three seasons at Eastern Washington University and one for the University of Oregon.

As the selections went by during the 2016 NFL draft, Adams Jr. watched and listened as 253 names were said. The pick-fest ended without Adams Jr. hearing his name called. He attended two NFL rookie mini-camps with Seattle and Washington respectively, but neither team signed Adams Jr. to a contract.

It was a shocking result.

In the days following the disappointment, the B.C. Lions initiated contract discussions with Adams Jr. The Montreal Alouettes jumped at the chance to acquire him and sent a first rounder to the Left coast. At the end of the 2016 CFL season, Adams Jr. started and won three-straight games. It looked like the young signal caller could light up the league in Canada and earn a real NFL shot.

“When you’re a young player, everybody — especially from the States — is thinking I want to come to the CFL, get film and go back to the NFL. But it doesn’t work like that, it’s just not that easy. As a young player yes, you think about those things, you want to try to get back to the NFL,” Adams Jr. said.

However, Jim Popp was fired by the Alouettes and Kavis Reed was installed as the general manager in La Belle Province. Darian Durant was brought in during January 2017 and midway through the season, Adams Jr. was sent to Saskatchewan. Less than one year later, the Riders traded Adams Jr. back east to Hamilton. Adams Jr. was then released in June 2018.

Montreal signed him days later and he started one game in July – just days after the Alouettes made a blockbuster trade for Johnny Manziel. The league office directed the Als to release Manziel in February 2019 after the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner missed required meetings and Adams Jr. seized his opportunity.

“I came in saying I’m going back to the NFL, but no. I came in and I was not good. I was throwing balls into the dirt. I wasn’t ready to play in this league or in the NFL,” Adams Jr. said.

“I’ve been in the same position as he has and to know a team values you and wants you, that’s important for him. It’s not playing for a contract — let’s go out there and win,” head coach Khari Jones said.

Calvillo was released by the Ticats and became one of the best quarterbacks to ever play in the CFL. No. 13 earned three Most Outstanding Player awards and led the Alouettes to three Grey Cup championships. Adams Jr. is trying to reach the same legendary status.

“I could’ve quit a long time ago and I just kept going. I had to learn, I had to move around, I had to grow, I had to pay the dues, I had to come in early, stay late,” Adams Jr. said.

“Now I’m going to turn it up 10 times harder. Ya’ll better be ready out there.”

Justin Dunk is a football insider, sports reporter and anchor.