After watching 18 games of inept quarterback play handicap his offence, Ottawa Redblacks general manager Marcel Desjardins knew he had to be aggressive in the off-season.
That’s why Desjardins traded Ottawa’s third-round pick in the 2020 CFL draft to the Calgary Stampeders for the right to negotiate exclusively with quarterback Nick Arbuckle.
The 26-year old was a pending free agent and there was no guarantee he would actually sign with the Redblacks. Not only was he set to hit the free agent market for the first time in his career, he also has close ties with former quarterback coach Ryan Dinwiddie, the new head coach of the Argos.
It was a risky gambit for Ottawa, they could have simply waited for the league’s legal tampering window to open to engage with Arbuckle and his agent. Instead, Desjardins was aggressive, and it seems to have paid off with news that the Redblacks have inked Arbuckle to a two year contract, securing his services through the 2021 season.
Arbuckle was arguably the top pivot set to hit the market, fresh off an impressive 2019 season that saw him step in for an injured Bo Levi Mitchell, keeping the Stamps afloat and earning four wins in seven starts. Arbuckle completed 73 percent of his passes for 2,103 yards, eleven touchdowns and five interceptions. He also had three 300-plus passing yard games.
Taken in combination with his other off-season moves — such as locking up key players like Brad Sinopoli, hiring the brilliant offensive mind inn Paul LaPolice to replace Rick Campbell — much of the fan anger that was directed at Desjardins through the 2019 campaign has faded away.
With a franchise quarterback now secured and the reins of his offence in stable hands, Desjardins can focus his attention on surrounding Arbuckle with weapons. An impact receiver or two and the Arbuckle-LaPolice duo should have TD Place living up to its name again.
As a result of inking Arbuckle, the other half of the initial trade for his rights kicks in, flipping the first overall pick to Calgary and sends the Stampeders’ first rounder (sixth overall) to the Redblacks.
In an odd side note, both times the Redblacks have held the first overall pick in the draft they’ve traded it to Calgary; the other being in 2014 when Desjardins traded the first selection to the Stampeders for Canadian offensive lineman Jon “Dangerbeard” Gott.
While some may consider it a steep price to pay, if the Redblacks have indeed landed the man who will lead their offence for the next few seasons for the cost of dropping five spots in the first round and a third round pick, they’ve done extremely well.
And that’s without mentioning given the growing NFL interest in with the top CFL prospects, picking first overall is perhaps worse than picking later on in the round.
Furthermore, it’s not like the Redblacks have hit home runs in the third round. As a quick glance across franchise history shows:
2019 RB Gabriel Polan
2018 OL Andrew Pickett
2017 DL Eli Ankou
2016 DL Mehdi Abdesmad
2015 no pick (was traded to Calgary in 2014 a part of the deal for DL Justin Phillips)
2014 DL Nigel Romick
2013 DE Kalonji Kashama
Only one player (Romick) has spent more than one season on Ottawa’s roster.
Although Arbuckle instantly vaults to the top of Ottawa’s quarterback depth chart, it doesn’t necessarily signal the end of Dominique Davis’ time in the nation’s capital. For starters, if Desjardins and LaPolice didn’t believe Davis could at least fill in spot duty, he’d have been released when Jonathan Jennings and Will Ardnt were let go. Davis is also familiar with LaPolice from his time in Winnipeg.
Perhaps Davis will be asked to take a pay cut, refuse and be released, but if he does stick around, he’ll have to become accustomed to his new role as Arbuckle’s backup.