Why aren’t the Ottawa Redblacks interested in Canadian QB Michael O’Connor?

Photo credit: Mathieu Bélanger
Photo courtesy: Mathieu Bélanger

It seems the Ottawa Redblacks aren’t interested in adding a local product with star potential in the CFL’s upcoming free agent frenzy.

Michael O’Connor is a pending free agent with the Toronto Argonauts. The University of British Columbia graduate has drawn interest from a number of teams but the Redblacks have not initiated talks with O’Connor’s camp regarding a contract.

The league’s ‘legal tampering’ window opened on January 31 at noon ET, allowing teams one week to negotiate with pending free agents across the country. This period closes on Sunday at noon ET with teams regaining the exclusive rights to their own free agents for 48 hours leading into Tuesday’s free agent frenzy.

It’s no secret that Ottawa was awful at the quarterback position in 2019.

Dominique Davis was the Redblacks’ opening-day starter and finished the season with 2,216 yards, five touchdowns and fourteen interceptions. Jonathon Jennings and Will Arndt were given opportunities to play down the stretch but played poorly as well.

Ottawa’s quarterbacks weren’t put in a strong position to succeed — offensive coordinator Jaime Elizondo resigned late in the off-season and the receiving corps was mediocre at best — but none showed signs of growth as the season progressed.

Jennings and Arndt are gone, but Davis remains under contract as the backup to veteran Matt Nichols. The pair were together in Winnipeg under Paul LaPolice for two seasons (2016-17) before Davis was allowed to depart via free agency.

The rest of Ottawa’s quarterbacks — Kevin Anderson, Taryn Christion, and Ross Comis — are complete unknowns who have never attempted a pass in the CFL.

O’Connor, meanwhile, made the most of his limited action with Toronto in 2019. He completed 15-of-25 pass attempts for 173 yards, one touchdown, and zero interceptions.

It’s a small sample size, sure, but the six-foot-five, 235-pound passer put up far better numbers than any of Ottawa’s quarterbacks did last season.

O’Connor is still three weeks shy of his 25th birthday. He’s a young player who has the potential to grow into a starting-calibre CFL quarterback.

For comparison, Davis is entering his tenth season of professional football and will turn 32 in July. At this point of his career, there’s no reason to expect he will improve. What you see is what you get.

Nichols isn’t going to be the Redblacks’ starting quarterback for long. The soon-to-be 34-year-old has a long history of injuries and should be considered a stop-gap measure in the nation’s capital for the next year or two.

O’Connor was born in Orleans, Ont., which is located 20 kilometres east of downtown Ottawa. He was brilliant in U Sports, played well as a CFL rookie, and has all the tools required to become a great quarterback. All he needs is development.

It doesn’t appear the Redblacks are interested in developing a potential local star at quarterback, which remains a huge area of need for the team.

Needless to say, that’s baffling.

John Hodge is a Canadian football reporter based in Winnipeg.