What benching a healthy Trevor Harris means for the Edmonton Elks

The Edmonton Elks have benched a healthy Trevor Harris for Friday’s game against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. It remains unclear how long the club will move forward with this arrangement but it seems possible that we’ve seen the last of Harris in Edmonton.

Let’s start with this: Trevor Harris hasn’t played at a high level this year. He posted pedestrian numbers over six games despite being surrounded by talented receivers, throwing for 1,568 yards, six touchdowns, and five interceptions. He was awful in his most recent start and was benched after completing just 41 percent of his passes for 89 yards.

It’s possible that Harris is playing poorly due to the aftereffects of the neck injury that held him out of two games in September. The timeline surrounding his injury was questionable at best, but I’m not going to speculate regarding his health. It’s possible that he’s healthy and it’s possible that he’s not. We don’t know for sure.

Elizondo told TSN that sticking with Harris would have been “the easy decision” as he’s a well-established starter in the CFL. Handing the reigns over to a former XFL pivot who has only started two games north of the border — and thrown twice as many interceptions as touchdowns — is a bold move.

The first-year head coach was a late hire for the Elks after Scott Milanovich resigned in January to take a job in the NFL. It would be unfair to blame him for all the challenges the club has faced this year, but head coaches always bear the brunt of criticism.

Turning to Cornelius seems like a last-ditch effort from Elizondo to save his job. If the rookie quarterback plays well, Elizondo can take the credit for bringing him to Edmonton — remember, they were together in the XFL — and developing him into a legitimate CFL starter.

This scenario would be a win-win for Edmonton’s personnel department. If Cornelius plays poorly, they can blame Elizondo for the team’s awful season and fire him. If he plays well, they can salvage some fan support and save a ton of money against the salary cap next year.

Cornelius is under contract for 2022 at the league’s minimum salary of $65,000, which would provide huge cap relief if he were Edmonton’s top pivot. For context, the average annual compensation for a CFL starting quarterback is approximately $400,000 with many earning well over $500,000.

Harris is set to make $550,000 in 2022, including a $300,000 roster bonus that is due on Feb. 1. It’s hard to imagine the Elks paying out that bonus, which means they’ll have to renegotiate the contract, trade him or release him.

Despite his recent poor play, cutting a player like Trevor Harris seems unlikely. High-calibre quarterbacks are few and far between and the 36-year-old has been one of the league’s best over the past decade. Even if a team plans to renegotiate his contract for next season, Harris should still have trade value.

There’s also this year’s salary cap to consider. The Elks have already paid out most of what Harris is due this year but he’ll cost the team almost $14,000 each time they scratch him. That’s a lot of money to invest in a player who may not get another shot under centre for the rest of the season.

The CFL’s trade deadline is set for Wednesday, Oct. 27, which gives Edmonton almost two weeks to get a deal done if desired. The team also has a bye in Week 12, which means they won’t have to write Harris another game cheque between Friday’s game against Winnipeg and the trade deadline.

There are still a number of questions surrounding Harris and the Elks, some of which will probably never be answered publicly. We should know more over the next few weeks, however, as the Elks navigate the final third of their disappointing season.

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