The Edmonton Elks are eyeing a rapid rebuild under new head coach and general manager Chris Jones, but that will be awfully hard to do without an elite starting quarterback.
The green and gold currently have no proven pivot in the building after the previous regime traded away 35-year-old Trevor Harris, but the Elks aren’t panicking. Promising youngsters Nick Arbuckle and Taylor Cornelius are expected to compete for the top job, but it is a new competitor that appears to define what Edmonton management wants from the position.
“You have winners. J.T. Barrett, his reputation precedes him. All the things that he’s done at Ohio State, he did nothing but win. He did nothing but score, throw and run for touchdowns,” assistant GM Geroy Simon said on The SportsCage.
“I think his winning percentage is almost 90 percent. He’s the all-time touchdown passer in Big 10 history with over a hundred and I think he’s rushed for quite a bit as well. The guy does nothing but win.”
A three-time winner of the Big Ten Conference’s Griese–Brees Quarterback of the Year award in 2014, 2016 and 2017, Barrett excelled for the Buckeyes from 2014 to 2017. He started 44 games, and served as the first three-time captain in the program’s storied history.
The Wichita Falls, TX product burst onto the scene in 2014, going 11-1 as Ohio State’s starter and was named the Big Ten’s Freshman of the Year. He finished the season with 2,834 passing yards and 34 touchdowns against 10 interceptions, while adding 938 rushing yards and 11 more majors on the ground. Despite losing Barrett to an ankle injury in the regular season finale, the Buckeyes went on to claim the national championship with a 42-20 win over the University of Oregon Ducks.
Over his final three seasons at Ohio State, Barrett continued to excel, finishing his career with more than 25 program records. He remains the Buckeyes’ career leader in passing yards (9,434), passing touchdowns ( and completions (769).
After going unselected in the 2018 NFL Draft, Barrett signed with the New Orleans Saints, spending the majority of the season on the team’s practice roster. Stints with the Seattle Seahawks, another in New Orleans, and then the Pittsburgh Steelers followed, before a mini-camp appearance with the Dallas Cowboys in May of 2021.
The Elks signed the high profile 27-year-old off their neg list on January 28 and clearly expect big things from the CFL prospect, though Simon didn’t leave the two more established contenders out of the mix.
“Taylor Cornelius, he’s a big, strong, athletic quarterback who played at Oklahoma State and in his career he’s won a lot of games. He’s thrown for a lot of yards and he’s got immense talent,” Simon added. “Nick Arbuckle, he doesn’t have as much experience in the league as some of the top guys but when he gets his opportunity, he’s done a good job.”
Arbuckle first burst onto the scene with Calgary in 2019, winning four of the seven starts he made in relief of an injured Bo Levi Mitchell. He completed over 73 percent of his passes for 2,103 yards and 11 touchdowns with five interceptions, while adding another four scores on the ground
The six-foot-one, 214-pound signal-caller was coveted as a potential franchise QB the following off-season, signing with Ottawa ahead of the canceled 2020 season before a contract impasse forced a move to the Argonauts.
Arbuckle dressed for seven games with Toronto this past season, completing 62.7 percent of his pass attempts for 1,158 yards with five touchdowns, and six interceptions. The Georgia State product also rushed 17 times for 25 yards and two touchdowns primarily in a short yardage role.
Meanwhile, Cornelius completed 57.9 percent of his passes for 1,795 yards with nine touchdowns and 13 interceptions in his first CFL season with the Elks, while carrying the ball 21 times for 149 yards and one score. The former XFL pivot’s tenure as a starter started and ended poorly, but there was a six-game stint between Week 9 and Week 15 during which he threw for nine touchdowns and four interceptions.
Arbuckle would seemingly have the edge thanks to a $100,000 dollar signing bonus paid on a renegotiated contract this off-season, but that deal was negotiated by fired GM Brock Sunderland and honoured by the new regime. Offensive coaches haven’t tipped their hand one way or another, but the hiring of former Argos’ offensive coordinator Jarious Jackson as quarterbacks coach and pass game coordinator would not appear to bode well for the most experienced contender.
Cornelius offers jaw-dropping arm strength, but Barrett is the biggest name with the mobility that the new Elks staff reportedly covets. Simon expects all three players to be in the mix for the top job in training camp.
“We feel confident about our quarterback room. We feel that these guys can all compete for the job and that’s across the board, across our entire team,” he said. “Nobody will be given anything but an opportunity and it’s up to them to win the job as a starter.”