Nick Arbuckle has been named the Edmonton Elks’ starting quarterback for the team’s season opener against the B.C. Lions on Saturday, winning the job in an open training camp competition.
Edmonton acquired Arbuckle in a trade with the Toronto Argonauts on October 26, 2021, in exchange for a conditional pick and the rights to negotiation list quarterback Chad Kelly, who is now the backup in Toronto. He reached a contract extension with then-GM Brock Sunderland in November, which was subsequently honoured by new general manager and head coach Chris Jones. The Elks gave the Argos their second-round pick in the 2022 CFL Draft as a condition of that deal, which ultimately became defensive tackle Deionte Knight.
Despite the high price paid for his services, much of the offseason conversation in Edmonton had centred around Jones’ desire to replace Arbuckle as the presumptive starter. He brought in a host of dual-threat pivots to compete with the 28-year-old pocket passer, but Arbuckle weathered the challenges with a strong training camp and outstanding showing in the team’s first preseason game.
Arbuckle began his CFL career as the backup for the Calgary Stampeders but an injury to starting quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell in Week 3 of the 2019 CFL season thrust him into the starting role. The six-foot-one, 214-pound signal-caller won four of seven games under centre, completing 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 Georgia State product spent the cancelled 2020 season with the Ottawa Redblacks after being traded to the nation’s capital from Calgary in January. He was released by Ottawa ahead of the 2021 season after the two sides reached contract impasses and subsequently signed with the Toronto Argonauts.
Arbuckle was unable to unseat veteran McLeod Bethel-Thompson as Toronto’s starting quarterback and ultimately played just seven games for the team, making four starts. He passed for 1,158 yards, five touchdowns against six interceptions with a 62.7 completion percentage over that span.
His best game came in Week 3 against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, when he completed 23-of-32 passes (71.9 percent) for 310 yards and one touchdown with another on the ground in a 30-23 win. That was one of only three losses the back-to-back Grey Cup champion Bombers suffered in 2021.
Former Elks’ head coach Jaime Elizondo did not play Arbuckle in any of the team’s five remaining games following his trade to Alberta, but the youngster will finally have his opportunity to shine in Edmonton. The quarterback who started those final games, former XFL pivot Taylor Cornelius, will begin the 2022 season on the one-game injured list.
Earning the backup job behind Arbuckle is former UTEP quarterback Kai Locksley, who impressed in preseason. Canadian quarterback Tre Ford, who was drafted by the team in the first round of the 2022 CFL Draft, is also on the game-day roster but is listed as a receiver.