How it went wrong between the Edmonton Elks, Chris Jones and Nick Arbuckle

Photo: Paul Swanson/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

The Edmonton Elks traded quarterback Nick Arbuckle to the Ottawa Redblacks for a fourth-round pick in the 2023 CFL Draft. The move came as no surprise to anyone, particularly after Jeremiah Masoli suffered a long-term injury.

Chris Jones never wanted Arbuckle in Edmonton. The quarterback’s contract was extended by the previous regime before the 2021 season ended, and, despite the executives’ best efforts, he was still the best option the Elks could find for 2022.

After an 0-3 start, Jones swiftly pulled the plug. He argued that Arbuckle and Tre Ford’s training camp stats “were almost clones of one another” and that Arbuckle simply got the first go because of his experience. Jones pivoted to the rookie quarterback and got a close win over Hamilton only for Ford to suffer an injury early the following week against Calgary.

Arbuckle had one more brief chance to calm the raging seas but could only continue an early-season trend of ineffectiveness and turnovers, upping his season-long interception total to eight.

So, here we are. Arbuckle is out, and the Elks have close to zero experience at the most important position in football.

If you’ve followed my post-game reaction columns, you know that I’ve continued to defend Arbuckle through all the good and the bad. I’ve noted plenty of positives and negatives in his play, but come out as one of the minority who believe he can still be an average or above-average CFL starting quarterback.

Arbuckle’s biggest challenge in Edmonton may have been his fear of making mistakes. In last Friday’s recap, I suggested that the risk of being pulled on any particular play was inhibiting his development. “Constant competition” is often considered a positive thing, but it has to be awfully tough on players knowing that any mistake can lose them a job.

Arbuckle was criticized for throwing too many interceptions and he wasn’t as mobile as some of the team’s other quarterbacks. With that said, it concerns me how little talk there was about doing more to accommodate the player Edmonton had in Arbuckle versus what they could do to replace him.

Arbuckle is a smart quarterback. The Elks staff have said it — even Ford has said it — with plenty of anecdotes about how Arbuckle could answer any question he had. He’s also very accurate. Not perfect, obviously, but capable of consistently putting balls into the right spots for his receivers. He also showed impressive leadership and compassion when consoling a distraught Dane Evans after the game in Hamilton.

He was a quarterback who did everything he could to help his team win, even trying too much on occasions. If any of a few plays had gone the right way in the four games in which he played, the conversation would be completely different. The final overshot of a wide-open Derel Walker against Calgary was the heartbreaking dagger, reminiscent of Aaron Grymes’s dropped pick-six in a game against Winnipeg last year.

The one time in Arbuckle’s career he had a stable environment — the 2019 season in Calgary — he was great, throwing for 2,103 yards with an 11-to-5 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

He’s been stuck riding a roller coaster ever since and ended up in a place where the head coach and quarterbacks mesh like oil and water — or perhaps vinegar and baking soda.

I was recently reminded of Saskatchewan’s 2017 season in which Chris Jones unabashedly swapped Kevin Glenn and Brandon Bridge on the fly. He went from Glenn to Bridge to Glenn and back to Bridge in a matter of plays that included two interceptions. It’s hard to imagine anyone getting into a rhythm with that schedule.

For Arbuckle, he gets to go to Ottawa where he was unable to play in 2020 due to the cancellation of the CFL season. He and Paul LaPolice have potential to be a very nice duo, as LaPolice has a history of favouring the type of quick passes that have always been Arbuckle’s biggest strength.

For Edmonton, the short-term fill is Taylor Cornelius, who took over from Trevor Harris in 2021 and showed a cannon of an arm, serious inconsistencies with accuracy, and many interceptable passes. Regardless of how he does in the next three or so games, it should be Ford’s team once he’s recovered from his upper-body injury, barring another significant move.

I’ll always remember the preseason game in Winnipeg in which Arbuckle went 9-of-10 for 145 yards and two touchdowns, including an absolute dime of a 58-yarder to Caleb Holley — and about how it all collapsed from there.

Mike Ludwig enjoys math, chess, and football, all of which are kind of related. He lives in Edmonton and does not endorse Rod Black's metaphors. Follow him on twitter at @CityOfChamps14.