Despite ‘amateur’ opinions, Elks’ Chris Jones believes second-round pick is good value for top centre David Beard

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The Edmonton Elks’ embattled fan base received quite the shock on Friday morning when word broke that the team had shipped their top offensive lineman, homegrown talent David Beard, to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

The package in return, which consisted of backup offensive lineman Jesse Gibbon and a second-round draft pick, drew the ire of many for being a blatant fire-sale by the struggling franchise. Nevertheless, head coach and general manager Chris Jones isn’t having second thoughts in the face of negative public opinion.

“I guess at first glance, for the amateur person looking at it, it may look that way. However, I look at it contrary to that,” Jones said when asked by the Edmonton media about the dubious trade.

“I look at it in a very positive way. We’re making moves that we’re capable of moving because of the talent that we have. We have people that are able to slide in and have slid in and we played very well at Ottawa when we did it.”

Drafted in the second round of the 2015 CFL Draft — the final year of Jones’ first tenure with the team — Beard has played 94 games over seven seasons with his hometown club. Despite labouring for a struggling Elks’ franchise, the 29-year-old is regarded by many as the league’s best centre.

Edmonton brought in Mark Korte, Beard’s former college teammate at the University of Alberta, this past offseason and has since deemed their pre-existing high-priced lineman to be expendable. Korte will bump seamlessly into the centre spot for the remainder of the season, just as he did in Week 11 when Beard was out with illness.

“We’ve got a guy that’s very capable of doing the role at the centre position and we have a very good player in 64 [2020 first-round pick Tomas Jack-Kurdyla] that’s going to step in at guard that needs the opportunity to show,” Jones said, clearly indicating a desire to get younger up front.

“The group that was here before me, they drafted him at a very high level so it’s time for him to step up and do the things that he’s capable of doing. And then, like I say, in return we were able to bring in a guy that somebody thought very highly of in years past, the second pick in the draft to come in and be both centre and guard.”

Gibbon went second overall in the 2019 CFL Draft but has not yet lived up to expectations in Hamilton, failing to cement a starting job earlier this year. He is a pending free agent, whilst Beard is under contract through 2023.

The Elks receive significant salary cap savings through the move, with Beard scheduled to earn $200,000 in hard money for the final year of his deal. That financial liquidity going forward could potentially be used to chase a top quarterback or draw another Golden Bears alum, Carter O’Donnell, back from the NFL, but neither of those outcomes are guaranteed.

What has been made abundantly clear is that Jones is seeking to increase his draft capital in 2023, hoping to take advantage of what he views as a particularly deep class of NCAA talent. He acquired a third-round pick in exchange for a pair of starting defenders earlier in the week and upgraded two rounds as part of the Beard trade, acquiring a second-rounder while giving away a conditional fourth.

He believes that added value will help make up for the difficulty of losing a fan favourite in the trenches.

“Beard’s certainly a guy that’s been good for years, he’s from here, I understand all of that,” Jones noted. “He’s a really good guy, just like Nafees [Lyon] and [Thomas] Costigan, but when somebody throws out a second-round draft pick and allows you to put yourself in that position six months from now when we have the draft or whenever it is, it’ll be a good situation for us.”

However, by that very compensation, Jones is forced to acknowledge just how talented a player he sent to the Tiger-Cats.

“They didn’t give up their first to get a quarterback and they came with a second to get David Beard, so that tells you exactly what they thought of him,” Jones quipped, making a coy reference to Hamilton’s struggles under centre.

That will do little to reassure the increasingly dwindling fan base of his 3-8 football team but Jones remains steadfast in his belief that a turnaround is coming. With 11 trades made since he took over the team and few signs of improvement, the faith of others is waning.

“I wouldn’t make a move if I didn’t feel that we could win,” he promised.

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.