Grading every trade of the Edmonton Elks’ second Chris Jones era

Photo: Bob Butrym/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

Since returning to the Edmonton Elks as head coach and general manager, Chris Jones has been a very busy man.

His constant roster juggling in 2022 now includes a whopping 11 trades, all of them with the East Division teams — four each with Montreal and Hamilton, two with Ottawa, and one with Toronto.

In honour of Jones’ latest blockbuster, here’s my assessment of the 11 moves, listed in chronological order. As a baseline, a ‘B-’ grade would mean the Elks got roughly fair value. 

Date: January 14
Trade partner: Montreal Alouettes
Grade: C-

OUT: DL Mike Moore

IN: OL Tony Washington, RB/KR Martese Jackson

Adding a 2015 Grey Cup champion left tackle was Jones’ first big move after hiring. The cost was hefty, but it did move a large contract off of Edmonton’s books.

In terms of talent, this was a clear downgrade, especially with the 36-year-old Washington likely to retire after the season. Jackson was cut in late June, and the Elks are still looking for their full-time kick returner.

Meanwhile, Moore has four sacks in ten games with the Alouettes and sits tenth in the CFL in quarterback pressures, with 17 through 12 weeks. As far as whether Edmonton used the dollar savings well, judging by their record, they did not.

Date: May 2
Trade partner: Hamilton Tiger-Cats
Grade: C

OUT: LB Grant McDonald, OL Kyle Saxelid, 2022 first-round Global Draft pick (Second overall — P Baily Flint)

IN: 2022 first-round CFL Draft pick (Eighth overall — QB Tre Ford), 2022 third-round CFL Draft pick (28th overall — LS Peter Adjey), 2022 first-round Global Draft pick (Ninth overall — P Ben Griffiths)

If you’re going to make a spicy trade, you might as well add to it by drafting a quarterback with one of the acquired picks.

I supported the ‘aim for the moon’ strategy of drafting Ford — who hasn’t seen much field time but has already piqued the interest of many Elks fans. However, this move took a lot of well-deserved heat for trading away two respected Nationals. Weighing the duo against the draft slots, Edmonton definitely lost value, while the global picks don’t affect the verdict much.

This deal may turn out better than expected entirely because of Ford’s potential and Adjey has been on the active roster for every game so far, even if long snappers aren’t thought of as significant players.

On the other side, Saxelid has only played two games this year in Hamilton due to injury, while McDonald has five special teams tackles in 11 games.

Date: May 3
Trade partner: Montreal Alouettes
Grade: B+

OUT: 2022 first-round CFL Draft pick (First overall — LB Tyrell Richards)

IN: 2022 first-round CFL Draft pick (Fourth overall — LB Enock Makonzo), rights to OL Carter O’Donnell

The most logical reason for this trade is that the Elks were relatively high on Makonzo compared to Richards. If they preferred Makonzo outright, then picking up any asset would be a win. Regardless, a chance at a high-impact offensive lineman is a worthy gamble.

O’Donnell suffered a season-ending injury last month with the Indianapolis Colts but there’s still no telling if he’ll end up back in his home province. If he does, fans will revise this trade to a massive win, while even if he doesn’t, it’s not a major loss.

Makonzo has started to settle in mid-season and is looking like a promising young piece. Richards has shown flashes for Montreal as well but is currently on the six-game injured list.

Date: June 5
Trade partner: Toronto Argonauts
Grade: B-

OUT: 2023 sixth-round CFL Draft pick

IN: DB Jalen Collins, OL Martez Ivey

This started a run of roster-tinkering trades, with late-round picks being swapped for players.

Edmonton needed an addition to their secondary due to a few early injuries, while the team is still not fully settled at offensive tackle. A sixth-round pick was a fair price for taking two shots at those needs.

It’s not a great look that Collins struggled with the Elks and has already been released, especially given that Jones coached him in Toronto last year. Ivey has held up okay but doesn’t seem like more than a stop-gap or long-term depth guy.

Date: June 14
Trade partner: Montreal Alouettes
Grade: D+

OUT: RB Walter Fletcher

IN: 2023 sixth-round CFL Draft pick

Fletcher has been in and out of the Alouettes lineup, in part due to injuries, but he looks good every time he touches the ball.

Getting a pick for an American running back is rarely a big loss, but Edmonton could have really used his dynamism with their running back troubles since James Wilder Jr.’s season-ending injury. They’ve already released Fletcher’s presumed replacement, Sherman Badie, and have resorted to fielding National Ante Milanovic-Litre full-time in the backfield.

Date: June 27
Trade partner: Hamilton Tiger-Cats
Grade: C+

OUT: OL Colin Kelly

IN: 2023 seventh-round CFL Draft pick

Kelly had his ups and downs in Edmonton but he’s a decent player. You might expect better than a seventh-round pick for someone who became an immediate starter on the receiving team, but it’s not far off of fair compensation in my opinion.

Date: July 11
Trade partner: Ottawa Redblacks
Grade: D

OUT: QB Nick Arbuckle

IN: 2023 fourth-round CFL Draft pick

Arbuckle came back to haunt the Elks in their loss to the Redblacks last week, where he looked like a perfectly competent passer. His numbers were not good in Edmonton but it’s impossible to overlook the overall lack of success by the green and gold offence no matter who has been under centre.

From his Calgary days to now, Arbuckle — like most quarterbacks — seems to play best in a stable environment, which includes the trust of his head coach. Edmonton couldn’t manage to offer that.

Selling low is reflected in the return, which fell below many historical quarterback trades.

Date: July 25
Trade partner: Ottawa Redblacks
Grade: C+

OUT: 2023 seventh-round CFL Draft pick

IN: REC Llevi Noel, 2023 eighth-round CFL Draft pick

By dropping down a round in next year’s draft, the Elks picked up the 31-year-old Noel. He was an excellent special teams player early in his career with the Toronto Argonauts but hasn’t recorded a single statistic in Edmonton — the exact same result he had in Ottawa.

Date: July 26
Trade partner: Hamilton Tiger-Cats
Grade: C-

OUT: 2023 eighth-round CFL Draft pick

IN: P Jon Ryan

This trade was made for ratio purposes, as the Elks cut a very promising American punter in Matt Mengel to make it work. So far, Ryan’s 41.9-yard average is second last in the league, ahead of only teammate Sergio Castillo — who punts only in emergencies.  Amusingly, he hasn’t kicked a trademark single yet this season.

The Elks took a chance with a late-round pick and it didn’t work out. Not a disaster, but not a success either.

Date: August 31
Trade partner: Montreal Alouettes
Grade: D-

OUT: DB Nafees Lyon, DL Thomas Costigan

IN: DL Avery Ellis, 2023 third-round CFL Draft pick

Costigan for Ellis is close to an even swap, with Ellis having slightly better production this year but Costigan holding more potential by virtue of being two years younger. However, Lyon had been one of the precious few bright spots for Edmonton in the last season and a half.

He hasn’t gotten as much appreciation in 2022 but Lyon still had an excellent 54 percent completion rate allowed on passes thrown at him, per Derek Taylor. Along with the injured Aaron Grymes, Jake Ceresna, and possibly Nyles Morgan, he was one of the few Elks’ defenders you could confidently say were very good players.

A third-round pick is unlikely to become an impact player and the only possible justification for the move is that the team wasn’t planning to keep Lyon past this season — which would have been foolish. Lyon and Costigan will both be rejoining the Elks’ 2021 defensive coordinator Noel Thorpe, indicating Montreal is likely thrilled with their haul.

Trading young, first-rate players is not a winning formula. Jones doesn’t seem to value a defensive back’s effectiveness much if they don’t meet his height requirements.

Date: September 2
Trade partner: Hamilton Tiger-Cats
Grade: D

OUT: OL David Beard, conditional 2023 fourth-round CFL Draft pick

IN: OL Jesse Gibbon, 2023 second-round CFL Draft pick

The 29-year-old Beard is widely thought of as one of, if not the best, centres in the league. He’s a local Edmonton product who has played here at every level — high school, university and then the CFL — and is signed through 2023 at a premium price.

The 25-year-old Gibbon began the season as Hamilton’s starting right guard before switching to centre for games two through four, and has been listed as their backup right guard for the last seven games — behind Saxelid and with Kelly on the right side. The early expectation for Edmonton is now that Gibbon will support right guard Tomas Jack-Kurdyla, with Mark Korte shifting to centre.

The Elks offensive line has had its issues, but not in the middle — Beard allowed just four quarterback pressures in ten games. Jones effectively argued that they could make the trade because they were dealing from a position of strength, including a remark that they played their best offensive game in Ottawa without Beard.

The Elks will save a lot of money here but while Gibbon could still grow into a quality, full-time starter, it’s hard to see how the savings can overcome the talent deficit. One idea is that they’re doing some early preparations for signing an expensive quarterback, though that doesn’t fully jive with drafting Ford. Beard likely has several years left in his career, and has been a tremendous leader and teammate in every sense of the word.

Adding a second round pick isn’t nothing but it once again fails to bridge the value gap. It hasn’t been reported what the conditions are on the fourth-round pick.

In conclusion

The Elks have netted two or possibly three picks in the top half of a draft while ceding a fairly significant amount of talent. Ford and O’Donnell are the best bets at adding a star; the rest is shuffling around the edges of the roster.

The reasoning goes that the road to success is long and rough. In view of building for the future, it seems likely that the ‘mad scientist’ Jones will continue dealing freely in pursuit of players who fit his vision.

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.