After failing to make the active roster to begin the 2022 season, it appears that Taylor Cornelius has staked his claim to the title of quarterback of the future in Edmonton.
On Wednesday, the Elks inked the 26-year-old gunslinger to a two-year contract extension, keeping him with the team through 2024. It was a move that raised more than a few eyebrows around the league but assistant general manager Geroy Simon believes that now was the time to make it.
“We thought that Taylor was trending in the right direction and it’s better to get them done sooner rather than later,” he said in an appearance on The Nielson Show on Thursday. “This is a time of year that you start thinking about what the future holds for your team. We do have a number of games left, but you’ve got to start looking to the future and Taylor wasn’t under contract.”
The financial details of the new deal are not yet known but it is certain to be a substantial pay raise over the $65,000 in base salary that Cornelius has earned in both seasons of his rookie contract. With more veteran quarterbacks potentially available this offseason and rookie Canadian Tre Ford now returned from injury, a commitment to Cornelius now sends the message that it is his job to lose — a fact that Simon did not dismiss.
“Quarterback is the most important position in football, so you’ve got to have one, two and probably three quarterbacks locked up for next year,” he said. “Obviously, we’ll continue to search, but Taylor will be our starting quarterback moving forward.”
The Oklahoma State product signed with Edmonton in 2021, following a moderately successful stint in the XFL under the guidance of then head coach Jaime Elizondo. He dressed for all 14 regular season games as a rookie, completing 57.9 percent of his pass attempts for 1,936 yards, nine touchdowns, and 13 interceptions after taking over the starting job.
Cornelius initially found himself buried down the depth chart under the team’s new regime, starting the season stashed on the one-game injured list as Nick Arbuckle, Ford, and receiver Kai Locksley all spent time under centre. Injuries finally earned him a start in Week 6 and he has been at the helm for all eight games since, posting a 2-6 record.
Over that span, he has completed 58.6 percent of his passes for 1,936 yards, eight touchdowns, and six interceptions. He’s also run 49 times for 291 yards and five touchdowns, impressing the Elks’ staff.
“He’s got a big arm. He’s very athletic; for being six-foot-five, he can really run and move around the field,” Simon said. “He’s done that on a number of occasions and it gives guys opportunities down the field when things break down where he can scramble and still get the ball to them in different spots on the field.”
While the front office has bought into his potential as a passer, fans of the struggling franchise remain largely unconvinced that a Cornelius-led team can have success going forward. Even Simon admits he has much to improve upon but urges patience in evaluating a quarterback so early in his CFL career.
“He’s a quiet leader, so I think he needs to take hold of the team and let those guys get behind him. He’s just got to continue to develop; he’s only got 15 starts in his career,” he cautioned. “The more starts he has, the more reps he gets, the better he’s going to be. Obviously, he needs it. He’s growing into his body a little more but he has all the tools that you want in a starting quarterback and we’re really excited about his future.”
Cornelius’ next start is scheduled to come on Friday when the Elks (3-10) visit the Saskatchewan Roughriders (6-7) with kickoff slated for 9:30 p.m. EDT. A loss would officially eliminate Edmonton from postseason contention.