Chris Jones says past firings, operations cap made for ‘trying’ season for Edmonton Elks

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Edmonton Elks’ head coach and general manager Chris Jones led his team to a disappointing 4-14 record this past year, which he felt was due in part to the CFL’s operations cap.

“It’s been trying, not just on the field. … Our staff is having to take a backseat money-wise because a lot of these guys, we can’t pay them as much as the other [team’s] staff because of owing money to these other coaches. So that’s certainly a big challenge to put a staff together,” Jones told Dave Jamieson on TSN 1260.

“We worked with 18 people this year, the other [team’s] staff worked with 21. There’s gotta be enough money to keep a good solid staff together because you’re only as good as your help. That’s kind of a constant battle. We’ve gotta win games, we’ve gotta get people back in the seats, we’ve gotta create the interest.”

The CFL implemented the operations cap in 2019 to limit and equalize spending across the league. Edmonton fired general manager Brock Sunderland and head coach Jaime Elizondo following a disastrous 2021 season, which has limited the amount of money they can spend on coaches, personnel people, equipment staff, and video personnel.

Jones likened this past season to his first year as the head coach and general manager of the Saskatchewan Roughriders in 2016 when the club finished last in the West Division at 5-13. He made a large number of free-agent signings to kickstart that rebuild and did the same this past winter in Edmonton, acquiring veterans such as Kenny Lawler, Tony Washington, Makana Henry, Deon Lacey, Adam Konar, Ed Gainey, and Sergio Castillo.

The 55-year-old indicated that he doesn’t plan on being as active in free agency this off-season, saying he’s looking at “three or possibly four free agents” along with the club’s 10 draft picks to enhance the roster. The Riders improved to 10-8 under Jones in his second year at the helm in 2017 and fans in Edmonton will likely expect a similar improvement in 2023.

Jones indicated that the team feels “very confident” about the quarterbacking duo of Taylor Cornelius and Tre Ford heading into next season. The Elks recently signed Cornelius to a two-year contract extension that includes a significant amount of guaranteed money in 2024, which is a strong indication that they view him as their starter moving forward.

The 27-year-old pivot completed 57.4 percent of his passes this season for 2,768 yards, 11 touchdowns, and nine interceptions. He was also the league’s most productive quarterback along the ground, rushing for 502 yards and seven touchdowns. Jones would like to see the Oklahoma State product take better care of the football next season, which will be his third in the CFL.

“We’d like to drop the interception ratio down certainly and then the things that we need to improve with him is to stay in the pocket, don’t get too antsy, and we need to protect him,” said Jones.

“That’s the thing we need to be able to do, we need to run the ball, get into second-and-manageable. We need to protect our quarterback when we do call pass plays and then some of the check-down throws, I feel like he’s gotta improve on the touch so that we don’t have as many tipped balls that result in interceptions.”

The club uncovered some exciting offensive weapons this past year including running back Kevin Brown and receiver Dillon Mitchell. The latter signed a contract extension on Monday, keeping him in Edmonton through the 2025 season. Jones indicated that the club is hoping to do the same with Brown, while they are also looking to bring back stalwart defensive tackle Jake Ceresna.

Edmonton has now missed the playoffs in back-to-back seasons and has still not won at home since October 2019, a losing streak that spans 17 regular season games at Commonwealth Stadium. Jones promised fans that he and his colleagues will work tirelessly this off-season to ensure that their shortcomings are corrected going into 2023.

“As a staff, we’re going to do everything in our power. We’re not going to sleep until we get this thing fixed and we’re gonna work as hard as we possibly can to make sure it happens.”