2022 marked one of the lowest points in the 73-year history of the Edmonton Elks’ organization but assistant general manager Geroy Simon believes a massive turnaround could soon be at hand.
“Building a team, it’s very hard to do it overnight. But I think that we’re on the right track and I think this year’s version of the Edmonton Elks is going to be very different from last year,” Simon told 3DownNation‘s Justin Dunk at the CFL winter meetings. “I think we’re gonna win and I think we’re gonna win big.”
The Hall of Fame receiver was hired by head coach and general manager Chris Jones shortly after he took over the Elks’ front office last offseason. The pair were tasked with rebuilding a team that finished 3-11 the previous season and had been rocked by organizational dysfunction that saw the franchise fire its previous coach, GM, and president.
The Elks underwent a dramatic amount of roster turnover under their new leadership, but the results on the field were much the same. The team went 4-14 and failed to win a game at Commonwealth Stadium for the second straight season, setting a new pro football record for the longest home losing streak.
However, Simon believes that the club has been put on much stronger footing by their experience last season, in no small part due to the discovery and development of key offensive contributors like quarterback Taylor Cornelius, receiver Dillon Mitchell and running back Kevin Brown.
“When we got the job last year, we inherited a team that had one characteristic. We had to bring our own identity to the team, so there was some players coming and some players going,” he explained. “As the season went on, we felt like Taylor’s development was coming and he did a great job of becoming a professional, doing the things that it’s going to take to be successful. We found Dillon and we found Kevin Brown, we solidified our offensive line. So by the end of the season, you could see signs of us putting it all together.”
Cornelius threw for 2,768 yards, 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions in 12 starts during his second season with the club, earning his status as quarterback of the future. Mitchell caught 35 passes for 637 yards and four touchdowns in nine games as a rookie, while Brown rushed 74 times for 486 yards and a touchdown in seven games while catching 24 passes for 176 yards through the air. All three players have been signed to lucrative extensions.
More key players will need to emerge for the Elks to make the jump that Simon expects, but the team is already making strides in that regard. The team’s defence will have a number of key contributors return after missing much of 2022 with injury, while all-star defensive tackle Jake Ceresna and veteran halfback Ed Gainey have already been re-signed.
The club also made one major addition ahead of free agency, bringing in all-star safety Loucheiz Purifoy after his release from the B.C. Lions.
“The identity piece is starting to come together. We need a couple more pieces to take us in the right direction and I think we started that with the signing of Loucheiz Purifoy,” Simon noted. “I think he’s going to be a leader in our secondary and not only in our secondary, but in the locker room.”
Excitement about new additions is something that fans in Edmonton have heard before, but it will take more than a new defensive back and a Pennywise doll to bring fans back to Commonwealth Stadium. Attendance has dwindled for the once blue chip franchise amidst their recent struggles, but leadership remains confident that local interest can be rekindled.
“As far as the fan piece, when you win people, people will come,” Simon insisted. “Obviously, there’s some things that need to happen as far as the business side of things, but I think along with us winning and some of the plans that the league has for bringing fans back out, I think it’s going to be a recipe for big fans and a lot of wins in Edmonton.”