February 8, 2023

Nye: Surveying a quickly changing QB landscape

The Canadian Press

Ten years ago, the QB landscape looked a lot different than it does today.

In 2013, Bo Levi Mitchell was taking the reins in Calgary. Henry Burris was getting ready to take his Hamilton Tiger-Cats to a Grey Cup appearance. Anthony Calvillo was embarking on his final season in Montreal as Ricky Ray was trying to repeat as a Grey Cup champion in Toronto.

Darian Durant was firmly entrenched as the starter in Saskatchewan, unaware he was about to do something to cement his legacy in the province. Buck Pierce was the last man standing in Winnipeg after a rotation of quarterbacks in 2012, though he’d be heading back to BC later that year. Travis Lulay was coming off another impressive season with the Lions and his former backup Michael Reilly was just getting started in Edmonton.

It was actually quite stable.

Ten years later, I wouldn’t exactly describe the landscape as stable going into free agency.

As CFL Free Agency nears, some teams are solid, others need depth, while others have some major questions that need answering. So let’s see how teams stack-up at quarterback heading into 2023 Free Agency. And at the end, I’ll address the big wild card factor in all of this!

Market Ready: The 2023 CFL Free Agent Tracker
» CFL.ca’s top 30 pending free agents
Report: Trevor Harris to sign with Riders in Free Agency

After a quick fit-in with a new team in 2022 Vernon Adams Jr. will have a full season at the controls for the Lions in 2023 (The Canadian Press)


Starter: Vernon Adams Jr.

Adams is being given the full confidence of his coaches as TSN’s Farhan Lalji reports a contract extension through 2024 is imminent for the veteran starter. You had to be impressed that Adams was able to step right into BC’s offence and lead them to wins within weeks. He kept the Lions stable and now you wonder, what could he do with a full camp ahead of him?

While BC fans will be disappointed in losing Nathan Rourke to the NFL, at least they aren’t left scrambling to find his replacement.

It’s what will happen behind Adams that is the most intriguing. The veterans Michael O’Connor and Antonio Pipkin are both currently heading to free agency so the experience behind Adams is lacking!

My No. 1 free agent target for BC: Cody Fajardo

If Fajardo can’t find a starting job, the west coach California kid wouldn’t likely mind being a lot closer to his American home up the coast in BC. Fajardo was in BC in 2018 as a short yardage specialist and blossomed into a starter in 2019 in Saskatchewan. While last year was disastrous for Fajardo, you can’t ignore his ability to win more than he’s lost over the course of the last three years as a starter. He’d bring instant stability to the Lions situation.



Starter: Taylor Cornelius

Chris Jones has definitely found his guy…for now. Jones rewarded Cornelius with a contract extension after being impressed with how Cornelius continued to grow as a starting quarterback in the CFL.

Cornelius’ big frame would make you think he’s the traditional pocket passer but he showed off his speed and ability to extend plays in 2022, which offensive coordinator Stephen McAdoo has had success with in the past. Fajardo’s best year as a starter was under the direction of McAdoo.

The depth behind Cornelius is full of athletic intrigue. Tre Ford and Kai Locksley are tremendous athletes. Of course we’ve barely seen Locksley as a traditional quarterback after a season catching passes in 2022. They also have young Mike Beaudry as the second Canadian QB prospect.

My No. 1 free agent target for the Elks: Caleb Evans

Jones loves athletes and Evans is a young athlete who I could see Jones seeing a ton of upside in. While you may think Fajardo would also make sense here, I’m not so sure Fajardo and Jones would mix after Jones’ comments going into last season that Fajardo took as a slight. Plus, Evans is only 24 and has two years’ experience in the league. I really hope to see him get another look, as the REDBLACKS don’t appear to be bringing him back.



Starter: Jake Maier

Yes, it’s Jake’s team now. Maier was sensational last year and was red hot again to start 2022 when he was rewarded the starting job, with nine touchdowns and just one interception in his first four starts. He cooled off down the stretch and was ultimately benched in last year’s Western Semi-Final. Maier has to be one of the top ‘under the spotlight’ quarterbacks going into 2023, having to replace the face of the franchise. But when the Stamps move on from a quarterback, they’ve proven to make the right decision way more often than not.

Tommy Stevens is the only experienced quarterback behind Maier and all we’ve gotten to see from Stevens is his ability to run. He only has 41 passing yards to his name but against Saskatchewan last year he ran for over 160 yards, so Calgary has a change of pace QB at the very least.

My No. 1 free agent target for Calgary: Dakota Prukop

I would have had Nick Arbuckle here if he hadn’t extended in Ottawa already and that’s why I’ve landed on Prukop. While I don’t think there is an urgent need for depth with what they have already, if they were going to find someone to increase their experience quotient, I would go to Prukop for the same reason as Arbuckle. He’s familiar with the system. Prukop was in Calgary to start 2021 and would fit right in with adding athleticism behind Maier.

Trevor Harris is reportedly set to sign with the Roughriders in free agency, which marks a big move at quarterback for 2023 (Kevin Sousa/CFL.ca)


Starter: ???

Well, here we are with so much speculation about the future of the quarterback position in Saskatchewan.

The team has added a few new quarterbacks this off-season with Mason Fine and Jake Dolegala as the holdovers who backed up pending free agent Cody Fajardo in the 2022 season. It’s been clear since they benched Fajardo last season that the likelihood of him returning was slim.

We also know general manager Jeremy O’Day and head coach Craig Dickenson, who are on expiring contracts, are not going to rely on inexperienced quarterbacks to turn things around. They are going to do their best to give the organization a shot in the arm to make 2022 an anomaly after going to back-to-back Western Finals and they’ll do it with a veteran behind centre.

My No. 1 free agent target for Saskatchewan: Trevor Harris

I know, shocker, right? Pick the guy already who seems destined to make Saskatchewan his free agent choice, but here is why it makes sense. Of all the quarterbacks in the CFL that have experience with new offensive coordinator Kelly Jeffrey, it’s Harris.

Jeffrey and Harris spent a lot of time during the lost 2020 season getting to know each other, as Jeffrey was going to be the offensive coordinator in Edmonton until Scott Milanovich’s sudden departure back to the NFL.

It helps to set up the new offensive coordinator with someone he’s familiar with, who has thrown for 5,000 yards in a season and has thrown for over 30 touchdowns in a season. Those guys aren’t easy to find. The Riders have found one, reportedly.



Starter: Zach Collaros

Is there any more stable a franchise than the Winnipeg Blue Bombers right now? No. The answer is no, there isn’t! I don’t think I need to make the Bombers’ story a long one. They have the two-time reigning Most Outstanding Player and the only guy outside of Bo Levi Mitchell who has started and won a Grey Cup. Yeah, they’re set behind centre.

Behind Collaros is Dru Brown, who I really enjoyed watching in his limited time at quarterback. I think the young man has a future but that’s all they have signed for 2023 right now.

My No. 1 free agent target for Winnipeg: Dakota Prukop

I know, it would be an extension, but I’m serious when I talk about the importance of stability within an organization and Prukop did some good things in different situations in Winnipeg last year. If the QB room was running smoothly last year in support of Collaros, there is no reason to mess around with a good thing.

McLeod Bethel-Thompson’s decision on his playing future will carry free agency implications for the Grey Cup champs (Thomas Skrlj/CFL.ca)


Starter: ???

Yes, another team with question marks at the starting job. This all hinges on McLeod Bethel-Thompson’s decision on which side of the border he wants to play. I was in the media scrum after last year’s Grey Cup when he made it clear he’s at a point in his life where being closer to his young family has to be a major factor in his future. The Argonauts will need a specific answer from him within the week or they’ll be in the pool of teams looking to add some veteran savvy to their depth chart.

Of course, if MBT doesn’t return, they do have Chad Kelly ready in the wings to take over. There is no doubt in Kelly’s mind he’s willing to take the CFL by storm if given the opportunity. After his performance in the fourth quarter of the Grey Cup, there is no reason to not give him the first crack at replacing the veteran.

My No. 1 free agent target for Toronto: Cody Fajardo

Welcome home! Fajardo’s first tour of duty was in Toronto, trekking around the GTA with the Argonauts behind Ricky Ray and Bethel-Thompson. The bonus here would be that Fajardo isn’t necessarily coming in to start. It would be an open competition with Chad Kelly. I don’t believe the Argonauts can go full bore with Kelly without a safety net if things don’t work out. Fajardo would give Toronto a big boost of stability, if MBT opts not to come north.

The Tiger-Cats have their one-two QB punch with Bo Levi Mitchell and Matthew Shiltz (The Canadian Press)


Starter: Bo Levi Mitchell

The Tiger-Cats were aggressive and they got their man! After having to go with rotating quarterbacks because of injury or poor play, the Tiger-Cats brought in the biggest name free agent that was hitting the market by trading for his rights and giving him the money necessary to lock him in. You also have a HIGHLY motivated Mitchell, who feels tossed aside by an organization he helped build into perennial Grey Cup contenders. Yes, there is the injury history but Mitchell’s arm looked alive and well in the Western Semi-Final last season.

The Tiger-Cats drastically changed this column by signing Matthew Shiltz to an extension. He would have been all over this column as preferred back-up in a few locations around the league, so safe to say I think they nailed it with their quarterback maneuvers this off-season. And they’re not done yet.

My No. 1 free agent target for Hamilton: NO ONE!

Yeah, that’s right. With Mitchell, Shiltz and Jamie Newman, the Tiger-Cats already have set themselves up with a great trio of quarterbacks and you know they’ll have one or two more added for training camp. Hamilton and Winnipeg should feel the most comfortable going into free agency.

Jeremiah Masoli looks to lead a REDBLACK renaissance in Ottawa this year (Chris Tanouye/CFL.ca)


Starter: Jeremiah Masoli

If you’re watching Behind the R on YouTube, you know how much Masoli meant to the team in the short time he was there after signing as a free agent last off-season. Masoli gave the REDBLACKS instant credibility behind centre and gave them a boost of leadership they needed to help turn things around.

Of course, that all was blown up on a dirty hit in Week 5. Now Masoli is healed up and ready for Year 2 with a rejuvenated coaching staff. I think Masoli and Khari Jones will do great things together.

Nick Arbuckle is also back for Ottawa and it’s been quite the trip for Arbuckle, who has bounced around the CFL since leaving Calgary after 2019. Arbuckle is in a nice spot now. He doesn’t have to feel the pressure of being the franchise guy and can just focus on his mechanics. He also now has Jones, who is one of the best QB coaches I’ve seen in person.

My No. 1 free agent target for Ottawa: Antonio Pipkin

Again, to help establish a new system it can help a coordinator to have someone familiar with that system in the room. Jones and Pipkin go back to their Montreal days together, as Jones actually named Pipkin the starter coming out of camp when Pipkin was just turning 24-years old. At 27, Pipkin is one of the most experienced backups available this off-season. It could be a nice fit to reunite with his former head coach.

If Trevor Harris moves on from Montreal, does the door open for Cory Fajardo with the Als? (The Canadian Press)


Starter: ???

How things have changed. A month ago, it seemed certain the Alouettes would have Trevor Harris back behind centre. He has a relationship with Danny Maciocia and new head coach Jason Maas. It just seemed it would be a natural fit. Well, sometimes there are things above our control and that appears to be the case in Montreal.

With Dominique Davis also a free agent, the Alouettes currently have Davis Alexander as their only quarterback signed for 2023. If I’m Maas, that isn’t entirely helping me rest easy at night going into my first year as the team’s head coach.

My No. 1 free agent target for Montreal: Cody Fajardo/Caleb Evans/Antonio Pipkin

You get the picture. This isn’t a one quarterback issue for Montreal. If indeed Harris goes to Saskatchewan, the Als are in desperation mode and they can’t bring in enough quarterbacks with CFL experience to see what happens in camp.

Of course, Fajardo makes the most sense because of the last two years in Saskatchewan with Maas. While the success wasn’t there in Regina, both Maas and Fajardo will tell you they weren’t really put in a great position to have a ton of success with the issues along the offensive line. Montreal might be a great spot for both of them to reset their careers.



Dane Evans

Yes, above, I only talked about pending free agents. Dane Evans is under contract with Hamilton for 2023 but with Mitchell and Shiltz in place, there is no room at the inn for Evans to fit in Hamilton.

So he’s the ultimate wild card.

Montreal might be the most desperate to call Hamilton to work out a trade. Toronto could get there as well and what about if Evans does get released in Hamilton and things are set with Bethel-Thompson in Toronto and Cody Fajardo in Montreal. Would Evans have to settle to take on a backup job in Montreal, Saskatchewan or BC?

Evans has had to be extremely patient while watching his current team court Bo Levi Mitchell. Now he’ll have to be patient to see how the dominoes fall this week.

Someone will get a talented young man, who will be one of the most motivated quarterbacks going into 2023. And I wouldn’t be surprised to see Evans actually be the last domino to fall and perhaps the most important.

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