Opinion: Could the Elks Swing a Trade for Vernon Adams Jr.?

There are already a handful of interesting storylines bubbling up around the Canadian Football League, with perhaps none of them being more interesting than what is going on with the Montreal Alouettes’ quarterback room.

Vernon Adams Jr. started in both week one and two for the Alouettes, but was replaced by Trevor Harris in the first half of their week two game against the Toronto Argonauts. Harris made his first start of the season with Adams missing the game due to a COVID-19 diagnosis, and the Alouettes laid a beatdown on the Saskatchewan Roughriders. For the time being, it seems like Harris is the starter in the bird’s nest, leaving Adams the outcast.

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Since establishing himself as a starting quarterback in 2019, Adams has come back down to earth, but his situation hasn’t been helped by his coach, who is doing whatever it takes to win now as he could be on the hot seat. In that 2019 season, Adams threw for 3,942 yards with 24 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Although he wasn’t quite as good in 2021, his numbers weren’t awful, but the Alouettes still decided to re-sign Harris during the offseason.

Vernon Adams Jr., Montreal Alouettes – PC / Jeff McIntosh

From that moment, it felt inevitable that Adams would be holding the clipboard. It felt as if the Alouettes’ brass was unhappy with Adams at the helm and was searching for an excuse to replace him, but they have found that now. Adams looks to be stapled to the bench for the foreseeable future, and the questions surrounding his CFL future have begun to swirl.

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Just over 3,570 kilometres west in Edmonton, the Elks are still searching for their long-term solution at the quarterback spot. Early in the year, Nick Arbuckle has looked decent, but there’s still concern that he might not be the guy of the future. Head coach and general manager Chris Jones wasn’t sold on him ahead of the season either, doing just about everything he could to land Jeremiah Masoli before he signed with the Ottawa Redblacks. It’s probable that Jones is still interested in adding someone else to the roster, especially if the right player came around.

We have seen it time and time again already in Edmonton this season. Jones is willing to make a bunch of moves that no one saw coming if he thinks it makes his football team better. So far, he has released a bunch of impact players, including Tevaun Smith, Jalin Marshall, and Matthew Elam, while trading Colin Kelly to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. In his time in the CFL, Jones has made one thing clear; he’s going to do what it takes to win, and he doesn’t care what you think about it.

For the Elks, there’s obvious reasoning to bring Adams into the organization. Immediately, he would be the best quarterback on the roster, and he brings a certain level of experience to the team. He’s a talented football player as he proved in 2019, and put into the right situation, there’s a great chance for him to recapture that lightning in a bottle. He can throw the ball, and he can scramble when needed, but the high number of interceptions is sure to scare some people. It is important to note, however, that the Alouettes’ tendency to throw the ball deep while Adams is at the helm is at least partly responsible for that. It is hard to know if that’s play calling or Adams himself insisting on going deep, but inherently, the more you throw deep, the more likely you are to toss the occasional interception.

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Of course, there is no guarantee that the Alouettes would consider trading Adams right now, especially considering he is signed through the end of the 2023 season. That being said, if the Alouettes decide that Harris is the player they plan to go ahead with, it seems possible that they could try to offload his hefty contract. In 2022, Adams is reportedly earning $445,000, with a $190,000 signing bonus. While the figures for the second year of his deal aren’t public, it’s likely in the same ballpark. Simply put, that’s too much money to pay a backup, especially considering Harris would be due for a raise if he’s the team’s starter in 2023.

Montreal Alouettes quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. (3) celebrates with teammate Eugene Lewis after scoring a touchdown during the first half of CFL pre-season football action against the Ottawa Redblacks in Montreal, Friday, June 3, 2022. (Graham Hughes/CP)

This likely isn’t something that would happen in the next few days or even weeks, but eventually, it’s something that could happen, perhaps closer to the CFL’s trade deadline. We’ve established why this would make sense for Edmonton, and we’ve established why Montreal might want to unload Adams, but there’s still one more pesky little detail to take care of. What would it take to make this happen?

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Let’s start with the obvious piece; the Alouettes need some assurance at quarterback. After releasing Michael Beaudry earlier this week, the Elks are down to four quarterbacks on their roster. Of course, Arbuckle headlines the unit, with Tre Ford, Kai Locksley, and Taylor Cornelius still floating around. Of those four, the Elks probably won’t be too willing to hand over Arbuckle or Ford for obvious reasons, leaving Locksley and Cornelius the obvious two. Thanks to a similarity to Harris in playstyle, Cornelius seems like the most likely player to head back to Montreal.

The 26-year-old showed some promise on a depleted Elks team at the end of the 2021 season. It took some time for Cornelius to figure things out, but sandwiched between three games where he was getting his feet wet and three games in seven days at the end of the season, he found some success in a small four-game sample size. In those four games that featured matchups against the Blue Bombers, Hamilton Tiger-Cats, and back-to-back games against the Saskatchewan Roughriders, Cornelius completed 77 of his 127 passes for 984 yards. He also threw six touchdown passes and just one interception in that time.

That alone isn’t getting this done. As much as the Elks would love to net themselves a starting quarterback in exchange for a backup, this isn’t Madden Franchise mode with the trade difficulty set to “easy,” they would need to give more. Previous trades could give us some clues. Last season, these two teams hooked up on a trade that sent Harris to Montreal in exchange for Antonio Simmons. Also last season, the Elks acquired Arbuckle from the Argonauts for what ended up being a second-round pick after conditions were met. And all the way back in 2016, the Alouettes sent veteran quarterback Kenin Glenn to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers for a fourth-round pick in 2018.

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Why are those trades relevant? Because they show that trading players in the CFL very rarely nets all that good of a return. With how things stand right now, the Elks are likely in a position where they will have yet another high draft choice in 2023, so expecting a first-round pick in return seems relatively unlikely. It would likely be a second-round pick this season (or possibly later depending on any conditions attached to the pick), and if that isn’t enough for the Alouettes, perhaps a late-round pick in the coming years could be included.

Ultimately, would the trade work if the Elks sent Cornelius, a second-round pick in 2023, and a seventh-round pick in 2024 to Montreal for Adams? It’s not unreasonable for either team, and it would make sense for both sides. We’re probably not close to this happening yet, and Adams still has time to win the starting job back in Montreal, but with Edmonton desperate for their long-term starter, there’s no better option available right now than Adams.


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