Thanks to a dirty, gutless, despicable, (and whatever other adjective you want to throw in there) hit by Garrett Marino on a vulnerable Jeremiah Masoli, the Ottawa Redblacks appear to be without their starting quarterback for the foreseeable future. Regardless of who you cheer for, or even who you play/work for, the hit was brutal. It was below the knees, and after seeing Marino look to hit Dino Boyd below the knees just a few plays earlier, the intent is clear. What happens with him means nothing to the Redblacks now, but Marino’s impact is going to be felt by the Redblacks for (possibly) the rest of the season.
Now, the Redblacks will need to find another quarterback to give them a chance to win the still wide-open East Division. Here’s the thing, however. There doesn’t exist an option better than Masoli, and there is absolutely no chance that Ottawa comes out of this as a better football team. Both Masoli and his family deserve better than to be knocked out for an extended period of time thanks to a dirty hit, but the show must go on. Ottawa needs to piece something together, and while they won’t be better, they can plug the holes and hope the water coming into the boat doesn’t sink them. They have some options for their pivot in the coming weeks, and potentially even months, (unfortunately).
In-House – Caleb Evans
The most obvious player to fill in the gap is Caleb Evans, the Redblacks’ current backup quarterback. As of now, if you are placing bets going into week six of who is going to start, Evans is the clear favourite, having already experienced Paul LaPolice’s offence in 2021, and showing some flash and promise in his rookie season. Last season, Evans played in eight games, throwing for 1,279 yards while completing 59 percent of his passes. He threw for five touchdowns and nine interceptions, but he was clearly Ottawa’s best quarterback in an otherwise terrible season. On the ground, he was productive, rushing for 345 yards and three touchdowns.
Coming into 2022, Evans was widely regarded as the next starter for the Redblacks, and Masoli himself echoed that sentiment. But the preseason muddied those waters a little bit. In his two appearances, Evans completed just 47 percent of his passes for 181 yards and didn’t throw a touchdown, but he did throw two interceptions. Matters were further complicated when he briefly saw the field in Saskatchewan, where he completed just two of his six passes, picking up 58 yards, largely thanks to Shaq Johnson finding himself wide open on the sideline. It seemed like Evans was seeing ghosts, as he was scrambling around the pocket before the pressure had gotten to him.
It’s hard to blame him for looking a touch uncomfortable after being bashed around by defences in 2021, but if Evans is going to succeed this season, and boy do the Redblacks ever need him to do that, he is going to have to find that poise he had when he first took over the starting job last season. All of the tools are in his tool kit, and there’s every chance for him to be the long-term solution at quarterback, but this is going to be a real test. This team has expectations of winning, and although they haven’t gotten there yet, the pressure is mounting. Evans has earned the chance to right the ship in Masoli’s absence, and there is no better option than number five to start in week six in Hamilton. Beyond that, he needs to prove it.
In-House – Tyrie Adams
The other obvious answer for the Redblacks is rookie Tyrie Adams, who has already become popular with fans for his outstanding personality. Adams has only been in the CFL for four regular-season games, two preseason games, and about one more week of training camp, so to call him green would almost be an understatement. In his two games worth of action in the preseason, Adams did a lot to inspire confidence in him. He completed nine of his 14 attempts for 135 yards and one touchdown, but also threw two interceptions, one of which was taken back for a touchdown. He had his moments, but he also looked like a rookie at times, but that’s not exactly a bad thing.
While the hype for Adams might be high, especially in Ottawa, the reality is that right now, there’s no way he’s prepared enough to be the immediate solution yet. Going to Adams before giving Evans a chance to show what he’s worth would be a mistake. Even if LaPolice goes into week six willing to change quarterbacks if things aren’t going well, Evans deserves a chance, and Adams deserves a little bit of time to figure things out. The experience just isn’t there right now.
Perhaps he could start with short-yardage and the occasional play where he stays at the quarterback spot trying to get something off quickly, but to put the weight of the whole offence on his shoulder right now wouldn’t be fair to the 25-year-old pivot. That being said, if things don’t work out with Evans and nothing else has been done to sure up the quarterback spot, of course, you then go to Adams. The potential is there for him to be good in the CFL, but putting him in a spot where he can succeed is the best for everyone involved. Essentially, Adams should only play if Evans doesn’t work out.
Free Agency – Chris Streveler
There aren’t many capable quarterbacks in football that don’t have a contract, but there is one that LaPolice already likes, and it’s Chris Streveler. The rumours were swirling before the season on where Streveler would end up, with some thinking he could still go back to the NFL, and some thinking he would end up on a team in the CFL. That NFL gig hasn’t shown up for Streveler yet, and with training camp rolling ever closer, it seems less and less likely that he will find a spot. With Masoli out and familiarity with LaPolice, this seems like a perfect time for Streveler to make his much-anticipated return to the CFL.
Under LaPolice while he was the offensive coordinator of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Streveler had a nice season in 2018, completing 61 percent of his passes for 1,134 yards, 11 touchdowns, and throwing just five interceptions. In 2019, he struggled a little bit more, but across both seasons, Streveler has completed nearly 65 percent of his passes, while throwing for 2,698 yards with 19 touchdowns, however, he has also thrown 19 interceptions. Part of what makes Streveler’s game effective, however, is his legs. In his two seasons, he has 204 carries for 1,167 yards and 22 touchdowns. He would add another dynamic to the Redblacks’ offence that defences would need to pay attention to.
Of course, there are a couple of problems with this. For one, salary could be an issue. If Masoli does in fact end up on the six-game injured list, there would be some cap relief, however, would it be enough to sign Streveler to what would likely be at least a respectable number? Additionally, bringing in a new quarterback would take some time, as he won’t know the playbook immediately. Streveler has previously played in a LaPolice offence, so that would set him ahead, but there will almost certainly be different nuances that he would have to learn, and that could take a few weeks. Overall, however, this is an option that Shawn Burke and LaPolice should be seriously investigating.
Via Trade – Vernon Adams Jr. Or Trevor Harris
Both of the next two are a bit of an either-or situation. The first one deals with the Montreal Alouettes, the Redblacks’ in-division rival. Fresh off firing head coach Khari Jones, the Alouettes have themselves one hell of a quarterback controversy. Trevor Harris and Vernon Adams Jr. are going head to head as we speak, making this probably the most unlikely solution for the Redblacks. However, whichever one the Alouettes don’t pick to be their starter could be an attractive option for the Burke and LaPolice.
Harris has bounced around the league in the past few years, leaving the Redblacks after the 2018 season before signing with the Edmonton Elks, where he was eventually traded to Montreal. His production has dipped, and he certainly isn’t the same player he was when the Redblacks signed him to be their heir apparent to Henry Burris, but he could still be better than what they have in-house at the moment. This season, Harris has completed 67 percent of his passes for 730 yards, throwing just one touchdown, but three interceptions. If nothing else, he would be a veteran player both Evans and Tyrie Adams could learn a thing or two from, and at best, he’s a player that could help lead this franchise to the playoffs.
The other half of the battle is Vernon Adams. Of the two, Vernon Adams is the more interesting one, considering he is still relatively young at 29, and has the most upside. This season has been a struggle at times for Vernon Adams, but he hasn’t had the trust of his coach, either. He has completed 21 of his 39 passes for 294 yards, and has thrown one touchdown and two interceptions, but his talent is obvious, he just needs to put it all together. One of the issues would be his salary. Burke would have to get creative to make that fit, as it reportedly comes in at $445,000. Neither of the two seems all that likely, but it’s worth briefly pondering for the Redblacks.
Via Trade – Nick Arbuckle Or Taylor Cornelius
The second of these two scenarios surrounds the Edmonton Elks. Currently, they have some issues of their own at quarterback with Tre Ford sidelined without a timetable for return, but they could still provide something to the Redblacks. In a trade, Ottawa could bring back Nick Arbuckle, the quarterback LaPolice was supposed to start his tenure in Ottawa with. Alternatively, Taylor Cornelius has been waiting for an opportunity to start again, and perhaps this could be it. Kai Locksley is omitted here, because he is also one of the Elks’ starting receivers, and very well could end up being their backup quarterback sooner rather than later.
Arbuckle was the Redblacks’ first choice when looking for a quarterback in 2020, and they sent the first-overall pick to the Calgary Stampeders to make sure they got him. Of course, he eventually went to Toronto before the start of the 2021 season, and the Redblacks ended up with Matt Nichols, but it could be time to reunite. This season, Chris Jones has done just about everything possible to get Arbuckle off the field, and every time, he ends up back out there. He could ensure he doesn’t have to use him anymore with a trade, and that could be in Edmonton’s best interest, too. Arbuckle is having a poor season in 2022, throwing for 892 yards and two touchdowns, but the interceptions total is lofty. He has tossed eight picks, and there have been some bad ones. If Burke thinks there’s any salvaging that potential, it could be worth a shot on a buy-low deal.
If the Elks won’t budge on Arbuckle, the Redblacks could turn their attention to Cornelius in an effort to bring somebody with a pulse in. In his rookie season, Cornelius struggled for consistency. He had his moments where he looked like he could be something, but then he had moments where he looked lost. He finished the season with 1,795 yards with nine touchdowns and 13 interceptions, but he did just enough to convince me that he’s worth a second chance. If this was the choice, it would really have to come after both Evans and Tyrie Adams have had a turn conducting the offence. Cornelius isn’t enough to move the needle, especially not before you see what you have in-house.
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