Steinberg’s MMQB: One-two punch in Green and Gold

It’s hard not to notice one thing in common with a number of key offensive additions in Toronto: where they all used to play. You can reportedly add new quarterback Nick Arbuckle (TSN’s Matthew Scianitti is reporting Arbuckle is set to sign a deal with the Argonauts) to the list of former Calgary Stampeders who have landed with the Argos for the coming season. It’s a list that also includes the team’s new head coach and a number of impact receivers.

While Ryan Dinwiddie has hired more than a year ago, a cancelled season means he has yet to coach a game with Toronto. With the Argonauts reportedly finalizing a contract with Arbuckle at the time of this writing, Dinwiddie is primed to add a quarterback he worked side-by-side with for three seasons with the Stampeders.

2021 FREE AGENCY
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The Ottawa REDBLACKS released Nick Arbuckle on Sunday (OttawaREDBLACKS.com)

As Calgary’s quarterbacks coach, Dinwiddie will be more familiar with Arbuckle than any other coach in this league. While Matt Nichols, now a member of the Ottawa REDBLACKS, would have been a great quarterback for Dinwiddie’s first year in Toronto, it’ll be tough to top the instant chemistry the first time coach will have with Arbuckle.

It’s a great spot for Arbuckle to step into, too. Remember, this will be his first shot as a full-time starter in the CFL. As good as Arbuckle looked in his seven 2019 starts with Calgary, being the number one guy is a different world, and it comes with a whole lot more pressure. Having Dinwiddie with him can only be a good thing.

Speaking of familiarity, Arbuckle now has the chance to reconnect with a familiar target and one of the league’s most dangerous in the red zone. Toronto acquired the rights to receiver Eric Rogers on Sunday and, assuming they sign him, it could be huge for Arbuckle. Of the 12 touchdown passes Arbuckle through in his seven starts in 2019, four of them were to Rogers.

Rogers and Arbuckle join a pair of familiar faces with the Argos in DaVaris Daniels and Juwan Brescasin. As part of Toronto’s blockbuster Sunday, they also restructured Daniels’s contract ensuring they’ll be able to keep the guy they originally signed in 2020 free agency. Daniels was teammates with Arbuckle in 2017 and 2018, and spent part of the 2018 season with Rogers in Calgary.

Don’t sleep on Brescasin, either. The Argonauts extended the Canadian receiver last month after signing him in 2020 free agency. Another former Stampeders product, Brescasin spent three years with Arbuckle, parts of two seasons with Rogers, and three seasons with Daniels. Brescasin looked ready for a breakout season in 2019 before sustaining an injury in Week 7 that kept him out the rest of the year.

If the Argos are looking for another Calgary connection, Canadian receiver Michael Klukas is available in free agency and would be another potential good fit with Arbuckle. Those two worked frequently together in practice and would add another familiar target for Toronto’s projected quarterback of the future.

One, two punch

When Edmonton signed Derel Walker last month, I wondered if that might spell the end of Greg Ellingson’s time in green and gold. Instead, Edmonton opted to bring back Ellingson and create one of the most dangerous one-two receiving punches in the CFL.

By bringing Ellingson back, you can make it five-straight seasons on the same team for him and quarterback Trevor Harris. Harris and Ellingson make up one of the most dynamic quarterback-receiver duos in the league and will look to make it five straight seasons of 1,000 or more yards together. In fact, Ellingson’s four most productive seasons in the CFL have all come with Harris as his quarterback.

With Harris, Walker, and Ellingson on the same team, I’m getting flashbacks to Walker’s only full season in Edmonton. That was 2016 when Adarius Bowman and Walker finished one and two, respectively, in receiving yards with Mike Reilly at quarterback. Well, Harris is one of the league’s most prolific passers and I think the sky is the limit for this trio.

Yes, signing Walker and Ellingson came with a sacrifice, as Edmonton released talented receiver Ricky Collins Jr. on Sunday. Collins is coming off a career year and is just 28, so I don’t anticipate him having any issues finding a landing spot somewhere else. Importantly, Edmonton does have Tevaun Smith returning for 2021 after leading the team in touchdown catches last season.

Knowing how much chemistry exists between Harris and Ellingson, I was expecting another huge season for those two. With the addition of Walker, one of the most explosive receivers of the last half-decade, Edmonton has the potential to have the league’s most dangerous receiving duo in 2021.

Big holes to fill

“I wouldn’t anticipate that we’d have both of them back.”

And with those words last week, Jeremy O’Day had the CFL world buzzing, as Saskatchewan’s general manager was referring to defensive end Charleston Hughes and linebacker Solomon Elimimian. It sure does sound like there’s a strong chance the Roughriders will be moving on from one, if not both, future Hall of Famers.

Riders GM Jeremy O’Day has some decisions to make in the coming weeks (Kevin Sousa/CFL.ca)

We’re living in a weird time, and the economic situation of the league necessitates more difficult football decisions than ever before. Players have had to restructure contracts, while teams are saying goodbye to key pieces they normally wouldn’t. That seems like what’s happening in Sask if indeed one or both Elimimian and Hughes become free agents.

Hughes just turned 37 in December, but it’s hard to bet against the guy who has led the league in sacks the last four years running. With 16 sacks in 2019, Hughes was only two off is career high of 18 from 2013. And, with 31 sacks in two seasons with the Riders, replacing that type of pressure off the edge will be a tall task if he’s not back in 2021.

Elimimian had a huge bounce back season in 2019, his only one to date in Saskatchewan. After an injury shortened his 2018 campaign, Elimimian left the BC Lions to join the Riders and finished his comeback season with 88 tackles, four sacks, and a forced fumble.

Now 34 years old, you can understand why Sask would be thinking of moving on from Elimimian; that’s the business of football. It doesn’t mean his potential departure wouldn’t be felt in the middle of the defence, however. It also doesn’t mean he’s done, because if there’s one guy I’m betting on, it’s a motivated Elimimian with a chip on his shoulder.

The Roughriders have been very strong in the player personnel department in recent years, so I’m confident O’Day and company have a solid plan in place. If Hughes and Elimimian aren’t back in green in 2021, though, they’ll be leaving large shoes to fill.

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