Edmonton Elks head coach and general manager Chris Jones led his team to a disappointing 4-14 record last year, which he says was partly due to the CFL’s operating ceiling.
“It tried, not just on the field. … Our employees have to take a backseat financially because we can’t pay many of these people as much as the others [team’s] Employees because they owe money to these other coaches. So that’s certainly a big challenge to put together a staff,” Jones told Dave Jamieson on TSN 1260.
“We worked with 18 people this year, the other [team’s] Staff worked at 21. There must be enough money to keep a solid staff together because you are only as good as your help. It’s kind of a constant struggle. We have to win games, we have to get people back on the pitches, we have to generate interest.”
The CFL introduced the operating cap in 2019 to limit and balance spending across the league. Edmonton fired general manager Brock Sunderland and head coach Jaime Elizondo after a disastrous 2021 season that has limited the amount of money they can spend on coaches, staff, equipment staff and video staff.
Jones compared this past season to his first year as head coach and general manager of the Saskatchewan Roughriders in 2016, when the club finished bottom in the West Division by 5-13. He made a large number of free-agent commitments to help kick-start that rebuild and did the same last winter in Edmonton, teaming up with veterans Kenny Lawler, Tony Washington, Makana Henry, Deon Lacey, Adam Konar, Ed Gainey and Sergio Castillo acquired.
The 55-year-old indicated he doesn’t want to be as active in free agency this offseason and said he’s looking at “three or possibly four free agents” along with the club’s 10 draft picks to make the roster to improve. Drivers improved to 10-8 under Jones in his second year at the helm in 2017, and Edmonton fans will likely expect a similar improvement in 2023.
Jones stated that the team is “very confident” in quarterback duo Taylor Cornelius and Tre Ford going into next season. The Elks recently signed Cornelius on a two-year contract extension that includes a significant amount of guaranteed money in 2024, which is a strong indication they see him as their go-to starter going forward.
The 27-year-old pivot has completed 57.4 percent of his passes for 2,768 yards, 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions this season. He was also the league’s most prolific quarterback on the ground, rushing for 502 yards and seven touchdowns. Jones wants the Oklahoma State product to take better care of football next season, which will be his third in the CFL.
“We’d definitely like to lower the interception rate and then we need to improve on him, stay in the bag, don’t get too nervous and protect him,” Jones said.
“That’s what we have to be able to do, we have to let the ball run, get second and manageable. We have to protect our quarterback when we call passes and then some of the checkdown throws. I feel like he needs to improve touch so we don’t have so many tipped balls that lead to interceptions.
The club have uncovered some exciting offensive weapons over the past year, including running back Kevin Brown and receiver Dillon Mitchell. The latter signed a contract extension Monday that will keep him in Edmonton through the 2025 season. Jones indicated the club hope to do the same with Brown while they also look to bring back stalwart defensive tackle Jake Ceresna.
Edmonton have now missed the playoffs in consecutive seasons and are still without a win at home as of October 2019, a losing streak spanning 17 regular-season games at Commonwealth Stadium. Jones promised fans he and his peers will work tirelessly this offseason to ensure their shortcomings are rectified by 2023.
“As employees, we will do everything in our power. We won’t sleep until we fix this thing and we’re going to work as hard as we can to make sure it happens.”
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