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Dave Naylor

TSN Football Insider

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Football teams can always be divided into two distinct camps: Those that have their franchise quarterback, and those that are searching for one.

It’s a cycle that every team goes through – unless they are tremendously lucky – since projecting future star quarterbacks is always a tricky kind of business.

And so after the retirement of Anthony Calvillo in 2013, the Montreal Alouettes began that painful journey of searching for their next franchise quarterback. They tried out young quarterbacks, experienced quarterbacks, guys from big schools and those from small schools.

They even threw a Hail Mary at Johnny Manziel, who proved himself to be no overnight saviour in 2018, and then was gone before he ever got another chance.

And so it was with great relief when Vernon Adams Jr. emerged from a muddy quarterback mix at the start of the 2019 season to become the team’s full-time starter, throwing almost twice as many touchdowns as interceptions and leading Montreal to its first regular season with a winning record since 2012, the year before Calvillo retired.

It was a circuitous route for Adams Jr., one that demonstrates how much resolve it can take for a player to establish himself and how much of it can be out of his control.

It was back in May of 2016 that then-Montreal general manager Jim Popp was so intrigued by Adams’ potential that he took the unusual step of trading away a first-round pick to the BC lions in exchange for his CFL rights.

Popp, it turns out, was absolutely right about Adams. It just took more of a roundabout route than anyone had imagined.

Adams, who started three games as a CFL rookie for Montreal in 2016, had fallen behind veterans Darian Durant and Drew Willy in 2017, leading to a mid-season trade to Saskatchewan, where his role was limited to playing short-yardage quarterback.

After that season, Saskatchewan dealt him to Hamilton, where he ended up being the odd man out in a training camp battle that included rookie Dane Evans, Jeremiah Masoli and the much-hyped Manziel.

Hamilton tried to convert Adams to receiver during training camp in 2018, then released him when they couldn’t find any partners for a trade. There was, however, a team willing to sign Adams off the street ­– the same one with which he’d begun his CFL career. And so, in late June, Adams returned to Montreal as a free agent, believing there was less in his way to the starter’s job than anywhere else in the CFL.

Three weeks later, while he was still getting up to speed on learning the Alouettes offence, the team traded for Manziel, giving up a boatload of assets and virtually guaranteed the former Heisman Trophy winner the No. 1 job.

Five days after the trade, with Manziel not yet ready to play, Adams was greeted with a chorus of boos and chants of “we want Johnny” during his first start of 2018, seemingly becoming nothing more than a placeholder at the position. And he wasn’t happy about it.

Fast forward to one year later, and Manziel was out of the picture for violating the terms of his agreement with the CFL.

With former head coach Mike Sherman and general manager Kavis Reed gone, offensive co-ordinator Khari Jones stepped into the head coaching role and anointed Adams the starter early in the season. And he began to blossom, as all the potential he had demonstrated in college was starting to show itself in the CFL. By the end of the year, he had displayed the abilities and makeup to be a star in the league, throwing for almost 4,000 yards and 24 touchdowns, earning the now 28-year-old a new contract that puts him in position to grab the mantle of franchise quarterback.

It’s been a long time and a twisting road that no one could have predicted, but the Montreal Alouettes in 2021 have their man under centre.

What They’ve Been Up to Since We Last Saw Them

The Alouettes were financially rescued by Southern Ontario businessmen Gary Stern and Sid Spiegal in January 2020, after being operated throughout the 2019 season by the league’s other eight teams.

The biggest bold move made by the new owners so far was the hiring of general manager Danny Maciocia, the Montreal native and former head coach at the University of Montreal who has GM experience from his days in Edmonton.

Maciocia picked a good time to arrive on the scene as GM, one might say. After all, “find a franchise quarterback” isn’t on his to-do list.

The Als have kept a talented group of receivers together in B.J. Cunningham, Mario Alford, Quan Bray, Jake Wieneke and Eugene Lewis. Rugged running back William Stanback, who signed with the NFL’s Las Vegas Raiders before the 2020 season, is back in the fold.

Defensively, the Als lost some experience on defence with the retirement of safety Taylor Loffler, and linebacker Henoc Muamba moving to Toronto to free agency. But they gained some experience with the addition of former Edmonton defensive tackle Almondo Sewell. 

Montreal’s offensive line played well in 2019 but this season they will have to deal with the loss of two Canadian starters in Trey Rutherford and Tyler Johnstone.