Jeremiah Masoli is something of a legend in the CFL. Yet he is being allowed to test free agency in the 2022 offseason. As soon as news broke that Masoli would likely not be retained by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, teams began lining up at his door trying to get him to sign on the dotted line. The question is how did he get to this point and what makes him so valuable that there is a literal battle between Edmonton and Ottawa to acquire his services for the 2022 season?
Masoli began his college career at City College of San Francisco before transferring to Oregon for the 2008 season. He would join the Ducks, and Chip Kelly originally as the 3rd string QB. However, injuries struck the Ducks’ depth chart very hard, leading Masoli to take over as the starter. He would go on to play all 12 games but completed just over 56% of his 239 passing attempts, for 1,744 yards 13 tds and 5 ints, adding 127 carries for 718 yards and 10 touchdowns. Ironically, he completed just 136 passes, nearly matching that production on the ground in rushing attempts no small feat for a quarterback.
In 2009 prior to the season, he was placed on the watch list for the Davey O’Brien award and found himself on the cover of Sports Illustrated. He would go on to help lead the Ducks to a Pac 12 Championship win, advancing to the Rose Bowl where they would ultimately lose. In 2019 Masoli attempted even more passes, this time throwing 305 passes, completing 177 of them for a 58% completion rate.
A slight improvement over the previous season but not exactly eyepopping for a man hoping he has a future at the NFL level. Despite producing over 400 more passing yards with the increase in attempts his yards per attempt actually dropped from 7.29 to 7 yards flat. However, he saw an uptick in touchdowns producing 15 through the air, and another 13 on the ground for a career-high 28 touchdowns as a sophomore. That’s when his career at Oregon began to fall apart fairly quickly.
In January of 2010 Masoli and a teammate were cited for second degree burglary due to a theft that happened on campus. He was subsequently suspended for the 2010 season by head coach Chip Kelly after he pled guilty and received 12 months of probation. So, with little to fill his time between March, and June it wasn’t long before Masoli was again in trouble. This time while on probation he was cited for possession of marijuana, as well as a moving violation due to a traffic stop. Amazingly he avoided jail time. Following his latest run in with the law, Chip Kelly dismissed Masoli from the team and moved on with Darron Thomas as his QB.
Masoli had no choice but to transfer and sent his scholarship release papers in to Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Hawaii, UNLV, Louisiana Tech and Syracuse. However, Masoli had already completed his undergraduate degree which by NCAA rules at the time should have made him immediately eligible to play in 2010. However, NCAA blocked his waiver for immediate eligibility stating it was for students searching for new paths to learning, not to escape the ramifications of legal issues. However, Ole Miss would file an appeal which was granted. Masoli was allowed to play in the home opener for the Rebels.
Masoli however didn’t live up to the hype he had upon his arrival and was out of eligibility following the 2010 season meaning regardless of draft stock, he was expected to declare for the 2011 draft. Masoli wound up completing 167 of 296 attempts or 56.4% of his passes for 2,039 yards and 14 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He would also add 121 carries for 544 yards and 6 touchdowns, once again displaying his mobility.
After career statistics that were far from impressive, unless you’re looking strictly at his rushing ability, he went undrafted in 2011. Returning to San Francisco, but this time as an undrafted free agent signed by the 49ers, and head coach Jim Harbaugh. He was ultimately cut before the regular season. But despite this, he didn’t spend the 2011 season out of football instead taking advantage of another Spring Football League popping up.
He would be drafted in the 8th round by the Omaha Nighthawks of the UFL. He was inserted as the starter, but it again did not go as planned. He attempted 151 passes, completing 77 of them for just a 51% completion rate, and at times rode the bench for Eric Crouch to enter the game. He would average just over 5 yards per passing attempt, and score 2 times to 5 interceptions, adding 94 yards and 1 td on the ground. He ultimately would decide the UFL wasn’t for him and try his hand at the CFL in 2012.
In 2012 he signed with the Edmonton Eskimos but wound up on injured reserve and missed the entire 2012 season, despite this Hamilton acquired him in a 5-player trade for the 2013 season. He was active for all 18 games in 2013, but rarely saw the field attempting 2 passes, and rushing 10 times for 61 yards scoring just 1 touchdown through the air. In 2014, and 2015 not much had changed. Masoli was riding the bench in favor of Dan Lefevour, and Zach Collaros. Despite not starting any games during the regular season in 2015 he was called on to start 2 games in the postseason.
Masoli played so well during the postseason he nearly defeated the Redblacks but wound up losing despite completing 30 of 42 passes for 349 yards 2 touchdowns, and 1 interception. This was enough to make him the primary backup in the 2016 season. With Collaros not healthy following surgery to repair an injury suffered late in 2015, Masoli started 8 games the most he had played since joining the CFL in 2012. Masoli played like a man possessed. Remember in college how he never topped a 58% completion rate? After 8 starts Masoli had completed 230 of 332 passes of 69.3% with 15 tds, to 12 ints adding 180 rushing yards and 6 rushing touchdowns.
Despite a resurgent performance by Masoli as a starter he was still replaced by Collaros who would go on to start the last 10 games of the season and began the 2017 season as the starter once again. This time Masoli was able to get on the field for 10 starts. Had the Ti-Cats played better to begin the season he may never have gotten this chance. Kent Austin stepped down following an 0-8 start to the season and was replaced by June Jones who immediately installed Masoli as the starter.
He completed 63% of his passes this time matching his passing td mark of 15 but throwing just 5 interceptions this time around showing he has been maturing as a backup in Hamilton. The dangerous runner was able to also rack up 70 carries for 446 yards and 4 more touchdowns. Finally, it appeared he had done enough to be named the starter for the 2017 season, and it didn’t hurt that June Jones believed in his ability as a starter.
In 2018 Masoli started 17 of 18 games and have a stellar season setting career highs in completions, attempts, passing yards, passing tds, interceptions, as well as rushing yards, and yards per carry. He would be named Hamilton’s most outstanding player, and a CFL east all-star on the strength of 5,209 yards 28 tds, 18 ints, 473 rushing yards, and 2 touchdowns. Along the way Masoli tied the CFL record with 10 straight games of 300 yards passing or more.
Finally, the legend of Jeremiah Masoli was beginning to grow in the CFL. Personally, I think the wider field helped Masoli. It’s not that his accuracy was ever terrible in college, it was more that his decision making, and timing was off just enough that it would cause a high number of his passes to be batted down, or worse intercepted. When he joined the June Jones offense and got the coaching, he needed to clean up some of those mistakes, suddenly all the talent that all of his previous teams had bet on, matched up with the Football IQ Masoli had to form a dangerous mobile QB.
In 2019 Orlondo Steinauer, after 1 season as June Jone’s assistant head coach, took over as the full-time head coach replacing the man he was hired to assist. Despite the coaching change, Masoli would pick up where he left off in 2019 winning 4 of his first 5 games. In week 7 he tore his ACL and would spend the rest of the season on the injured reserve list. Despite throwing just 9 tds to 7 ints, Masoli posted career highs with completion rate, and QB rating with 71.4%, and 99.6 qbr. Dane Evans his backup started 11 games in his place helping the Ti-Cats to a Grey Cup berth. Unfortunately, despite the strong end to the season, Hamilton was defeated in the Grey Cup by Winnipeg.
Masoli had previously expected to begin the 2020 season on the injured list, while still recovering from his ACL tear in 2019. Ultimately Covid 19 forced the CFL to cancel the 2020 season which allowed Masoli to take an entire calendar year to rehab his injury allowing him to return in 2021 as the starter completely healthy. In 2021 Masoli did just that, returning to Hamilton but was asked to splitting playing time with former backup Dane Evans. Masoli started just 9 games, playing in a total of 12 games. Evans started 3 games playing in 10 games.
Masoli despite the split in snaps, was still able to complete 69.4% of his 271 attempts for 2,445 yards and 10 touchdowns and 6 interceptions, as well as 1 rushing td, while Evans posted 6 tds and 3 ints, with 4 rushing touchdowns. Despite splitting time between three different quarterbacks the Tiger-Cats again made the Grey Cup, and again lost to Winnipeg, even though Masoli played out of his mind in the game.
Prior to the 2022 offseason Orlondo Steinauer who was just promoted to the President of Football Operations, while still serving as head coach. Steinauer has decided to get younger at the quarterback position, opting to resign Dane Evans presumably as the starter, while allowing Masoli to test free agency. From what I have heard, Masoli hasn’t even received an offer from the Ti-Cats to return after 9 seasons in Hamilton. That’s where Ottawa, and Edmonton come in.
With his contract in 2021 amounting to just over $330,000, it would not be the least bit shocking to see either team offer him a contract nearing $500,000 fresh off of a Grey Cup appearance that saw him come off of the bench to complete 20 of 25 passes for 185 yards, 2 touchdowns, while contributing 35 rushing yards.
In Ottawa the QB position is looking rough, although there is some promise in 2021 starter Caleb Evans who flashed at times last season. His top backup Dominique Davis was released prior to free agency, and to this point 3rd string qb Matt Nichols was allowed to test free agency as well. This points to one course of action for Ottawa, in which they bring in Masoli as the starter, while hoping Evans can develop behind him. Before you ask, Caleb Evans has 8 siblings, none of whom are Dane Evans of the Tiger-Cats.
This succession plan makes a lot of sense when you consider how Dane Evans was able to develop behind Masoli, and ultimately replace him long term. At 33 years old in 2022, Masoli may not have many more seasons left in him, and realistically speaking the Redblacks can expect to get 2-3 years out of him at best, but it remains to be seen what they are offering. Their passing attack needs an injection of talent at QB, and WR to overcome a 2021 season that saw them average under 200 yards passing a game.
In Edmonton, the Elks split time between 3 quarterbacks as well, Taylor Cornelius, Trevor Harris, and Dakota Prukop. Before the season was over Harris was traded to the Montreal Allouettes who have since released him, but Edmonton has their sights elsewhere. They have brought in Americans Jt Barrett, Khalil Tate, and Kai Locksley. They also have Nick Arbuckle who was acquired for a 2nd round pick, and negotiation rights to Chad Kelly a fellow QB. That’s quite the group of quarterbacks to still be pursuing the biggest fish in the free agency pond left available.
Yet here we are. The thing is, Masoli might have a reason to return to Edmonton being that he originally began his CFL career there when they were the Eskimos, although the entire staff has changed over the 9 years he spent with Hamilton. Also, the Elk have a brand-new first-time head coach which may actually dissuade Masoli from joining them and opting to join the more experienced Paul LaPolice who is noted for his offensive mind.
Whatever Masoli does, these may be the most critical years of his career if he wants to retire having built a legacy worthy of the history books, after a slow start. Which means this decision could be the biggest he has ever made in his career since leaving Oregon all those years ago. I for one would love to see him join Ottawa to tutor Caleb Evans for a couple of years.
I truly believe Evans has the required talent and athleticism to succeed at this level he just needs to see up close how the game is played. This is no different than how Masoli began his career, as a back-up and spot starter for Hamilton. It is also the most likely path to success for the 2021 rookie QB. Regardless of who he signs with it will be interesting to see if Masoli can recapture the glory of his 2018 season.