It’s the final day of early bird pricing for season tickets and with it being just a year since Chris Jones took over, it may be a good time to review a few things prior to 2017 and the free agent rush.
The Riders this month let go of their trainers, not really citing a reason, but if you review the comments of Jones, the injury situation of the Riders was a problem in 2016. Of course not long after, Rider Marvin Golding was suspended for two games for using personal enhancing drugs.
It is highly unlikely the two are connected, especially since Golding was suspended for four years in Canadian University ranks in 2015 after the CFL combine evaluations where he failed a test. That didn’t affect his CFL eligibility and so this is considered his first suspension in CFL ranks.
Of course when you bring in 200 players looking for jobs, it probably comes as no surprise some of them will use whatever means necessary to get their foot in the door. Golding was primarily used on special teams, although he would have been regarded as Canadian depth at linebacker, and considering he wasn’t drafted, would be regarded as a net gain by a team with a laughable Canadian content.
Back to the trainers – when you bring in a CFL record of new players, try to bring them up to snuff and then work to ensure everyone is doing what they are supposed to, not what they think they should be doing, then that is probably asking too much of anyone, especially a group that may not have had any idea of what to expect when they stepped in.
So was it poor training that helped the offensive line look like pylons, was it poor coaching, or was it they weren’t very good at their positions? At 5-13 you have pretty well put whatever shade of lipstick you want on that particular pig and the only thing to do is see how things unfold this year.
Then Jonathon Williams, a defensive lineman we got from Hamilton, got released, and considering he was coming off a leg injury, this was not surprising. One of the interesting things to discuss would be the long injury list of the Riders and how much might have been due to the Riders signing players with a history of being injured and hoping they would stay healthy because the Riders needed the depth.
Matt Walter, the Canadian running back formerly with Calgary who the Riders signed as a free agent, had a history of injury and not surprisingly, was injured last season and then cut. Then we had Eric Norwood, who would have been a great addition if he was healthy, but managed to play a couple of games before going on the injury list and retiring. Linden Gaydosh, the former number one pick in the CFL draft who we got from Hamilton, is another player with a long injury history who may never turn up on the field between his knee and back injuries.
So with the Riders in the midst of their off-season try-out camps, which appear to be on hiatus until January 14th in Miami, allowing the Riders a chance to scout some US college games, there may well be more players trimmed from the roster to make room for free agents from south of the border and potential free agents in February.
Which brings us to the question of Darian Durant. With the news Kavis Reed is now the GM of Montreal, and Jacques Chapdelaine is the head coach and interestingly enough, assistant GM Joey Abrams has decided to leave Montreal. So now the rumour mill has Durant going to Montreal because he likes Chapdelaine’s offense, which is interesting because he only had a half or so playing in 2015 to figure it out.
Whatever Montreal is going to do, if they want to go for a mentor style quarterback who might be able to spark them, Durant could well be a possible grab for Reed looking to make a big splash in Montreal. The rumour mill also has the Riders wondering, or perhaps asking, about the availability of James Franklin, the second or third string Edmonton Eskimo quarterback.
Gary Lawless sent out a tweet indicating Winnipeg might have asked and heard the price of two high draft picks, which is probably the ground floor for any negotiation for the quarterback, although Edmonton might be thinking about if Franklin walks after this season as a free agent, the Eskimos will see no return on their investment.
Winnipeg is looking at Matt Nicholls as a potential free agent, so kicking the tires around other available quarterbacks is a wise negotiating stance. As far as the Riders and Durant are concerned, it is interesting in the draft of negotiation list players who were signed and cut and not picked up that the Riders picked up Jake Heaps, a quarterback formerly of the Eskimos, along with offensive linemen James Bodanis and Roger Gaines and defensive back, Chase Minnifield.
The Riders seem to be in stockpile mode in case they don`t make a deal with Durant and in case a deal with Edmonton cannot be done by adding quarterbacks.
Popular sentiment seems to be to sign Durant. He has done a lot for the franchise, while the other school of thought is that we gave the keys to Chris Jones to build more than a one Grey Cup every 25 years (roughly the average we see in Saskatchewan regarding Grey Cups) team. Jones has a specific salary structure and for an aging quarterback with recent injury problems, the Riders investing a lot of money which could go to waste if Durant got injured in the first game as he did two years ago, is not a wise investment.
¸This is where it gets interesting for the Riders. After taking in the Rider locker room sale and comparing notes, the final season at Taylor Field helped the Riders stay ahead of where you might think a 5-13 team might have brought in merchandise sales.
That meant the emotional attachment of Rider fans for the stadium where they grew up watching games or listening to them was a pretty positive force for the Riders, although one thing I heard was the Riders failed to put their logo on the Final Season merchandise, but that is a marketing decision to be considered on another day.
The new stadium will inspire a lot of interest and it is a pretty good place to watch a game, but you have to wonder with no players to identify with, would the fans interest in the team keep up through what may be another losing or perhaps a 500 season – the jury is out on that.
If the Riders lose Durant, maybe trade for Franklin, and have a few of their one year players like William Jefferson make the NFL until September, the Riders will be in another rebuild-reload mode until Labour Day. It would be premature to speculate how Franklin, or anyone else might do, with our current offensive line, who were magnificent turnstiles in 2016. Again, whether or not this was due to improper training, coaching, or lack of talent, is open for discussion, but the appetite for a rebuild with no end in sight except an endless audition is not limitless.
Personally, I would not be surprised one way or another, and considering the time of year, it is a little premature to come to any conclusions. However this brings me to another point that is somewhat apropos: the CFL inability to counterpunch against say, Rogers Communications, or sell itself outside of its core fan base.
West of Thunder Bay is pretty good CFL country, regardless if you cheer for Winnipeg, Saskatchewan, Calgary, Edmonton and to a less extent BC. The Riders have slowly got their act together to be a big draw on the road and despite some missteps, do pretty well in merchandise sales.
Hamilton seems to be a pretty good market and Ottawa has a game day experience that I hear has to be experienced. I’m not sure if Montreal is slipping, although maybe a Francophone coach like Chapdelaine may be enough to engage local fans, although winning would be a bigger step forward.
The Toronto media treatment of the CFL as second class citizens, especially compared to the money pit known as major league soccer and the Toronto Football Club, kind of rubbed me the wrong way although I was not surprised.
Once upon a time I lived and worked in Cambridge, Ontario and with my Moose Jaw born and raised Managing Editor, took in Rider games in Toronto and Hamilton. I put up with my Ontario relatives putting down the CFL compared to the NFL and came away thinking that southern Ontario wants to be upstate New York, but no one south of the border is interested.
The CFL gave Toronto the Grey Cup in 2016 to provide the new ownership with a cash influx (The David Braley legacy) and the new ownership fumbled that opportunity with a Grey Cup pricing scheme that was nuts with $700-$800 seats.
The CFL is a blue collar league, not the NFL corporate giant, and alienating fans with ticket prices perhaps better suited to a Jacksonville was not a great start. Then with CFL Commissioner Jeffrey Orridge blowing his state of the union address by avoiding questions over the lawsuit over concussions, then a pizza promotion featuring two tickets to the game and then fining players after the Grey Cup for not wearing presumably Adidas socks made the league look less than with it, especially considering the xenophobic excitement of the Toronto soccer fan who hates all sports other than than those played by maybe the 10th best soccer league in the world.
So if I was going to be commissioner, or head of the Argonauts, I would first lower season ticket prices as an apology for trying to gouge long-suffering fans for the Grey Cup. Then I would work with community sponsors for ticket packages for new Canadians, youth, or people who might not get a chance to get out to take in an event like a football game.
I look at the NFL marketing and wonder why the CFL let the NFL take the lead in touch football. With people worried about concussions and not wanting their youth to get involved with a game that may scramble their brains at an early age, touch football is a more friendly way to introduce youth to football, both male and female.
A month or so ago I was talking with an RCMP recruit from Ottawa who saw my Grey Cup ring, asked about it, and said her family in Ottawa were big NFL fans because the CFL just didn’t register and she had played touch football in some NFL sponsored league. She was surprised by how passionate people were in the west about football, and I said, hey, it’s a big country, check it out.
One more thing I would do is address the question of Canadian development of CFL players. In Saskatchewan the turnstile of players may be a necessary evil, but the fines Chris Jones received for stretching the practice squad rules made it clear this may be an opportunity for the CFL.
Considering the average Canadian university football player plays eight games, maybe 12 if they go to the Vanier Cup, Canadian football players are at a disadvantage compared to their American counterparts when it comes to sticking onto a roster.
Unless Canada bids for the soccer World Cup which would mean maybe building a big stadium in Atlantic Canada to help the dream of a true coast to coast league, the CFL may want to experiment with an Arena version of the CFL during the winter months.
This league would be a developmental league for potential CFL players and the league could put down roots in say Saskatoon, Quebec City, and the Maritimes. With smaller rosters than regular football teams, the costs could be kept down and the rules tweaked to help teams develop players be ready for training camp.
This would again be a niche market, but it would allow for exposure of the league and players in not just its regular markets, but potential new markets. While I am not convinced by soccer, I have to recognize they are working to develop their audience. The CFL cannot sit back and expect people to come to them, they need to be engaging people and not running quiet league meetings with no news coverage because they haven’t figured out how to answer the question of how to keep the league relevant in an age of cord cutters.
In the mean time, Merry Christmas!
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