The first couple of days of CFL free agency have come and gone and the Riders have filled some needs but are leaving the impression that something big may be in the works.
The big prize was Derek Dennis who will look after the blind side of whomever lines up as quarterback for the Riders. The three year deal indicates stability at the position and likely beyond and is just one in a piece of the puzzle.
Another piece may come with the potential retirement of Canadian offensive lineman, Chris Best. While it has been pretty quiet on the return of Best and Brendon LaBatte to the offensive line, Rider GM and Head Coach Chris Jones said an announcement will be coming soon on Best, while LaBatte appears to have overcome the concussion problem that happened last year.
So while the signing of Dennis was welcomed, what has followed since is a bit of a tip off of what to expect from the Riders in 2017.
The Riders added Canadian running back Kienan LaFrance who will likely pony up with Greg (Mercury) Morris, the Canadian running back the Riders got from Edmonton last year.
Having a Canadian starter is one thing, but it helps to have a Canadian back up to avoid screwing up the ratio. So the Rider running game will have a Canadian flavor and with sufficient depth, there is a chance the new alignment might work.
What makes things interesting is the addition of Chad Owens, the former Argonaut and Tiger-Cat receiver who will likely concentrate on returns for the Riders. Owens is 35 and while a workout fiend, he is coming off a broken bone in his foot that caused him to miss six games.
The signing has puzzled many in Riderville, thinking it must be a prelude to some kind of trade involving receivers for either James Franklin or Vernon Adams Jr, both young quarterbacks with some kind of upside the Riders may be interested in. If you accept Jones at face value, Owens was brought in for his returning prowess, having averaged 13 yards a return last year.
Left unsaid was the likelihood that Owens will serve the Geroy Simon role with Duron Carter, the mercurial wide receiver the Riders signed. If Carter wants another shot at the NFL, he needs to behave in an adult manner, and Owens example could be what Carter needs to keep his nose clear for this year.
The reaction to the Owens signing was interesting, with many Bomber, Stampeder and Eskimo fans blasting the Riders for going over the salary cap, not knowing what they are doing, writing off their season already.
But seriously, why would those fans care what the Riders do? The free agent signings and releases, including releasing offensive lineman Andrew Jones and signing former Montreal offensive lineman Ryan White, go some ways to addressing the Riders problem with no offensive line. Whoever they get at quarterback will need to be protected and it appears they will have weapons to throw to.
The question of quarterback took another twist when Montreal signed former Edmonton and Hamilton back up Jacory Harris. It’s another form of insurance for Montreal behind Darian Durant, but it leaves former number one Vernon Adams Jr. wondering what his future may hold.
The Riders have an option of either trading for James Franklin of Edmonton, waiting for Franklin to hit free agency, or trading for Adams, or coming up with their own prospect. Speaking of which, Rider prospect BJ Daniels signed a futures contract with the Atlanta Falcons.
If there is a prospect, it will either come through the free agent camps, or following the NFL draft with players who didn’t get drafted or signed. I had been thinking the Riders may give up the store to get Franklin or Adams via trade, but the more I see how Jones has handled the free agency moves, the more I think Jones will roll the dice and wait until after the 2017 season.
If Kevin Glenn can hold the fort, and when he started for the 2015 Riders after Darian Durant went down, he did not bad, but again suffered from a tendency to throw an interception at a bad time, the Riders may have the elements of a team that can get back with a good defense and an offense that is capable and potentially deadly with its receiving corps.
That’s not to say the Riders will make the playoffs, because other teams in the west have also made some interesting changes and additions. Competitive may be the best the Riders can hope for, but after the last two years, competitive would be a step up for the Riders.
Here’s a confession. I was a Rider season ticket holder during the 11 years the Riders finished out of the playoffs. All my Dad and I asked were the team to either be entertaining or show some promise.
There is an element of that this year with the Riders, who will be able to sell the new stadium while trying to establish a team identity. The relative youth of the team and the 100 plus player revolving door last year has left Rider fans with a team that leaves fans going meh.
Jones has not made a smooth transition to Riderville, with such free agent failures last year as Mo Price, Shawn Lemon, John Chiles, Kendial Lawrence, Shamawd Chambers. But it’s a learning process, and not everything is going to work out.
The Riders did have a stretch in the last third of the season of playing close to their potential, but then their lack of depth of talent and character came through in the last three games of the season including the final game at Taylor Field.
Character will determine how far the Riders go this year as players will have to decide whether or not the team or their own individual statistics are more important. The free agent moves made so far demonstrate the Riders and Chris Jones understand this team is nowhere near where they want it to be, but maybe, it is getting closer.
So while fans in Winnipeg, Calgary and Edmonton rejoice at the Riders failures, Rider fans are more interested in seeing how the Riders work themselves out of the situation they find themselves in.
The trade of Darian Durant was perhaps not in the initial planning for this season, but now the Riders are looking at how they can demonstrate progress as a team while figuring out the final and most important piece of the puzzle: quarterback.
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