Shake-up Has Pundits Worried

With training camp only three months away, a lot of questions surround the Riders

Rider Fan Forum | by Gregory Beatty

 

Welcome to our mid-winter Rider Fan Forum. Ron Mexico is on an extended vacation somewhere south of here where the only ice he has to deal with is in his margarita.* But Ivanka Trudeau, Earl Camembert and Cal Corduroy have all agreed to suit up and offer their thoughts on off-season developments with the Riders and the rest of the CFL.

From Chris Jones’ dramatic Jan. 15 departure to the Cleveland Browns just days after signing a contract extension, to the subsequent appointment of Jeremy O’Day as GM and Craig Dickenson as Head Coach, and all the free agent excitement, we have a lot to talk about. So let’s get to it.

*Ron filed his copy after we went to press, so we’ve added it to our on-line column.

What’s your take on the Chris Jones-era in Riderville, and the steps taken to replace him?

EARL CAMEMBERT The Riders stunk when he got here and by the time he pulled the pin they were contenders and hosted a playoff game. They were boxed in in replacing him since two days before he left he signed all the assistant coaches to one-year contracts. That meant that anyone outside the organization would have to live with Jones’ coaches. Gassing the assistants wasn’t an option because of the admin salary cap, so they had to look within.

IVANKA TRUDEAU The Jones era was moderately successful. He did manage to get us to 12-6 last year, despite not having a healthy effective QB. However, I think we all were expecting him to get us back to the Grey Cup. We were close in 2017, but not close enough.

It made sense to promote Jeremy O’Day to GM and Craig Dickenson to Head Coach, given the timing and the fact they were great candidates. The question now is whether we will be able to bounce back quickly enough. This season may have already been negatively impacted because of some things Jones did in the past few years (e.g. not drafting Canadian O-linemen) and his untimely departure.

CAL CORDUROY Like him or not, Jones was a good coach. Having said that, we never did get a QB who could take the team to the top level.

I’m in full agreement with O’Day getting the GM job. There are few candidates out there, and we’ve been grooming him for a number of years. However, then he turns around and hires a coach who left the team because he wanted to snowboard more than work on coaching, and has no CFL head coaching experience. This move certainly has me on the “show me” side of the equation. And I’m not sure how much patience Rider Nation will have if he doesn’t show considerable success early.

I also think this is CEO Craig Reynolds’ last chance. Notwithstanding a dysfunctional Board of Directors, he has yet to give us a winner.

RON MEXICO Jones had a successful reign in Regina, and I’m sorry to see him go. The team’s record improved every season and by year three the Riders had the league’s second best record and a home playoff game. I’ve always thought consistently finishing with 11+ wins and first or second place was more of a measuring stick of success than Grey Cup wins.

I’m totally fine with the hiring of Craig Dickenson as his replacement. Given the timing and the football ops salary cap, an internal hire was required and I think he was a no brainer. Dickenson seems well liked and respected by the players, and as a special teams guy he would’ve worked with the broadest cross-section of the roster of any of the candidates.

Heading into free agency, the biggest question for the Riders was at QB. Out of nowhere, the team inked Zach Collaros to a one-year, $300,000 contract. That’s down from the $430,000 he earned last year. Good move or not?

EARL Good move. They weren’t going to get Mike Reilly, and waved a bunch of money at Bo Levi Mitchell but couldn’t get him. If they’d paid Trevor Harris what Edmonton’s paying him it would be WAY too much. Collaros was their only real option until a young guy comes along that they can actually groom to be the starter.

IVANKA While I do like Collaros when he’s healthy, I’d have to say it’s not a good move. But unfortunately it became our only move. Reilly was going to BC and Mitchell was staying in Calgary. But I think we should have gone after Harris harder. Once he signed in Edmonton, we didn’t have much of a choice.

CAL I guess this is a kiss your sister scenario. Since we failed on any of the numerous free agents out there who have winning pedigrees, he was the best we had. We better get a good back-up though, because Collaros has never played a full season in his CFL career.

RON If he is healthy I am fine with him as our guy. I think he’s good enough. Do I believe he will stay healthy… no.

What about the rest of the signings? What did you like? What was a bummer?

EARL I didn’t like the Riders losing D-linemen Willie Jefferson and Tobi Antigha, but picking up AC Leonard and Micah Johnson should ease the blow. I didn’t mind the William Powell signing but, in the words of the great Roy Shivers, running backs are a dime a dozen. They also signed Kienan Lafrance to a one-year deal. It never hurts to have depth at RB, I suppose. It’s a bummer the Riders had to release Samuel Eguavoen so he could try the NFL. He was a very good LB.

IVANKA It was a bummer to lose Willie Jefferson. But I do like our additions of Micah Johnson, receiver Emmanuel Arceneaux, Cody Fajardo (as a back-up QB) and William Powell.

CAL The Riders actually did okay in free agency. Powell and Johnson are top-drawer signings, as is LB Dyshawn Davis. The jury’s out on Fajardo as back-up QB.  Losing Jefferson and Antigha hurts — would’ve been great to have Johnson with those two.

RON Other than the big name QBs, I think Micah Johnson and Willie Jefferson were the two best players available. Actually, they are probably better than Trevor Harris. We got one and lost the other so those would be my like and bummer.

With the rest of the CFL, who do you think got the biggest boost and took the biggest hit?

EARL I think Edmonton got a boost singing Harris, receivers Greg Ellingson, Anthony Parker and Ricky Collins, LB Jovan Santos-Knox and others. But with the salary cap I don’t know how they can pay everyone. Given they used up a lot of cake on offence, I expect their defence to suck. BC getting Reilly was a good move for them, and it might rally some fan support in Vancouver. But again, you have to wonder how much money you want to allocate to a QB — inevitably, some other areas of the team have to suffer. Calgary lost some good players, including LB Alex Singleton, but it doesn’t seem to matter. I think the Riders came out even.

IVANKA I think BC and Edmonton improved significantly with their free agent signings.  Winnipeg improved on defence when they signed Jefferson. Calgary is always good. Unfortunately, that may mean the Riders end up at the bottom of the West in 2019. I don’t think the Eastern teams did much to significantly improve, and the Ottawa RedBlacks got raided.

CAL BC did as good as anyone, particularly getting an elite QB (something the Riders couldn’t do), while Toronto seemed to sign the most players including receiver Derel Walker. With all the shifts, I see Toronto improving, BC improving, Edmonton and Calgary remaining good, and the Riders and Winnipeg about the same (or maybe a slight improvement).

RON The biggest hit was taken by the RedBlacks who lost Ellingson, Harris (who is good but not worth the $ Edmonton paid him); Powell (RBs are a dime a dozen, but he is good); SirVincent Rogers (top notch O-lineman) and AC Leonard. I’m surprised as Ottawa is successful and I thought would’ve been an appealing place to play. Edmonton fared the best by replacing Reilly quite well and adding Ellingson.

Commissioner Randy Ambrosie has signed partnerships with eight countries including Mexico, Germany and France. The goal is to grow the CFL through increased broadcast revenues, and down the road perhaps, additional player talent. Good idea or not?

EARL Good move.  Although I don’t know how much impact it will have. There’s been a bunch of forays into other countries over the years, but not a lot of traction as a result.

IVANKA Good idea to get further broadcast revenues, but I’m skeptical as to whether we will get much additional player talent.

CAL Absolutely. The CFL has to find ways to grow their revenue base. In Canada, the fan demographic is not in the league’s favour at the moment. They are also under siege from the Alliance of American Football and other newly formed US leagues — although that may be short-lived, depending on each league’s success.

RON If any of these countries cares to spend a nickel on the CFL, then it’s a good idea. If the CFL spent any money of consequence to enter into these partnerships then not.