Monday, January 13, 2020

Monday Morning Sentimonies: This and That


It’s January in Saskatchewan and 90% of any conversation relates to how cold it is. Yes, it happens every year and yes if we haven’t moved away by now clearly we should have accepted this as a reality in our lives. But dammit, it’s our right to complain about it! I’m pretty sure its in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms somewhere.

But what better way to cope with the cold then to huddle up inside and pass the time reading your favourite blog… and once you are done that, then this blog.

A few news and notes,

Let’s start once again with the NFL…
Between Cameron Judge (who's already worked out for the Chargers), Derrick Moncrief (who's been released to pursue NFL opportunities and already signed with the Raiders), and Shaq Evans, it's highly likely that at least one member of the 2019 Riders makes his way onto an NFL active roster in 2020. Last year, 14 total CFLers signed NFL contracts. Given that 9 or 14 were on the defensive side of the ball, Judge is a little more likely than Evans says Paruk from SportsBettingDime.com.

The Moncrief signing is not at all shocking. I can’t imagine why he choose Vegas over Saskatchewan. I mean other than more money, better weather and ready access to pretty much any form of entertainment your heart (or other body parts) desires there’s really no difference. Moncrief is very deserving of this opportunity and I think he will stick down south. Think back to 2018 when we had both him and Eguavoen as our LBs (both NFL calibre players)… hard to imagine why our D was so go that year. The funny thing is that the 3rd guy in that LB equation was often Sam Hurl… one of these things is not like the other.

Nick Marshall’s NFL interest must have turned out to be minimal as he signed a one year extension, we now have 4 of our 5 starting secondary under contract with Gainey being the lone exception.  I would imagine though, that his return is predicated on a salary reduction. While the secondary is looking solid, the linebackers is another issue… some big holes to fill there.  

The other big news was that Cody Fajardo played through a ton of injuries throughout the year beyond the torn obliques. It’s crazy going from a QB where a heavy breeze made us concerned for his safety to one who just casually shrugs of broken fingers and separated shoulders.

Monday, January 6, 2020

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Catching Up


Happy New Year. Let’s get to it.

Let’s start with the NFL watch. Some players (Begelton, Addison, Rose, Sayles, Kongbo, Stanback) have started signing NFL deals. So far no Riders have signed, but its just a matter of time. Derrick Moncrief has already worked for 8 NFL teams… in other words: He Gone. Generally, if you get 3 or more tryouts then odds are very good you are signing somewhere. One tryout could lead to a signing (as it did last year for Jake Ceresna and Mercy Maston) but remember that Jonathan Jennings garnered a tryout last year and Brandon Bridge got one in 2018… so 1 tryout could just mean that someone owed someone else a token favour. Moncrief will sign (within an hour of me posting this if history is any indication) and I like his odds of sticking. Big loss but he’s deserving of the opportunity.

Three other Riders have had NFL interest so far: Cam Judge (Chargers), Nick Marshall (Bengals) and Shaq Evans (Giants). With only one tryout each so far, it’s tough to say whether it will materialize into an offer. I give Judge the strongest odds. He’s younger than the other 2 and unlike them has not been through the NFL ringer already.

Now that the calendar has rolled over I expect a few re-signings will trickle out. Likely a few were hammered out before Christmas but couldn’t be finalized/announced so that the money all counted in the 2020 salary cap year. Up until now, O’Day has done a good job locking down the depth/role players (LaFrance, Geter, Schram, Bouka, Henry) with a heavy emphasis on Canadians. But with the exception of Purifoy and Clark we haven’t done anything with starters. That will need to change. Obviously some things hinge on NFL interest and some guys will want to wait until free agency to check their true market value but even locking up a couple starters would make me feel better. We currently have no starting linebackers and 1 (possibly 2 depending on the status of Hughes, more on that in a minute) starting d-lineman. 1 ish of your front 7 settled is not a great spot to be in. Not panic time yet as there is still plenty of time but a signing or two would certainly help allay some unease.

Last thing I’ll touch on today is Charleston Hughes. His status is somewhat murky. He did not appear on the list of pending free agents but no one (Hughes included) has definitively said he is under contract. So what’s the deal? Let me preface this next part with the following… I have zero insider info on this, this is purely my own speculation and reasoning. The only thing I’ve ever been considered a “source” for is in the context of who emitted that odour. Anywho, we know (based on CFL transactions) that the Riders quietly reworked Hughes’ deal back in May. My guess is that that contract included a team option for 2020. That would explain why he’s not on the FA list and why he can’t definitively say he’s under contract. So why then won’t the team just say so? Well my guess is that they did indeed pick up the option for 2020 but are currently negotiating a further amended salary. If 36 years old and coming off surgery don’t scream “asked for a pay cut” I don’t know what does. My guess is that it will all get sorted out and Hughes will be back in 2020 looking for his sixth sack title (5th in a row). That part is fine with me but I would like to see this year’s recruiting class include a potential impact pass rusher. It’s been a while since we found/developed one and that has led to a need to bye them on the free agent market.


Monday, December 23, 2019

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Airing of Grievances


I’m sure many of you are making final preparations for Christmas… or procrastinating until the last minute and praying that 7-11 has a wide variety of gift options. Although Christmas will soon be upon us, today is actually another important date on the calendar.

It’s Festivus!

And true to the spirit of Festivus I will partake in the Airing of Grievances. I got a lot of problems with you people and now you’re going to hear about it!

Below is a listing  (in no particular order) of my CFL related grievances, frustrations, annoyances, unjustified hatreds and all the ways people have disappointed me over the past year.

·        Why do people still hate Andre Proulx? He’s a good ref and if you can’t admit it you are either stupid or hate the French.
·        People who complain about every single call the refs make annoy the hell out of me. For the most part the refs make pretty good calls, even when they go against the Riders.
·        The Rider Stomp is not a thing. Our repeated efforts to try and make into a thing cheapen us all (and it’s not like we are starting from a very lofty spot on the social stratosphere).
·        People can bring all kinds of crap into the stadium like championship belts and giant signs with real life Charleston Hughes hip action and all … but I am not allowed to bring in a milk jug with pennies inside (despite the team’s call for me to make some noise). Look when there is a solitary recorded milk jug incident at a football game then I will accept your stupid ban, but not until then.
·        Speaking of bans, now that golf ball retrievers are banned, I cannot take my Rider Prophet staff into the stadium. How am I supposed to convince masses of strangers to part to the side to let me through without a staff?
·        Another year without mascot soccer.
·        Why are CFL contracts still so secretive? At a minimum it should be a requirement to disclose contract length. It would be even better if they went all in and disclosed salary. I think it would benefit the players. When you find out how little your favourite young players are making it may put pressure on the league to up things.
·        Shot gun formation of 3rd and 1 remains one of the dumbest plays in football.
·        The CFL discipline process is a joke. It took a big step forward with the 2 games suspension of Simoni Lawrence… and proceeded to screw it up by ignoring the universal principle of "progressive discipline" and imposing lesser sanctions for his next TWO dirty plays.
·        I’m annoyed that we may never find out who tainted Andrew Harris’ supplement. The suspense is killing me.
·        The drink system at Taylor Field was far more efficient. Tokens and pre-poured drinks ensured maximum hydration with minimum missed game action. The current system seems to actively seek to maximize wait times.
·        Speaking of booze, people still complaining about the lack of “local craft beers” at Mosaic need to shut up. First of all, you are not impressing anyone by pretending to be a beer snob. Second, when your local craft brewery starts writing massive sponsorship cheques to the Riders like Molson has, they too can have their product sold. It’s economics.
·        I still don’t care that Jon Ryan could kick far… that didn’t make him a great punter this season despite how local media and fans wet their pants anytime he touched the ball.

I wish you all a Festivus Miracle and feel free to add your airing of grievances in the comment section. 

Merry Christmas and we will see you in the New Years

Monday, December 16, 2019

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Decisions Looming


We are in the midst of NFL workouts. At least we are for pending free agents. Many more who thought the newly reintroduced option year would let them workout are being blocked by a dispute between the CFL and NFL. GMs are also in the midst of trying to re-sign pending free agents (some deals are trickling in and you can bet a bunch more have been agreed to and are just waiting until January to announce so all the money counts to the 2020 cap year). They are also starting to look towards free agency… with the exception of Ed Hervey who has probably been tampering for weeks already.

Lots of decisions to be made on the make up of next year’s roster. A large part of those decisions will be financially driven. Guys who played well will be looking for more money. Guys who didn’t or who are getting up there in age may be getting a call about a pay cut. That’s the nature of the business. During the season its great to have key contributors still be on their rookie contracts but come the offseason, the more of those guys you have, the more change in your roster/salary make up will be required. So I thought I’d take a look a the financial implications facing the Riders this offseason.

Offensively I think we are in good shape. Fajardo is locked up on a relatively friendly deal. We have Powell still under contract. We have both Stafford and Williams-Lambert (neither of which will be making top end money). Kyran Moore is on his rookie deal (and a steal at that rate). Our O-line has both Vaughn and Shepley on rookie deals. Labatte just restructured (which rarely indicates a pay raise). Lenius and McInnis are on rookie deals. Two big issues emerge though. If Shaq Evans doesn’t catch on down south he will need a bump in pay from what he was making on his rookie deal last year. We haven’t shed salary yet so it would have to come from somewhere. Also, we had an embarrassment of riches in OL depth. Shepley and Bladek were our 6th and 7th guys and we still had Schram on PR. We won’t be able to afford all that again. I imagine we have to lose one of Blake and Bladek (likely the former) and possibly more.

Defense is a whole lot more problematic. Moncrief, Judge and Marshall were all on rookie deals and given that they were among our best contributors it would take a lot of money to keep all 3 (should the NFL not snatch them up). Also we got a deal on Elimimian last year. He was coming off injury and released late in the offseason both which drove his value lower than it will be this offseason. So essentially we were playing bargain basement prices for a stellar linebacking core. We likely need at least one of those spots to be filled by a new recruit next year. We spent a lot of money on the D-line (which I am fine with). If we had any budding stars on the D-line we could save some money there but other than Dabire taking on a bit bigger role we don’t really have the next great pass rusher on the roster and will probably need to spend there again. Normally you look at an old man like Hughes for savings but he’s kinda an exception to the rule. As long as he keeps winning the sack title, I think you gotta keep believing in him.

Typical roster churn is one third per season and I think we’ll be close to that. Some will go to the NFL. Some will chase more money in free agency. Some will be asked to leave (and I have some early thoughts on who could be a target there that I will share another time). It will be an interesting few months coming up.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Tuesday Morning Sentimonies: Weapons of Maas Destruction

Sorry for not having sentimonies posted on Monday. I… well to be honest, was just too lazy to do it. No sense in lying to you, that is unless you are inclined to believe that I spent all my free time simultaneously building homes for the poor, volunteering at a soup kitchen and donating my organs.

The big news last week was that the Riders hired a new OC… less than 24 hours after I wrote a post about the topic (you’re welcome). As news of the hiring spread, 3 very distinct camps emerged in Riderville: those elated at the hiring (because they hated McAdoo), those against the hiring (because they hate Maas) and those who will never be happy (because they hated McAdoo enough to want him fired but also didn’t want Maas and probably would have found a reason to complain no matter who we hired). I am decidedly in group 1. As explained last week, I don’t “hate” McAdoo but I do think he was a mid-tier OC and that looking at the possibility of upgrading was a wise move.

I’ll say this about Craig Dickenson, complacency is not something he can be accused of. Chris Jones kept essentially the same coaching core throughout. They were with him in Edmonton. They packed up and moved here the night after the Grey Cup (when we totally didn’t tamper). That was his group and he was sticking with them no matter what. Dickenson has a different approach. He fired D-line coach Mike Scheper mid-way through because in his words “the chemistry in the room wasn’t quite right and we felt like we needed to make a change”. Then on the heels of what was a pretty good year he decides that we needed a change at OC (a decision that he made even before Maas became available). Publicly he seems like a super nice guy but he appears to be no pushover and not afraid of making tough calls. 

This was a big move and a big signing for the Riders. Look, I was the first one in line to mock Jason Maas for trashing whatever sideline material had the misfortune of being in his path and his unwavering belief in the supremacy of the FG.  I’m not going to pretend I didn’t say those things (unlike like some people who are backtracking on their anti-Maas sentiments so fast they’ll risk a speeding ticket of they hit the open road. But Jason Maas the head coach and Jason Maas the OC are 2 very different things. Would I want him as our Head Coach? Lord no! As our OC? I’m all in. Some people just make better Coordinators. Look at Richie Hall. Tremendous DC, not so great Head Coach.

I was not a proponent of change for change sake (as some where) and had almost resigned myself to McAdoo being back and not hating it. Give him a competent QB (i.e. not Brandon Bridge) and he can run a half decent offense. But for as much hype as he got for turning Fajardo into an all-star and rejuvenating our offense, we finished 4th in offensive points (and failed to make they Grey Cup because we could not score a solitary TD). That was his “good”… 4th.

Last year was a down year for Maas but it was the only time since becoming a coordinator that he’s finished lower than 3rd in scoring in the League. So if we are playing the odds, what is more likely? Maas having a top end offense or McAdoo? Either you subscribe to the concept of logic like Coach Dickenson and me… or you just have a personal hatred of Maas that trumps your logic sensors. Look I’m not one to judge for having unjustified hatreds. I’ve had many in my day. But Maas is a upgrade at OC not doubt in my mind.

A small side note to the Maas news was that Jason Shivers was extended 2 more seasons. He had many question marks as the man tasked with replacing Chris Jones but he delivered a damn defense. We are entering 2020 with a pretty solid coaching staff.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

McAdoo or McAdon’t


Since the season ended, the biggest topic of conversation in Riderville has centered on our Offensive Coordinator and his future. It’s second only to “how’s the weather?” in terms of prairie conversation starters. I was going to wait until my usual Monday Sentimonies to opine on this topic but the way my luck goes it will all be sorted out by then and the post would be irrelevant. Chances are just as good that I’m wasting my only material for Monday too early. Not sure I can win… I’m a lot like the RedBlacks that way.

Look, I get the desire for a change at OC. We just missed the Grey Cup because we couldn’t score a solitary TD despite multiple trips to the redzone. This after a 2018 season where we almost set a record for futility in offensive scoring… and this is a franchise with a storied history of futility so that’s saying something. Over his 4 year tenure in with the Riders I have been among the most vocal of McAdoo's critics (he won the award for Most Insulted Sports Figure in 2017). So you would expect me to be leading the charge on this crusade and have the shiniest and pointiest pitchfork in hand.

Not so fast…

Is McAdoo the best OC out there? Lord no! But he’s also not the worst. One look at BC, Toronto and Ottawa this year tells you the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. So if you accept my premise that McAdoo is a mid-tier OC then it stands to reason that the only reason you look to make a change is if you think you can upgrade. For all his failings (and there are many) its apparent that when McAdoo has a QB he trusts (Glenn, Fajardo) the offense opens up and when he doesn’t (Collaros, Bridge, Watford, Harker) he reverts to flipping a coin – heads we run up the middle, tails it’s a hitch screen. He reminds me a lot of George Cortez in that regards. Runs a top tier offense with Durant. Appears to pretty much pack it in when forced to try and win with bottom feeding QBs.

So if it’s an upgrade at OC we want. Who is out there? For me there are just 4 names that come to mind: LaPolice, Condell, Maas and Elizondo. And we can already whittle that list down as Condell isn’t leaving Hamilton and Elizondo keeps ending up with employers who don’t allow him to talk to anyone. So we are down to LaPo and Maas.

LaPo is in the mix for a couple Head Coaching searches and I don’t see him leaving Winnipeg unless its for a promo. It’s no secret that O’Day is a big supporter of LaPo so there is certainly a chance we could pry him away but I would say unlikely as it requires 2 teams passing on him as a Head Coach and LaPo deciding he wants to move. As for Maas, he’s a free agent and BC has already been chatting with him. Ottawa would be stupid not to but then Ottawa isn’t exactly the shining example of intelligence lately. We don’t have the connections to him that BC has so I would say odds aren’t great he winds up here either. Also the irony of want to can a guy for failing to produce a TD only to want to replace him with the League’s biggest FG enthusiast is not lost on me. Maas is a good OC but there’s still some irony there.

The other thing to consider is the impact on the team, both to the coaches and the players. The core of this coaching group has been together since Edmonton and some go back to when Chris Jones was in Toronto. They have been a loyal unit and canning one of the core members may have a ripple effect. That’s not a reason not to make a change but something you certainly need to consider when doing so. Also, continuity is underrated. This season was supposed to be the first one since 2014 where we had the same OC and starting QB as the previous year… that lasted 3 plays. We have a chance again for this year. We just found our new start QB and forcing him into a new offensive system has its drawbacks. 

So if we can somehow land a LaPo or Maas then by all means go for it. But given the odds of that panning out I think we choose continuity over change for change sake.

Never thought I’d be reduced to writing in defense of McAdoo.  

Monday, December 2, 2019

12th Annual Rider Prophet Awards


For the last dozen years, each December we have honoured the best and worst (mostly worst) of the CFL season. My vision has always been to eventually turn the awards into a live event, but given that none of the nominees a) know they were nominated and b) would be willing to attend in person, the live event would pretty much just be me in front of a microphone in an empty getting progressively drunker and unrulier… in other words it would be better than half the crap currently on TV.

This year’s award winners get a gift basket containing a selection of items damaged during Jason Maas’ head coaching tenure and totally legal supplements personally chosen by Andrew Harris.   

Let’s get to the awards.

Best Player Name
All in all it was a pretty terrible year for names in the CFL. Nothing really stood out in a hilarious way. So instead I’m awarding this year’s best name to a global player by the name of Guillermo Villalobos. I just loved this name Guillermo. Said with the proper Hispanic inflection it is about 95% effective as effective as lemon gin.

Previous Winners: Armegedon Draughns, Rakeem Cox, Akawasi Owusu-Ansah, Lirim Hajrullahu, SirVincent Rogers, Drew Willy, Bear Woods, Solomon Elimimian, Craphonso Thorpe, Charleston Hughes, Chijioke Onyenegecha

Quote of the Year
In week 8 of the CFL, the Riders won a close game at Mosaic over the Ti-Cats thanks in large part to late game heroics by Cody Fajardo. While his onfield play had endeared him to the province, the post game interview he gave following that game catapulted him to legendary status and ensured no less than 15% of the babies born in the coming months will be named Cody. It was the speech where “sprinkle of Jesus” was born.

 

Honourable mention to Brett Lauther for saying that his plan for dealing with 4 missed kicks was to "drink a lot of beers, go to sleep and wake up and pretend it didn't happen.

Previous Winners: Dave Dickenson, Kavis Reed/Jacques Chapdelaine, Greg Quick, Solomon Elimimian, Ed Hervey, Joe Mack, Henry Burris, Eddie Johnson, Jason Clermont, Mike Abou-Mechrek x2

Play of the Year
This year's play of the year didn't occur on the field. A rain delay during the Riders/Argos game and a heavy dose of Pilsner led to some great antics with the TSN Panel and Milt Stegall in particular. It was a moment that really captured the prairie spirit: Storm ruined our plan so we just got drunk and did stupid stuff to pass the time.


Botched Call of the Year
The play I’m choosing to honour wasn’t actually botched. It was technically the correct call by the rules. But it gets special honour a) because its such an obscure rule that I doubt anyone but Al Bradbury knew it even existed and b) because the explanation made Andre Proulx look like a skilled orator by comparison.

I’m talking of course about The Card rule. Jon Ryan successfully executed a fake kick with a completion to Kienan LaFrance for a first down. But to loosely paraphrase Bradbury, he was an eligible player, playing an ineligible position, on an even numbered Sunday, during the vernal equinox, (plus about 4 conditions I’m sure I missed) therefore… Card Rule, repeat 3rd down.

What’s crazy is that the Card Rule came up again like 2 weeks later. From unknown infraction to award winner. It’s been quite the year for the Card Rule.  

The Commercial I Didn’t Get Sick of Seeing Even Though TSN Made Me Watch It 54,297 Times Award
The winning commercial is hilarious and gets bonus points because I’m surprised it got past the censors.

                    





Most Insulted Sports Figure
Early in the season it looked like Solomon Means would run away with this award… fitting because “run away” seemed to be what he did when tasked with covering somebody. But when he got benched a new front runner emerged… our beloved punter.

Look, I realize that in Saskatchewan, talking ill of Jon Ryan is a crime akin to talking ill of perogies, or farming. So let me preface this by saying, Jon Ryan is a talented punter. He had a great NFL career and he does great things in the community. With all that said, the fact remains he was an average at best punter this season despite being the highest paid. 

I probably wouldn’t have had such a big issue with him if his tires weren’t continually being pumped by the local media and fans. Kicking it farther than anyone isn’t a particularly useful skill if you have no ability to direct it somewhere other than the middle of the field or completely outkick your coverage in the process. While stats would show that he wouldn’t crack the top 4 punters in the league this year, evidently any stat that doesn’t attest to his greatness is made up.

My tireless crusade against the hype machine made Ryan the most insulted sports figure this season.

Previous Winners: Brandon Bridge, Steve McAdoo, The Riders Secondary, Any Rider QB not named Durant, Pat Neufeld, Chris Getzlaf, Ryan Dinwiddie, Jim Daley, Michael Bishop x 2, Marcel Bellefeuille

Fans’ Choice Douche-Bag of the Year
You the fans have spoken in record numbers. We almost doubled the previous record for total votes for this award. We also set a record for write in votes, almost all of which went to Brandon Banks. This was also the closest the award has ever been. A solitary vote separated the winner from second place. One vote!

With 38.7% of the votes (edging out Andrew Harris)…Simoni Lawrence is your Fans’ Choice Douchebag of the Year.

No doubt the hit on Collaros on the 3rd play of the season was what was the deciding factor for most of you but despite his claims that “he’s not a dirty player” he was fined on 2 more occasions for dirty play. Once for twisting a guy’s leg and once for another head shot. The fact that he was only suspended once is more of a sign of how insanely toothless the CFL discipline process is rather than how not awful Lawrence is.

I’m rather conflicted about Lawrence. On hand we should probably thank him because without him we don’t discover Fajardo. On the other hand, he inadvertently set in motion a series of events that led to Winnipeg winning the Grey Cup. That alone makes him a douchebag around here.

Previous Winners: Jason Maas x2, Cory Chamblin, Chris Jones, Jon Cornish x2, Henry Burris, Dwight Anderson, Mike Kelly, Jason Jimenez, Rob Murphy