When Jim Hopson hired Eric Tillman as the new GM of the Saskatchewan Roughriders, the response from the Rider Nation was decidedly mixed. Many supported the hire, but there were easily just as many that disregarded Tillman's past Grey Cup success and chose instead to focus on the struggles that accompanied his time in Ottawa.
During the following offseason, Tillman went to work putting his stamp on this team. He hired a rookie head coach who was most recently seen blowing up at his players on the Toronto sidelines before being unceremoniously fired. In terms of personnel, gone were popular veterans such as Andrew Greene, Nate Davis, Jackie Mitchell, Omarr Morgan and Davin Bush. A relative unknown in Henri Childs was acquired at a rather steep cost of a first round draft pick. Eric still had his share of supporters at this point, but even the most staunch of these must have been having some concerns.
Then, lo and behold, the rookie coach turned out to be a prodigy, the released veterans turned out to be overvalued by their loyal fans, and Henri Childs turned out to... well, he sucked. But as they say, two out of three ain't bad, and in this case it was good enough to deliver us to the promised land - a Grey Cup victory. The Rider Nation was virtually unanimous in the opinion that perhaps it was time to trust Eric. The Cup win came about two weeks too late for Tillman to claim his spot as Premier of Saskatchewan, but the leeway the fans were prepared to give him as they snacked on some tasty blackbird rivaled diplomatic immunity nonetheless.
It's not even three months since James Johnson became Ryan Dinwiddie's go-to receiver, but it has already been a turbulent off-season for our demigod of a GM.
Ole Miss came calling and lured Kent Austin back home. But that's okay, Eric did everything he could to keep him, and after all... Tillman was the one that had the eye to know Kent would be a great coach in the first place, so surely he could replace him.
One of the team's most popular players, Corey Holmes, was released to save some much needed salary cap space. Again, everyone was fine with this - after all, Corey was getting older, had quite clearly lost a step, and was coming with a price tag that far exceeded what he could contribute on the field.
Matt Dominguez, Reggie Hunt and Eddie Davis, three of the team's great leaders over recent seasons, are on the verge of going to free agency due to disagreements between the players and Tillman over their value to the team. Some eyebrows begin to raise, but remember the motto: In Eric we trust.
Fred Perry is traded to the hated Edmonton Eskimos for Stephen Jyles… Haters across the Rider Nation long for the days of the Henri Childs trade.
Diplomatic immunity is a wonderful thing, but apparently it only has a best before date of 2 1/2 months after being granted. Because Eric's immunity disappeared like a line of coke in front of Lindsay Lohan. Needless to say, there were some choice words uttered about the trade that were too politically incorrect even for this forum.
I have come up with 2 theories to explain this trade. The first is that Eric Tillman has gone completely mad with power. He's already got the hair to pass for a crazy guy, and he may have taken things one step farther by moving an all-star for a backup. The second theory is that Tillman is a master strategist and this move is just one small part of a plan so complex and intricate that none of us could ever hope to comprehend it even if he drew us a picture.
I have decided to believe in theory #2. Not only does it make it easier to cope with this move, it also seems to make some sense. No disrespect to Perry - I love watching him play - but it says something about his value around the league when this is the best offer we can get. Trust me, Tillman shopped Perry around and took the best offer he got. Free agency is but days away and I think it will be a very busy week for the Riders, so let's just wait and see this master plan unfold.
Now here's the latest Ins and Outs from around the CFL. With free agency still days away, the transactions page looks a lot like a Marcel Bellefeuille playbook - way more outs than ins.
In: Hayden Epstein (signed by Edmonton) - Now I laughed when I saw this story but if the name Epstein doesn't ring a bell for you, here's a quick history lesson. Epstein was a kicker brought in by the Eskimos in '05 because Fleming was brutal. His biggest claim to fame will always be having a game winning field goal attempt against the Riders blocked by Omarr Morgan. So apparently Maciocia's plan is to replace a kicker with a long history of sucking with a kicker with a shorter history of sucking. Well, they always say continuity is key.
Out: John Williams (traded by Toronto to Hamilton) - Williams becomes the 4th running back to be dumped by the Argos. Which made me wonder how many RB's they could possibly have left... the answer is 4!? (well actually it's more like 3.5 since Dominique Dorsey is one of them). All those running backs and still the 2nd worst ground game in the league. I can practically hear Adam Rita's disappointment... "We auditioned 8 running backs, and that was the best one.”
Out: Chris Brazzell (cut by Winnipeg) - This guy's stock is dropping like it was a Nortel share. In just over a year, he went from being Winnipeg's #2 go to guy behind Stegall to fighting for 5th spot on the Bombers depth chart. Hard to believe this guy was once a 1000 yd receiver and even started briefly for the Dallas Cowboys. Oh how the mighty have fallen.
Out: Tay Cody (released by Hamilton, along with 5 others) - I guess the Ti-cats decided it wasn't worth the trouble to keep Cody from jumping to the AAFL where he signed a contract last month. Obviously Cody isn't a long-range thinker. Putting your career in the hands of a league whose recruitment strategy centers around signing players not good enough for the worst team in the CFL isn't what most would consider a smart move.
Out: Chijioke Onyenegecha (cut by Winnipeg) - After ending '07 on a positive note with a Grey Cup appearance and, more importantly, a Rider Prophet award for Best Player Name, this is not the start to the new year Chijioke was looking for. Here's hoping someone picks him up because I just love hearing "I Gonna Getcha" when I watch football.
Out: Trevor Gaylor and Tony Tompkins (cut by Edmonton) - Edmonton released two players this week that over the past few years have been very hot and cold... and that might be a generous way of putting it. I can hear you asking "But Rider Prophet, what's funny about this roster move?" Well if we're talking about this move specifically, then the answer is nothing. But something about the joke that the Edmonton Eskimos have become is more than enough to make me laugh! (Maybe in light of the Perry trade this comment is unfair... nevermind, Maciocia is their coach, it's definetly fair).