Monday, December 21, 2015

Monday Evening Sentimonies: Belated Edition

I’m a bit delayed in getting my sentimonies up today. I half expected the Riders to announce more changes on Monday which would render much of my post irrelevant… As if right on cue, this afternoon the Riders re-signed George and Webster and cut Jackson and McCallum (who didn’t make the first cut list because Jones’ pen ran out of ink).

On Wednesday Chris Jones unveiled his coaching staff. Essentially he could have just hired a teenager to Photoshop an old picture of Edmonton’s coach staff with a different hue of green as well as white instead of gold and saved himself a press conference. Jones’ likeness could have essentially remain unchanged (the all black look is universal). While introducing his staff he causally let it be known that “oh by the way, I cut half our roster.” And thus began what will undoubtedly be a busy and difficult offseason.

We shouldn’t be surprised. If the expectation is that Jones return this franchise to the upper echelon of the league he will have to do a bit more than polish the turd that was the 2015 Riders. He can’t just magically wave a wand and make out current roster a playoff team… there is going to have to be some casualties. Thus far that has included our old coaching staff and most of the defense. Anyone who watched the Riders play in 2015 would be hard pressed to argue that those are good starting points.

The changes kept coming as Friday it was announced that beloved belly rubber (won’t lie that sounds a little weird) Andre Munroe was traded to Toronto for the rights to import OL Jarriel King (he is set to hit free agency in Feb). I was surprised that we let Munroe go. Defensive tackle is a tough position to recruit so when you have a young promising player there generally you try to hang onto them. I think this boils down to two things. 1 – You gotta give up talent to get talent. 2 – Fixing our O-line is a bigger priority for Jones than the defensive line. King is 28 and entering his 4th year in the league. He started 3 games at left tackle in an injury plagued 2015. He has also played right guard at times (though unless our ratio situation improves dramatically I can’t imagine that’s the plan). This deal tells me 2 things. 1) The fact that we gave up a roster player for a pending free agent tells me Jones greatly coveted King and was not willing to risk letting other teams talk to him. King’s first season in the CFL would have been when Steve McAdoo was the OL coach in Toronto. So I’m guessing he must like him. 2) One of Adcock or Fulton are not in the plans for 2016.

Now let’s take a closer look at the first wave of Rider cuts (if you seriously believe a second wave isn’t coming you are being na├»ve).

Of the 19 players released (plus now Jackson and McCallum), 15 of them were set to hit free agency in February. So they are not so much cuts as guys who were not about to be receiving a contract offer from the Riders. Not that getting cut is ever a good thing, but this does allow the players to get a head start on finding a new team before free agency opens and teams spend all their money. The douchier move would have been to string them along until February (or later for the guys who weren’t FAs).

Here’s how I would categorize our cuts:

Not At All Surprising
Jamel Richardson, Taj Smith, Marshay Green, Junior Mertile, Cameron Sheffield, Blake Sims, Alex Suber, Ryan Wellman, Hugo Lopez, Terrell Maze, Macho Harris, Tyron Brackenridge, Paul McCallum, Tristan Jackson

Regardless of who the coach was I couldn’t have seen any of these guys being back. I liked Terrell Maze in the previous 2+ seasons, thought he was underrated as a DB. But he did not look even close to the same guy this year. Add age, hefty contract and it’s no surprise. Jones wanting to build a defense in his own image only further sealed Maze’s departure. 

As for Brack, he will always be one of my favourites. Loved him ever since he showed up in late 2011. Heart and soul player, outstanding in the community, impact guy on the field. But I’ve been predicting his departure for months. The only way the Riders were bringing him back was with a pay cut (to reflect the drop in his play). Brack will likely be in high enough demand that someone was going to offer him more than us. Then Jones took over and Brack doesn’t fit his mould and isn’t one of his guys so he’s gone. I wish him nothing but the best… and wonder who will now appear in terrible ads for crappy worsk safe sunglasses?

Kyle Norris, Nathan Kanya, Chad Spann, Scott McHenry

I liked McHenry as a role player but let’s be honest… if any of these 4 players were key to our success in 2016, we’re in a world of trouble. Interesting to note that O’Day signed Kanya and Norris to contract extensions just last month. Both are also former Eskimos… evidently, Jones was not a fan of theirs.

Somewhat Surprised
Anthony Allen

He was never going to be a superstar but he was a solid runner. Somewhat underrated when you consider his 1800 yards from scrimmage (5.8 yards per carry) and 11 TDs over 2 years despite never really being entrenched as our starter. Thought he at least deserved a chance to earn the job in camp. But I also get that he plays one of the most easily replaceable positions.

Legitimately Surprised
Weldon Brown, Derek Walker

Only 2 names actually surprised me. Walker had injury issues in 2015 (which may have been a factor in his release) but he was awesome in his rookie year in 2014 (5 sacks , 1 impressive INT). Young DTs are hard to find so I was a bit surprised he’s gone (especially since Munroe is also now gone).

Weldon Brown was our best cover guy bar none. While I doubt his presence would have single handedly saved our defense, his injury hurt a lot. He was guy you could confidently lock on an opponent’s best receiver.  He’s a very skilled defender who is only 28. I thought he would be a priority re-sign. Evidently Jones must not think his skillset fits our new defensive mould.

Jones appears to be confident he can just find us a new defense… things is when you look at how many guys on the Edmonton defense were found through recruiting, I would not bet against him. You are going to need a roster come the new season because we are going to be watching a vastly different team come June.

NFL Watch:
Emmanuel Davis (Ham) – Workout with New Orleans
Mitchell White (Mtl) – Workout with Arizona
Jeff Fuller (Cal) – Workout with Philadelphia

In: OL Jarriel King (trade with Toronto)
Out: DL Andre Munroe (trade with Toronto)

In: WR Anthony Parker, DL Junior Turner (contract extension)

In: DB Eric Fraser (contract extension)

In: DL Adrian Tracy, LS Aaron Crawford (contract extension)

In: DL Andre Munroe (trade with Ssk), LB Akeem Wonder, DL Detrick Bonner (re-signed), WR Jeremy Gallon (free agent signing)

Out: OL Jarriel King (trade with Ssk)

Friday, December 18, 2015

Friday Round-Up: Holy Offseason Batman!

The CFL offseason started just 19 days ago and there has already been more excitement crammed into the past couple of weeks that most offseasons have in their entirety… and we haven’t even hit prime tampering season… err I mean legitimate and totally above board free agency. To summarize:

- The Riders managed to poach Chris Jones and essentially his entire Grey Cup winning coaching staff before the last piece of confetti had hit the ground in Edmonton. They also poached John Murphy for good measure.

- The Eskimos got permission to talk to Jason Maas to replace Jones but when they went to hire him, Ottawa made the unprecedented demand for fiduciary compensation for their loss. The matter ended up being referred to mediation. 

- New man of a million titles Chris Jones acted quickly and cut pretty much anything that wasn't nailed down. "While I wasn't able to cut everyone I wanted, I did cut a lot of you". To be fair most of the 19 cuts were headed for free agency anyway and most of them also deserved to be cut. Still 19 cuts is a lot. I'll have more on the Rider moves on Monday during my normal sentimonies (always leave them somewhat disappointed and wanting more... its the motto of my writing and my love life)

- Probably the craziest story is the Noel Thorpe saga. Who despite being under contract with a no movement clause for 2 more years to Montreal, resigned and was reportedly headed to Edmonton to accept their vacant DC job. There is a whole lot wrong with the situation. So much so that the Commissioner put a moratorium on coaching moves without his assent and ruled that Thorpe's resignation is invalid and he's still under contract to Montreal. He also ruled that Edmonton did not tamper which is code for "Edmonton managed to keep their tampering efforts not so blatantly obvious that we are forced to fine them"

- I still don't understand people who seem shocked they people actually expect them to honour the contract they've agreed to. I get that player contract are entirely one sided (and can be ended at any time) but that's why most have become wise enough to only sign a 1 year deal unless they team offers more $$$ for a longer. Same deal for coaches, you want to be able to take a lateral move in the offseason, don't sign a multi-year deal. Teams should always allow coaches to accept promotions... they should also reserve the right to give the finger to people who want lateral moves while under contract.

- I assume Montreal and Edmonton will work out some kind of trade because, it would be weird for Montreal to force a guy to coach there who clearly wants out. 

- At this rate I would honestly not be surprised if either some team kidnaps Tom Brady and forces him to play for their team or if someone uses black magic to resurrect Ron Lancaster.... its been that crazy. 

NFL Watch:
Aaron Grymes (Edm) – Workout with Arizona
Euclid Cummings (Tor) – Workout with Minnesota
Dexter McCoil (Edm) – Workouts with Chicago and New Orleans
Freddie Bishop III (Cal) – Workouts with Chicago, Philadelphia, Tennessee
Eric Rogers (Cal) – Workouts with San Diego, Philadelphia (will work out for 14 teams in total)
Collin Kelly (Ott) – Workout with Minnesota
Steven Clarke (BC) – Workout with Minnesota
Cleyon Laing (Tor) – Workout with New Orleans
Terrell Sinkfield (Ham) – Workout with San Diego
Willie Jefferson (Edm) - Workout with Arizona
Swayze Waters (Tor) - Workout with San Diego

CFL Ins and Outs

Out: Everyone… almost. RB Anthony Allen, DB Tyron Brackenridge, DB Weldon Brown, DB Marshay Green, DB Macho Harris, LB Nathan Kanya, DB Hugo Lopez, DB Terrell Maze, FB Scott McHenry, DB Junior Mertile, LB Kyle Norris, WR Jamel Richardson, DL Cameron Sheffield, QB Blake Sims, WR Taj Smith, RB Chad Spann, DB Alex Suber, DL Derek Walker, LB Ryan Wellman

In: WR Emmanuel Arceneaux, OL Kirby Fabien (contract extension)

In: OL Jace Daniels (contract extension), WR Jhomo Gordon, DB Kevin Fogg (free agent signing)

In: FB C.O. Prime, OL Mathieu Girard, DL Troy Davis (contract extension)

Monday, December 14, 2015

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Grand Theft Alberta

Given that we've taken Edmonton's coaching staff and Calgary's personnel guy, I'm  wondering if Craig Reynolds managed to loot anything else while he was in Alberta conducting interviews. At a minimum I would guess he took a lot of things from his hotel room... possibly the mattress and an unsuspecting housekeeping lady. Plenty has been written to date about Jones and Murphy, our new super front office team. Today I'd like to focus a bit instead on the daunting task facing them. Improving our front office and coaching staff are massive steps forward but coaches and GM's do not step on the field (unless they are Wally Buono or Mike Tomlin tripping a returner).

Improvements are needed in terms or depth, Canadian content, youth, people who can actually cover the pass and salary structure.  You know but other than that things are pretty good. Fans will need to prepare themselves for a new culture under Jones and Murphy. While this culture will be good from a winning perspective, it will no be as good from a "fan favourite" player point of view. Jones will not feel the same devotion to long serving Riders that fans do. This roster needs some trimming and Jones' knife will cut deep. A player's popularity will have no bearing on his decisions. I honestly think that other than Durant, LaBatte, Demski and possibly Dressler, no player on our roster can be considered and safe bet to return in 2016. Undoubtedly there will be others that are retained (unless Craig Reynolds also managed to pilfer a football team on his Alberta trip) but I wouldn't be investing in a new name on your jersey for a while. Look at what happened to Fred Stamps in Edmonton. Legendary player in Edmonton, fan favourite, sent packing when it was deemed he was losing a step in favour of a younger Kenny Stafford (who logged 260 more yards and 4 more TDs than Stamps). So again, from a winning perspective, the coming culture shift will be positive but get your kleenex because some hard goodbyes are coming both this year and next.

The first this on Jones' to-do list is to select which shades of black he would like his sideline apparel. Second is to assess our list of pending free agents and determine which ones he wants back (assuming we can get them back). Our pending FA list is long but I don't expect Jones to be making more than a dozen calls... meaning some phones will be silent. Step 3 is to turn attention toward which other free agents we might like to tamper with... err I mean definitely not contact until free agency officially opens. Jones will likely be targeting some of his defensive players from Edmonton (Aaron Grymes please). He will also need to target some Canadians. Generally you overpay for free agents but when your Canadian content is as thin as ours desperation can force your hand a bit. Step 4 will be the Canadian draft. This is a key draft for us, not only because we have the 1st overall pick but also because the key to building a strong team is drafting a recruiting (just ask John Murphy). We have to start finding more than just career special teamers in the 5th round.

So buckle up, the Riders are now on the right path but its going to be bumpy as hell.

Coaching Carousel
Edmonton - Will hire Jason Maas as their HC... but the super interesting thing is that Ottawa is claiming they are owed compensation from Edmonton for taking a coach under contract. Its somewhat ironic that Edmonton who just finished complaining we owed them compensation now have to turn around and say all the reasons compensation is ridiculous (which it is). Maas' staff will likely include Mike Benevides as DC and Cory McDiarmid as STC.

Ottawa - Will hire Bob Dyce as Special Teams Coordinator.

NFL Watch
Eric Rogers (Cal) - 11 workouts scheduled including New England and San Fransisco
Shawn Lemon (Ott) - Workouts with Denver and Seattle
Emmanuel Davis (Ham) - workouts scheduled
Erik Harris (Ham) - workouts scheduled

Friday, December 11, 2015

Friday Round Up: John F'N Murphy

I went to sleep Tuesday night happy that the Riders had landed Chris Jones as their new GM. I woke up Wednesday morning and two things happened. First I thought I needed to get my eyes checked because there was no way I was actually reading that the Riders had also landed John Murphy. Second, I thought I might need to change my shorts due to excitement. You guys will know that John Murphy was the guy I wanted as our GM. To be able to land him AND Jones is nothing short of amazing on the part of Craig Reynolds. Murphy is regarded as one of the top recruiters of talent in the CFL. Now his talent pipeline will be leading to Regina rather than Calgary as it has been for the past few years. The early concerns that Chris Jones would be spread too thin with his 17 different jobs for me is now completely gone because Murphy is a solid second in command who can handle the personnel when Jones needs to focus on coaching. And oh yeah, somehow Jeremy O'Day is also still on the payroll.

For those keeping score at home, of the 4 people we interviewed to be our GM, we've now managed to hire 3 of them simultaneously. I'm honestly just waiting for the announcement that we have hired Brock Sunderland as our new VP of "Because we can, suck it CFL". Now, it's likely Jeremy O'Day will not stick around too long as his contract is up at the end of next season and he'll likely want to explore other options. But for now we have assembled a super-powered from office. Given that our last GM was Taman, I can't imagine a more dramatic front office turnaround.

I'll have more on Monday regarding the impact I see Jones/Murphy having on this team and the task ahead of them. For now I will do my best to get you caught up on the Coaching Carousel (which has been crazy and is far from over), NFL Watch and CFL Ins and Outs.

Coaching Carousel
BC - Jeff Tedford "resigned" (aka was strongly encouraged to resign as an alternative to being fired), as did George Cortez. Wally Buono will step back onto the field as the head coach (see what I did there?). All signs point to Khari Jones being their OC.

Edmonton - We are pretty much taking their entire coaching staff and anything else that's not nailed down in the clubhouse. Jason Maas and Orlondo Steinauer are the leading candidates to replace Chris Jones.

Calgary - Ryan Dinwiddie joins their coaching staff (where he will try and teach Bo Levi Mitchell the fine art of the interception and the soul sucking gaze). Devone Claybrooks gets promoted to DC.

Winnipeg - Hired Paul LaPolice as their OC. He is both more qualified as an HC than O'Shea and more likely to finish the season as the HC.

Saskatchewan - Bob Dyce, Craig Smith and Greg Quick are gone. Jarious Jackson will be our QB coach. Odds are Craig Dickenson is coming back as ST/C along with the rest of Chris Jones' staff.

Montreal - Greg Quick is going back to be their LB coach.

Toronto - Hired Rich Stubler as their DC... hopefully this means the return of the Stubler sweater vest.

NFL Watch
Shawn Lemon (Ott) - Released to pursue NFL interest
Willie Jefferson (Edm) - Reportedly has 2 NFL workouts scheduled
Courtney Stephen (Ham) - Has a workout scheduled with the Vikings
Terrell Sinkfield (Ham) - Has a workout scheduled with the Vikings and at least one more

CFL Ins and Outs 

In: WR Cory Watson (contract extension)

In: OL Mattias Goosen (contract extension)

In: RB Venric Mark, DL Ladarius Owens, WR Tyler Shoemaker, WR Skyy Simmons, OL Evan Washington, DL Matt Acree, LB Quinn Backus, OL Simon Legare, RB Travon Van, LB Tanner Doll (free agent signing)
Out: DL Shawn Lemon (released to pursue NFL opportunities)

In: QB Ricky Ray, DL Ricky Foley (contract extension)

Monday, December 7, 2015

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Chris F'N Jones

There's a new supreme overlord in Riderville and his name his Chris Jones.

News leaked out late Sunday night that the deal was done and the Riders had managed to rain on Edmonton's grey Cup Parade but wooing their Grey Cup winning head coach to Saskatchewan. Having once lost our own head coach right after a Cup win you'd think I'd be more sympathetic to Eskimos fans... but I'm not. Suck it Edmonton. Suck it long and suck hard. I'm sure you can dry your tears with Grey Cup merch... poor you.

As I said on Friday, in one hire, Jones addresses a lot of areas of need for the Riders. He fill our GM spot. He fills our head coaching spot. And in terms leading a defensive rebuild there are few people more qualified than Jones. People across the prairies are busy retracting/conveniently forgetting all the bad things they said about Jones over the past few years. Overnight the view of him will go from arrogant, disrespectful asshole to misunderstood football genius who probably volunteers at soup kitchens and cuddles stray puppies in his spare time. That opinion will last until Jones' first losing streak at which point people will launch into the "I told you he was bad" chorus. This is life in Rider Nation. You can't hope to change it, only pray you don't get sucked in. Symptoms of getting sucked in include, your opinion of someone alternating from saint to lowest form of earthy life based purely on the result of the last Rider game, an unexplained uncontrollable love for the back-up QB and the strange urges to yell things like "Give Szarka the ball!". (How was that for a tangent?)

The good news doesn't end with the hiring of Jones (though that is good enough news on its own).  Word is Jeremy O'Day will stay on as Assistant GM. In order for Jones to succeed in the dual role, its imperative that he had a strong Assistant GM and O'Day certainly can be that guy. No doubt O'Day is disappointed and may be looking elsehwere for an opportunity at GM nest season but for now retaining him is a big deal. Jones/O'Day have the potential to be the kind of front office pair that Hufnagel and Murphy are.

The other good news is that it sounds like Chris Jones will bring a good chunk of his staff with him. I'm really hoping that means Offensive Coordinator Steve McAdoo is coming here. When Jones first made him OC in Edmonton after some years spent in Toronto as a OL coach I remember thinking that was an underwhelming choice but turns out Jones knows a bit better than me (you're shocked I know). I have been extremely impressed with his offense and play calling. It's a bit innovative and more importantly its effective. Edmonton has had the #2 and #3 offenses in McAdoo's two years.

In many people's narrow view of things, the hard part is done and now we just sit back and wait for the Grey Cups to just start rolling in. Right? The truth is that while Jones is a very important first step in the Riders' return to competitiveness, by himself he is not a miracle cure. He takes over a roster that is aging, overpaid, lacking depth, and lacking Canadians. He will need perform well both as a GM and a coach. Our roster needs to be rebuilt, our Canadian depth needs to be replenished... hell he needs to figure out how we are going to start 7 Canadians next year. While I'm guessing some of his players follow him in free agency will still don't have a roster of defensive play makers like he built in Edmonton.

My goal is not to dampen the party, I'm actually very happy about the hire. I just want to emphasize that it takes more than one hire to win a championship and we have a long road to go. I believe Jones can be the leader we need to get us there. As a kid who grew up watching a lot pf pro wrestling, I secretly hope Chris Jones shows up to Monday's press conference with the Grey Cup and throws it in the trash Alundra Blayze style.

Friday, December 4, 2015

The Men Who Would Be GM

I was going to save this post for Monday but I’m pretty sure if I did that the Riders would hire a GM Sunday night and render everything I’ve written irrelevant. Even now I’m not entirely confident that the following analysis will still be relevant by days end. The Riders want a GM in place by mid-month but I fully expect this to be finalized within the next 5 days.

A shortlist of four candidates has emerged and other than the fact that I was conspicuously left off said list, it’s a solid candidate pool to pick from with no consensus choice. So I figured I would go through the pros, cons and outstanding questions for each candidate.

Chris Jones
The candidate that has drawn the most media attention, even during the Grey Cup. In an “only in the CFL moment” even though rumours of our interest in Jones were out there leading up to the Grey Cup, Ed Hervey got fined for saying that everyone tampers. That’s the equivalent of letting speeders go by but ticketing the guy who says everyone speeds.
Pros: Addresses a lot of needs in one hire. Gives us a GM, fills our head coaching vacancy with a proven winner and brings the skill set to overhaul our awful defense.  He’s been actively involved in player recruitment for a few years now.  He may not be the world’s friendliest guy but he values winning above pretty much everything else and that kind of leadership would be welcome here.
Cons: My main concern would be stretching himself too thin. While it’s well known he does a lot of player recruitment (particularly on D), he’s been a head coach for just 2 years while also serving as DC. If you add the full GM duties to him, something will need to give. Not many people move up the ranks that quickly so one wonders if he could make the transition. He would need a strong assistant GM to help out and would also need to actually hire a defensive coordinator (hey didn't Corey Chamblin used to be his DB coach in Calgary?... I'm kidding). I imagine in the short term O’Day would stay on as Assistant GM (his permanent job) but you can bet he’d be taking the first opportunity elsewhere if he’s passed over. The idea of a Jones/O’Day combo is actually pretty good.
Questions: Who could he get as OC? Be awesome if he could bring Steve McAdoo with him but I can’t see Edmonton just letting us pillage their entire coaching staff. Another option would be offering Jarious Jackson a promotion.

Jeremy O’Day
He is beloved in this province for his time as a player. He’s currently doing the job on an interim basis.
Pros: Probably the strongest candidate in terms of overall management skills. I have no concerns about his ability to manage a roster and the cap. He knows what it will take to overhaul our top-heavy salary structure. He knows the value of Canadian talent, particularly in the trenches. He’s already proven in his short interim tenure that he’s committed to stockpiling draft picks (not handing them out like Halloween candy). He’s a smart, well regarded up and comer who is a respected and known quantity in this market. Plus we have been grooming him for this job since he retired from playing. The talk is LaPolice would be his preferred head coach which is obviously a solid option.
Cons: In terms of player recruitment he is among the least experienced/proven of the candidates. Not saying he can’t recruit but he’s been a part of our front office for 5 years and our recruiting has been visibly a step behind the top-end teams. Taman likely had a lot to do with that but in terms of recruitment O’Day is not spoken of at the level of other Assistant GM’s like Murphy and Sunderland. 
Questions: Given his long standing ties to this team, can he make the tough calls on some vets we will need to part with in order to move forward?

John Murphy
Pros: Hands down the most respected and proven recruiter of talent among the candidates. Just look at the pipeline of players the Stamps have had over the years and the depth they were able to maintain. He has strong NCAA connections from his time with the Senior Bowl. He comes from the model organization when it comes to recruiting, drafting and depth.
Cons: Not much. He’s never been the top dog so there could be concerns regarding his general management strengths. Having lived through Tillman (and to a lesser extent Shivers), Riders know as well as anyone that great scouts don’t necessarily translate into great GMs.  
Questions: Who would his head coach be? Would he go with a high profile guy like LaPo or opt for someone he has a history with (I honestly have no clue who that would be)?

Brock Sunderland
I think he is an up and coming name in the GM conversation but unless Jones, Murphy and O’Day all turn down the job, I don’t see him as being a serious contender for the job. Keep an eye on him though. I think a year or two down the road he will be in serious consideration for a GM job… I mean one more bad season and Winnipeg is likely going to be in the market for a new GM.

If it was up to me (and as of yet no one from the Riders has called to asked my advice) I would probably choose John Murphy. He’s a proven talent finder who helped build the model CFL franchise. That said, of O’Day, Jones and Murphy I don’t think there is a bad option. Either way the Riders should end up with a solid GM. Given the performance of our previous GM it’s not like we could end up worse… unless Joe Mack suddenly becomes a candidate.   

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

9th Annual Rider Prophet Awards

Hard to believe this is the ninth edition of these not-so-illustrious awards. I'm mostly surprised that some sort of copyright infringement or defamation lawsuit hasn't shut this down. Maybe I'm protected by the fact that anyone considering suing me knows that all they could get out of me is an unclaimed scratch ticket worth a another free ticket, $1.75 worth of Canadian Tire money and a pack of soup crackers I stole from the cafeteria. That is my net worth. Let this serve as foreshadowing that prizes for award winners this year will be less than lucrative. 

Award winners this year will receive their selection from my leftover Halloween candy bowl and my signature on any part of their body above the waist or below the knees. Let's get to it.

Best Player Name
There was a distinct lack of funny names this season, so we will turn to the “hard to pronounce group” for this year’s winner. Starting Argo cornerback Akwasi Owusu-Ansah takes home this year’s award. I feel like I’ve cast some sort of voodoo curse just by saying his name aloud.

Previous Winners: Lirim Hajrullahu, SirVincent Rogers, Drew Willy, Bear Woods, Solomon Elimimian, Craphonso Thorpe, Charleston Hughes, Chijioke Onyenegecha

Quote of the Year
Usually this award goes to a particularly funny quote but I’m going in a slightly different direction this year. At the time this quote was uttered prior to the season I found it pretty odd but it gets even better with the benefit of hindsight knowing how the season played out.

Prior to the season, when new Defensive Coordinator Greg Quick was describing the kind of defense he wanted to run he said the following.

“The samurai used to make sure after they had defeated their opponent, they would take the head off the opponent to ensure they’re dead. We need to the same thing as a defensive unit.”

So in addition to be a very odd and particularly gory analogy, the quote is also somewhat ironic as in the end, it was our secondary out there running around like they had their heads cut off.

Previous Winners: Solomon Elimimian, Ed Hervey, Joe Mack, Henry Burris, Eddie Johnson, Jason Clermont, Mike Abou-Mechrek x2

Play of the Year
Honourable mention goes to Matt Nichols for managing to get intercepted by Zach Evans on a handoff attempt as well as to Corey Watman for Matt Rea for bouncing off each other while trying in vain to catch a pass in the endzone. But this play was hands down my selection for Play of the Year because in 30 seconds it managed to encapsulate the entire Rider season. (play starts at 2:35 of this highlight package )

Note for the "video impaired" its the play where Sunseri somehow fumbles a one yard plunge and it somehow results in a first down for the Riders.
Botched Call of the Year
I could probably release a multi-book series on officiating gaffs in the CFL this season. I could also double it in size if I included NFL officiating gaffs. Point being, there was a long list of candidates for this award. That meant the winner had to show something special beyond just your run of the mill CFL officiating error. What I was looking for had to have a significant impact on the outcome of a game; be so bad that the League was forced to admit a mistake (something they rarely do); and it had to demonstrate a particularly high level of just sheer head shaking stupidity. I found the trifecta in this play…

Sep 25, a minute left in the 4th quarter, Winnipeg vs. Calgary. Bombers are driving for the game tying FG. On 3rd and 1 Nichols sneaks for the first down within FG range. But wait, flag on the play (you’re shocked I know). Winnipeg was penalized for an illegal formation, no end. The penalty pushed them back out to 3rd and 6 forcing Hajrullahu to attempt a 50 yard FG. He missed, Winnipeg lost. At the time I remember thinking, how stupid must Winnipeg be to take an alignment penalty on a plunge… then footage emerged of the actual infraction:

So basically Darvin Adams asked the ref if was lined up correctly, the ref nodded yes and then the same ref promptly flagged him for not being lined up correctly. That my friends is your botched call of the year.

The Commercial I Didn’t Get Sick of Seeing Even Though TSN Made Me Watch It 54,297 Times Award
It was a really bad year for commercial between the generally awful Wendy’s ads, the painful Dominion Lending ukulele couple Grey Cup ad and the Tim Horton commercials where they asked random people to get into a pitch black box and “feel around”. Seriously did not one of those people think “hey, odds of this leading to some kind of sexual assault are pretty good”? Nobody? Note to anyone reading this: Do not get into a strange dark box with no exits! There is probably not coffee waiting for you inside!

Then this commercial came along to save the day. It is both a good commercial and holds some sentimental value for me. In a weird turn of events even though it was clearly the best, they showed it the least.

Fans’ Choice Douche-Bag of the Year
You the fans have spoken yet again. In the most closely contested vote in the history of this award, Corey Chamblin (Chamberlin as some people are still convinced) edged out Rogers by just 5 votes to be chosen by you as the Fan’s Choice Douche Bag of the Year. Chamblin garnered 49% of votes.

This result was definitely a surprise to me. I kinda assumed Rogers would win but apparently I underestimated just how much people in this province still resent the current state of the Riders and Chamblin’s role in creating the mess.  I guess I shouldn’t be so surprised. People of this province are notorious bad for holding grudges. Try mentioning the name Tony Gabriel in a Saskatchewan crowd if you need evidence of that.

We have had coaches before that have failed miserably at their job (names like Jim Daley and Greg Marshall come to mind). But failure alone does not constitute douchebaggery. I think what elevated Chamblin’s failures to award worthy douchebaggery levels was his defiant/confrontational attitude and his refusal to shoulder any of the blame. Some fo the more notable incidents (not that you need reminding)

- Turfing the beloved, highly regarded and defensively successful Richie Hall in favour of whatever abomination of a defense Chamblin instituted in his place and not even having the decency to formally dismiss Hall but rather offer him a menial assistant role and force Richie to be the one to leave.

- Filling his roster with declining veterans while benching talented new recruits like Roosevelt… and then later trying to claim he was actively trying to make the Riders younger.

- The familiar “I don’t throw the ball, I don’t catch” line which trying to justify the mounting loses.

- Finally, I really think the whole Tino Sunseri thing was what turned Chamblin from embattled coach to the most hated man the province outside of the proponents of daylight savings time. Nothing seemed to unite a province whose opinions tend to be wide ranging quite like a defiant coach forcing a poor excuse for a QB on a fan base that had already witnessed enough crap to fill 5 seasons. 

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

Most Insulted Sports Figure
When you have a year as crappy as the Riders, there are a lot of insults to go around. Given the sheer amount of profanity and complaints I uttered it was admittedly hard narrowing it down to one that stood out from the others. I likely taught my kids a few new words that probably shouldn’t be in their vocabulary.

For the second year in a row, I’ve decided to give this award to a group as opposed to an individual. That group is the Roughrider secondary. Our collective inability to cover the pass was almost comical… almost. The 2015 Rider brand of pass protection was less effective in terms of a protection method than “don’t worry, I’ll pull out”. We were rarely within an area code of the intended receiver and when we were, we epically failed to make the tackle (or in the case of Junior Mertile, even failed to attempt a tackle). Had I learned 3 new languages I still would not have known enough curse words to do justice to our pass coverage.  

The only redeeming thing is that there is nowhere to go but up. It can possibly get worse… Right? …. Right?

Previous Winners: Any Rider QB not named Durant, Pat Neufeld, Chris Getzlaf, Ryan Dinwiddie, Jim Daley, Michael Bishop x 2, Marcel Bellefeuille