In what is likely one of the least surprising revelations, the Riders have an issue with their Canadian content. Just 3 short years ago we were among the class of the league in this regard. The nosedive that has ensued since has not been pleasant. Now Supreme Overlord Jones (which is I title I think he should just role with because it’s easier than listing his real titles) has the daunting task of rebuilding our Canadian core.
Today’s post will look at how we got ourselves into this mess in a painstaking exploration of all the missteps we took along the way (and I don’t even get into Sisco debacle). I then turn to the slightly more uplifting discussion of what Jones need to do to right the ship… starting with next week’s draft.
The interesting thing about why the Riders’ Canadian content sucks is that its not a result of poor drafting. Over the past few years we have selected some top end talent: Butler, O’Donnell, Krausnick-Groh, Milo, Heenan, Hurl, Ainsworth, Pierzchalski/Bastien (to a lesser extent). Sure the whole “Cory Watman is the most pro-ready OL in this draft” thing was a gross misevaluation but by and large it’s been a lot more good than bad (we're not Joe Mack bad). But go back and look at that list and one of our major problems becomes apparent… only one of those players is still here. We have a massive retention problem with our top end Canadian of late. Just 9 players remain on our roster who we drafted and only 6 others were undrafted free agents that we found (and quite frankly a third of those 15 are unlikely to even make it through training camp). Compare that to Montreal who have 30 of their 34 Canadians that they drafted or signed as undrafted free agents or Calgary who is also almost exclusively homegrown talent. To make matters worse we are letting them for free. You know what we have to show for the departure of all those players? We got Greg Carr for Matt O’Donnell… that’s it.
Now poor retention on its own would not be the end of the world. This is the CFL, roster churn is inevitable. But compounding out retention issue is the even worse issue of Taman having some kind of religious opposition to early round picks. In the past 5 years, the Riders have made just 8 first or second round picks. That is the worst among any team except Ottawa who did not participate in two of those 5 drafts and still managed to make just 2 less 1st/2nd rd picks. So we essentially got into a cycle where we’d make one good early pick, take a nap for a few rounds and then fill up our roster on 4th to 7th round picks.
You might say “big deal”, there are plenty of great Canadians that were drafted in the 4th round or later. Guys like Sinopoli, Brodeur-Jourdain, Shane Bergman, David Menard, Thomas Miles. But the reality is, the Riders haven’t been one of the teams lucky enough to land one of the steals. Our late round picks generally don’t make the team or end up as back-ups/special teamers. Now that is fairly common for all teams but most teams get their top end talent in the first 3 rounds so they can afford the late round picks that don’t pan… the Riders are not in that boat.
So you want to know why our Canadian content is crap?… we can’t retain our top end picks; we don’t make mid-round picks so that leaves us with late round shlubs and a few aging top end guys that we are actually able to retain. For aspiring GMs, if you subscribe to this business model you better start practicing the phrase “do you want fries with that?”
But enough about why we suck… let’s turn now to how we unsuckify ourselves.
Jones has taken some positive steps early. He added starting calibre players like Capicciotti, Chambers and Newman. He also added depth players like Andrew Jones, Walter, Hazime, Tevaughn Campbell. Unlike last year we won’t be entering the draft assuming we can fill our 7th starting Canadian spot in the 3rd round so that’s progress. But we are fooling ourselves if we think the job is done.
Next step is the draft. Jones will have to turn our 1st overall pick and two 3rd rounders into some tangible talent on our roster. The big needs right now are O-line depth (Over the past 3 years the Riders have only selected 1 offensive lineman in the first 4 rounds of the draft… and that was Watman) and linebackers/safeties… though really, it’s not like we couldn’t use help at pretty much any position. While not a guarantee, I think odds are good that we trade down. There is no “can’t miss, unquestioned top prospect” so if we can turn that 1 pick into 2 picks in the top 15 and emerge with 2 solid additions then that’s what we do. But we ain’t giving that pick away for nothing. Regardless we should emerge from the first 3 rounds with 3 pretty good prospects and that’s progress.
Also, keep an eye on our late round picks. I know that John Murphy wasn’t solely responsible for what Calgary did but he was heavily involved and Calgary drafted guys like Shane Bergman, Mike Filer, Tyler Crapigna in the 4th round or later.
This rebuild will also be a multi-year process. To my knowledge we currently still own our top 3 picks in 2017 (again that’s progress). So the hope is we gradually get into a cycle where we keep and make more top round picks, thus building depth and developing guys to step up when top end guys get hurt or leave. The more you do that the less you have to rely on free agency to address your Canadian needs, which helps keep costs down.
It will not be a quick process but I do believe we are finally on a path that lead us back to upper echelon of the League's Canadian content.