Monday, January 30, 2017

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Assessing the Defense

Hard to believe that a defense as terrible as ours was for the bulk of the season has now lost its second player to the NFL. Hate to lose a guy like Jeff Knox but I was kinda not expecting him back... plus in theory a healthy Sam Eguavoen leaves us pretty good there. But news that Otha Foster signed with the Ravens was like a punch in the gut. He was a very unheralded but important part of our defense. Plus he plays one of the toughest spots on the defense. Going to be tough to replace him. Good thing our GM has a ton of experience replacing people... often times even managing to replace his replacements.

In light of Foster's departure, I thought I would take this opportunity to assess where we are currently at with our defense. Last season I was pretty confident in our front 7 and concerned as hell about our secondary. In retrospect I was right about the DBs and LBs... and wrong about the DL. This season by virtue of having a secondary I think we are leaps and bounds ahead of last year but we still have some important holes to fill.

I am very high on Willie Jefferson but that is about where my enthusiasm ends currently with our DL. I think Newsome is a decent guy to add to the DL rotation but I think we need one more impact DL to add in there rather than the converted tight end that Jones is high on. On the inside our status is intricately linked to the health of Linden Gaydosh. If he can stay healthy then we have a stud Canadian DL helping shore up the middle and giving our ratio a boost. But outside of him there are a lot of question marks at DT.  I still have my fingers crossed that Greg Milhouse turns out to be a stud... a fact that almost assuredly curses him horribly.

With the exception of Foster's vacated spot, this should once again be a source of strength. A healthy Sam Eguavoen can slide back into the outside LB where he looked really good last year. In the middle we have both Henoc Muamba and Greg Jones. I'm really curious to see what we do there. Both are natural MLBs. Muamba could possibly play outside (though its not his strength) and Jones I can't see playing anywhere but in the middle. Ratio reasons would tend to favour Muamba as the starter but it might be possible for both Jones and Muamba to play in a rotation. The other option might be to trade Jones. As for replacing Foster, this is a tall order. Tyler Hunter saw spot duty there. They may also look at converting a DB such as Kacy Rodgers. Either way, there will likely be a drop off from Foster.

Defensive Backs
As I mentioned in the opening, the fact that we actually have one puts us light years ahead of this time last year. Cox is a lockdown DB. Once he was moved from HB to CB, Gainey really seemed to flourish. Add in Rodgers (who showed a lot of promise in his first year) and Bennett (who quietly brought a fair bit of stability to the secondary) and you have a decent foundation. We could certainly do better than Bennett but we can survive with him if need be. The big question mark in this unit now is safety. If we start 5 Canadians on offense plus Gaydosh and Muamba we could start an American here but I imagine the desire is to keep the spot Canadian. Hecht was adequate (who by comparison to the rookie receiver he took over from made him look like a demi-god). He would be an okay option but we should be looking for better. Andrew Lue (if re-signed) could be in the mix and ideally 2016 draft pick Elie Bouka would me in that mix as well (along with probably an O-lineman we draft and try to convert to safety at the rate Jones goes).

Overall I think we have some strong pieces to build around (Jefferson, Muamba, Cox) but certainly have lots of room to improve.

NFL Watch:
Otha Foster (Ssk) – signed with Baltimore
Soctt Milanovich - accepted QB Coach job in Jacksonville
Jorgen Hus (Ssk) – worked out with Arizona
Tony Burnett (Win) – worked out with Baltimore
Kyler Elsworth (Tor) – worked out with Baltimore
Terrence Tolliver (Ham) – worked out with Baltimore

CFL Ins and Outs

In: QB Kevin Glenn, WR Duron Carter (free agent signing)
Out: QB Mitchell Gale, RB Curtis Steele, DL Dylan Ainsworth, WR Shamawd Chambers (released), Otha Foster (signed in NFL)

In: OL Pierre Lavertu (contract extension)

In: QB Brett Smith (free agent signing)

In: WR Ryan Lankford, DB Keith Lewis, DB Jeremy Harris (free agent signing)

In: DB Travis Lee, DB Elroy Douglas, DB Tyler Storie (free agent signing)

In: DL Jason Ankrah, DB Lloyd Carrington (free agent signing)
Out: QB Henry Burris (retired)

Out: Head Coach Coach Milanovich as well as hope

In: DL Jesse Joseph (contract extension)

Monday, January 23, 2017

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Jefferson, Carter and More Damn Talk about QBs

I don't know about you but I'm sick of it. I'm sick of talking about QBs, specifically as it relates to the Riders. I get that its the most important position in football (despite what the long snapper will tell you) but I'm about ready to talk about something else. But here we are again talking about QBs... I could write about something else but no one would care. I could honestly take an article written about someone else and do a "replace all" with Durant's name and it would be my most clicked on post.

I will not get dragged down into the bitterly divisive argument about the rightness or wrongness of the trade (sometimes it makes American politics look damn near civil by comparison). By this point you either love it or you hate it and I highly doubt that any one of you is going to read an article (even by a writer as intellectually superior as me) and go " wow! I've been wrong about this all along! I'm completely changing my opinion based on what this guy on the internet told me." What I will do however is give some words of wisdom to people on both sides of the great debate.

To the "pro-team, great move" crowd, please be aware that questioning the logic of a move does not disqualify someone from being a fan. It is possible to remain a team supporter and disagree with the move.

To the "pro-player, worst move in history" crowd, please be aware that it is possible to be supportive of a beloved player without renouncing your support of his former team. For goodness sake, if you have been a fan for any length you loved through decades of losing, telethons, criminal charges against our GM, criminal charges against most players on the team and so on... I highly doubt this is the straw that breaks the camel's back.

I am also sick of the endless rumour cycle now surrounding our QB situation, Franklin, Tate, Glenn, Lulay... at the rate the rumours are going its only a matter of time before Manziel, Tebow and the guy from the movie Varsity Blues get added to the mix. As for the current QB options available to us, allow me to give my quick take on them:

- Mitchell Gale - Strikes me as a guy who could maybe lead us to a 500 season (maybe) but he doesn't strike me as a guy who can carry a team to the top.

- GJ Kinne - He looked god awful when he played. Strikes me as the worst option currently on the roster.

- Jake Waters - He played all of like 4 snaps before getting injured. I have no clue about his potential but his 4 snaps of experience don't instill confidence in his ability to suddenly become the starter.

- Brandon Bridge - The guy looked good in the 4th quarter of a meaningless game against one of the worst teams in the league outside of us... and all of the sudden people are anointing him as the next one. If he were not Canadian would anyone even care about him? I'm not writing him off but he is not currently on my radar as a strong option to start in 2017.

Now let's move on to happier topics... like the signing of Willie Jefferson! This is the first big addition we've made since the re-signing of Roosevelt way back in December. Sure it was nice to sign guys like Cox, Gainey and Crapigna but they were all under contract for next year already. Jefferson is a guy we had potential to lose. He is a very important re-signing. He was far and away the best d-linmen of 2016 (though the bar was admittedly not set high). He is an impactful player in our defensive front.

The other big news (though its been rumoured for a while now) is that Duron Carter will be signing with the Riders. According to Justin Dunk, the deal is for $130,000 with nothing upfront. That is a great deal for a receiver of his calibre. Sure he's a head case and prima donna but I think a competent coach (i.e. not Jim Popp) could keep him focused. The key to keeping him happy and away from all the drama is to win games and feed him the ball. Now, both of those require a good QB so at current state that is a concern put from a purely talent standpoint, $130k for a top end receiver is a good deal. I will say though that given his tendency for bumping coaches and Wally Buono's tendency for being on the field, its only a matter of time.

NFL Watch:
Jeff Knox (Ssk) – signed in Tampa Bay
Alex Bazzie (BC) – signed with Indianapolis
Otha Foster (Ssk) – worked out for Baltimore
Bo Lokombo (BC) – worked out for Baltimore
Bryan Burnham (BC) – worked out for Philadelphia, Jacksonville

CFL Ins and Outs

In: DL Willie Jefferson, DL Jonathan Newsome (contract extension)
Out: QB Darian Durant (traded to Mtl), LB Jeff Knox (signed in NFL)

In: DB Chris Rwabukamba (free agent signing)

In: QB Alex Ross, LB Gionni Paul, DL David Perkins, WR Levi Norwood, WR Darrin Patterson, OL Nate Ilses, OL Adrian Bellard (free agent signing)
Out: DL Alex Bazzie (signed in NFL)

In: WR Vidal Hazelton (contract extension)

In: QB Matt Nichols, WR Darvin Adams (contract extension), WR Kenny Stafford, LB Akeem Whonder (free agent signing)

In: LB Simoni Lawrence, OL Landon Rice (contract extension), DL Delano Johnson, LB Mitch Barnett, LB Geoff Hughes, DB Cassius Vaughn (re-signed), DB Keon Lyn, DB Axel Ofori, OL Everton Williams, WR Matt Uren, FB Felix-Lussier  (free agent signing)

In: LB Taylor Reed, DL Andrew Marshall (contract extension), DB Desmond Cooper, RB LaVance Taylor, DL Reuben Frank, WR Armon Binns, OL Kadeem Adams, RB Brandon Ross, DB Jonte Green (free agent signing)

In: K Lirim Hajrullahu, OL Tyler Holmes, RB Anthony Coombs (contract extension)
Out: OL Josh Bourke (released)

In: QB Darian Durant (traded with Ssk, contract extension), OL Luc Brodeur-Jourdain (contract extension)
Out: QB Greg McGhee, WR Cody Hoffman, OL Laquan McGowan (released)

Monday, January 16, 2017

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Saluting Durant

The news hit Friday morning like an earthquake across the prairies. Months of speculation was finally put to rest as the Darian Durant era ended in Riderville. While the rightness or wrongness of the move will be debated endlessly, today's post will not focus on the trade but rather honouring the man leaving town. In a rare change of pace, this will be a relatively serious post devoid of most of the normal smart assery and humour that fills this space .

Over the years I have grown fond of many players but have developed a strong emotional attachment to very few. Durant was one of those few. It took a couple years to find out what we had in this unassuming 3rd string QB from North Carolina but once we did he went on a meteoric rise to stardom. I won't lie and say I knew from day 1 that he was special. In fact, I distinctly remember after that first game in '08 the nicest thing I had to say was that he managed to do just enough for us not to lose. But he quickly won me over during the hot streak that ended with a blatant dirty hit to his ribs... which sadly paved the way for the Michael Bishop era (a fact that I'm still mildly bitter about). Though he ended that season in less than superstar fashion, I was sold. We had our QB.

In 2009, he vindicated my view by leading us to the Grey Cup. While the end is something no self respecting Rider fan ever wants to discuss, Durant played like a champion and cemented his status as one of the League's top QBs. He followed up in 2010 and one his best statistical regular seasons  (highest passing and rushing totals of his career). He also led the team back to the Grey Cup looking to right the wrongs of the previous year. Unfortunately, the season had taken its toll on his body and he was a shell of his normal self in that game. He gritted it out pretty good but he was not near healthy enough to carry the team.

Then came some tough times. 2011 was brutal and while it wasn't all Durant's faults (I mean this was the short-lived era of the coach who said it wasn't his job to motivate the players) his play slipped. Critics began to muse aloud if Durant would be able to make the transition from young hot shot running QB to poised passer. It was a transition that many failed to make (such as Nealon Greene... though the presence of tangible talent separated Durant from Greene but I digress). 2012 brought a new coach and a chance for Durant to show he'd made that next step in his development. It was an up and down year and certainly Durant was not the model of consistency but though they lost the game, in the west semi that year I saw a Durant that  had clearly taken that next step.

Durant was always a guy who like to prove people wrong but he entered 2013 with a chip on his shoulder the likes of which I'd never seen. He was focused and driven by only one goal. Under the guidance of George Cortez he posted career highs in TD passes and QB Rating. That year also brought one of my favourite off-field memories of Durant. He called someone on social media a "dumb f*%$" (the guy deserved it).

If you ever want to watch a QB play at the absolute highest level possible, go back and watch the 2013 playoff run Durant had. He was on a whole other level and took the team on his shoulders and took them all the way to the single greatest moment in Rider history. He had finally cemented his rightful place among the champions.

I was convinced that Durant would be the first Rider QB to win 2 Grey Cups. And the way 2014 started it looked like he would not have to wait long. A freak injury derailed that dream and set in motion a chain of unfortunate events that ultimately led to his departure. The only good thing was that his final moment as a Rider is a happy moment. For a fan base that booed the greatest player in franchise history in his final home appearance, you really can't ask for a better moment than this to end on. Maybe its for the best that we didn't know this was it (otherwise there may have been a lot more dust in my eyes).

Both on and off the field few have represented this team as well as he has. I hope many people realize like I have that we witnessed the second best QB in franchise history. Players like him don't come around very often. Thanks for every Double D.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Catching Up

As expected the new year has brought with it a resurgence on CFL news... from restructured contracts, to extensions, to NFL deals to the general rumour mill. From a Rider perspective there has certainly been some good news as well as some... well I'm not sure how to classify it but its certainly not good.

Let's start with the good. Kicker Tyler Crapigna has been extended through 2019. This is great news! He is a young, rock solid, Canadian talent. He puts in the "In Ya" in Crapigna (sorry that's the best you're going to get from me in mid-January). If you exclude his trainwreck of a Labour Day, he was damn-near robotic and was 5 for 7 on kicks over 45 yards. Locking him up is important. Along with the extensions given to Roosevelt, Cox, and Gainey, the Riders are making good strides in re-establishing the core of the team. Were it not for the fact that there is a huge pile of uncertainty at the most important position I would feel pretty good about where the team is at.

Which brings us to the not good news. The Riders (after apparently unsuccessfully exploring trading him to Montreal for Vernon Adams) have made another contract offer to Durant. Depending on who you listen to the offer may be less than previous ones and may be just for optics. So, yeah, things are going well.

Here's the deal... I get those of you in the "time to move on camp". Yes, Durant is up there in years. Yes, he's not currently among the top QBs in the league. I love Durant and want him back but I can be sold on the logic of moving on. BUT... there's one Nik Lewis sized problem with that plan. There is literally no other better option (with no apologies to Mitchell Gale and Brandon Bridge). The logic of "move onto a young QB of the future and sign Glenn to back him up" is great but only works if said QB of the future exists.

There's a concept in negotiations called a BATNA. Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement. Basically, your BATNA is what your option is if you walk away from negotiations (look at all the useless knowledge you gain reading this blog). In Durant's case, his BATNA is to see what Montreal will pay him. This is a decent BATNA so he has little incentive to give up much in negotiations with the Riders. The Riders BATNA, is to enter the opening season at a new stadium with Gale at QB (or possibly Glenn now). Unlike Durant, their BATNA sucks so unless they unearth a better BATNA and quick, logic dictates they better keep negotiating. I'm sick and tired of losing and Durant is by far our best option at winning. I can't afford to drink away any more sorrows at the inflated drink prices sure to be in the new stadium. I personally thinks its insanity to just assume we can find the QB of the future... particularly given the long line of failed attempts last season: Coleman, Huesman, Kinne, Moniz, Lee, Smith, Waters, Sims etc... Until such time as a viable new QB actually appears on the scene, any option other than Durant for 2017 just seems crazy to me.

NFL Watch
Richie Leone (BC) - signed with Arizona
Deon Lacey (Edm) - signed with Miami
Derel Walker (Edm) - signed with Tampa Bay
Mitchell White (Ott) - signed with Philadephia
Jeff Richards (Ott) - signed with Carolina
Adam Bighill (BC) - signed with New Orleans
Forrest Hightower (Ott) - signed with New Orleans
Frank Beltre (Cal) - signed with NY Jets
Anthony Gaitor (BC) - signed with New Orleans

Greg Ellingson (Ott) - tried out with Tampa Bay
Otha Foster (Sk) - tried out with Kansas City
Kenny Shaw (Tor) - tried out with Oakland
Tony Burnett (Win) - tried out with San Diego, NY Jets
Bryan Burham (BC) - tried out with Cincinnati
Mic'Hael Brooks (BC) - tried out with Seattle, Jacksonville
Alex Bazzie (BC) - tried out with Tampa Bay, Cincinnati, Oakland
Nevis Drake (Ham) - tried out with Carolina
Quincy McDuffie (Win) - tried out with Denver
Diontae Spencer (Tor) - tried out with Los Angeles
Greg Van Roten (Tor) - tried out with Seattle
Troy Stoudemire (Edm) - tried out with Los Angeles
Derek Dennis (Cal) - tried out with Carolina, Washington, Chigago
Bo Lokombo (BC) - tried out with Cleveland
Cleyon Laing (Ott) - tried out with Miami, Cincinati
Darvin Adams (Win) - tried out with Cincinnati
Gabriel Knapton (Mtl) - tried out with Jacksonville

CFL Ins and Outs

In: K Tyler Crapigna (contract extension), WR Kelvin Muamba, DL Jordan Reaves (re-signed), RB Daniel Thomas (free agent signing)

In: WR Kamar Jorden, DL Quinn Smith (contract extension)
Out: DL Frank Beltre (signed in NFL)

In: DB Keynan Parker, FB Rolly Lumbala (contract extension)
Out: K Richie Leone, LB Adam Bighill, DB Anthony Gaitor (signed in NFL)

Out: LB Deon Lacey, WR Derel Walker (signed in NFL)

In: K Justin Medlock, OL Stanley Bryant, QB Dominique Davis, WR Gerrard Sheppard (contract extension)
Out: QB Kevin Glenn (released)

Out: DB Forest Hightower, DB Mitchell White, DB Jeff Richards (signed in NFL)

In: QB Drew Willy (contract restructured)

In: WR Nik Lewis (contract extension)

Monday, January 2, 2017

Monday Morning Senitmonies: Happy New Year

Welcome to 2017.

Hopefully you a good holiday season filled with friends, food and cursing at teenage hockey players... what could be more Canadian?

With the new salary cap year upon us expect CFL news to pick up soon. For now though, I thought we'd start the year on a lighter note. In the spirit of the New Year I present to you resolutions from all 9 CFL teams:

BC Lions
Wally Buono resolves to finally listen to what the fans have been yelling at him and spend less time on the field.

That crazy guy who beats the drum resolves to switch to decaf (seriously, I personally am likely to die of a coronary in the stands and that guy makes me look like Gandhi by comparison)

Edmonton Eskimos
Jason Maas resolves to make up for all the people in the League he's pissed off in his short tenure in Edmonton by sending a fruit tray to the League office.

Mike Benevides resolves to find a happy medium between the hobo-wear he sports on the sidelines and mafia kingpin-wear he wore while on the TSN panel.

Calgary Stampeders
Quick six resolves to hold out for a contract involving reduces work hours, higher quality feed and the ability to poop wherever it wants.

The Stamps resolves to make Drew Tate's role on the team even less significant (having already lost the starting job to Mitchell and the plunge role to Buckley).

Saskatchewan Roughriders
Chris Jones resolves to expend his wardrobe by experimenting with different shades of black. He may also get so brazen that he undoes the top button on special occasions.

The Riders resolves to finally once again play meaningful football in October (please, I beg you).

Winnipeg Blue Bombers
With the money from his new extension, Mike O'Shea resolves to exchange his shabby shorts and hoodies for slightly more upscale shorts and hoodies.

Bomber fans resolve to just come to terms with the fact that they are probably still one or 2 decades away from another Grey Cup win.

Hamilton Ti-Cats
Kent Austin resolves to work on his anger management issues... and by "work on" he means get more proficient at yelling at people.

John Chick resolves to get his wife pregnant again (assuming she isn't already).

Toronto Argonauts
Jim Barker resolves that this is the year that he finally quits Ricky Ray... but only if Ray retires.

Drew Willy resolves that in a dramatic change from the norm he will adopt his wife's last name to finally bring an end to all the Willy jokes.

Toronto residents resolves to care slightly more about the Argo football... though not enough to actually tangibly support the team.

Montreal Alouettes
The Als resolves to find a way to still someohow have Jim Popp end up as interim head coach this season.

Kavis Reed resolves to come up with a new ridiculous catch phrase in honour of his new job to replace "Consequence" and "What say you?"

Ottawa RedBlacks
Henry Burris resolves that when the RedBlack QB situation inevitably dissolves into a Favre/Rodgers scenario, he won't go full Favre and start texting pics of his junk.