R iders trade Durant on Friday 13th, full moon and coldest day of the year
I first became aware of Darian Durant in 2008 as the Riders were looking to move past trading the league MVP Kerry Joseph and losing the Grey Cup winning coach in Kent Austin.
Contending to replace Joseph were Marcus Crandell, Steven Jyles, Drew Tate, Teale Orban and Durant. Durant’s first start came in the third game of that season against Hamilton and he threw for over 300 yards, two touchdowns and a win. He also beat Montreal before going down with injury and the Riders did a stupid trade to bring in Michael Bishop.
Durant came back the next season and won the job and led the team to the Grey Cup in Calgary where I sat in stunned disbelief at the play which shall not be named. What I liked about Durant was something I had heard Ron Lancaster say that the only thing that mattered about the quarterback was whether he won.
That comes down to leadership and inspiring people around you. Durant, who lead the team to two consecutive Grey Cup appearances, seemed to solidify him as the unquestioned leader. He had his moments of throwing what could be considered ill-advised or stupid interceptions that lost the Riders games and that led to the infamous hashtag - #Durantsfault or whatever it was called.
I regarded it as part of the learning curve, everyone makes mistakes; it’s how you respond to them that is the important thing. It’s kind of funny thinking of it now, but Durant used the opinion against him as a motivating device, which made for some interesting moments. He seemed to used the doubt that he could be a Grey Cup winning quarterback as a means to propel his game to the ultimate level, which was ironically not throwing for 6,000 yards, but learning to get the most out of his teammates and playing within himself.
The playoff run of 2013 will be forever Exhibit A in what mature leadership can mean to a team. Against BC in the Western Semi-Final, Durant used his legs in the fourth quarter to get the Riders over the top in the toughest playoff game they would play. Against the Calgary Stampeders, the defense came up big stripping the Stampeder receivers and creating turnovers.
Then against Hamilton, what might have been a fatal turnover became a big play in the first quarter when Durant was hit and the ball popped into Kory Sheets arms and he went for a first down. When Durant lifted the Grey Cup at the end of the game, the relief at not losing the biggest game in Rider history, a Grey Cup appearance at home, was palpable.
The next year he got injured in the Banjo Bowl and the Riders found out Tino Sunseri was no answer; neither was the return of Kerry Joseph. When Durant returned in 2015 and went out in the first game against Winnipeg, the Riders circled the drain to a 3-15 season.
Last year Rider GM and Head Coach, Chris Jones, brought in over 100 players and did what Ron Lancaster did in 1979 – strip the team down to just a few and start from scratch. Durant was injured here and there, but with a new receiving corps, no running game and an offensive line that was truly offensive, the Riders barely went 5-13 and just as easily could have gone 1-17.
The trade on Friday the 13th was not unexpected.
The Riders got a fourth round pick and assuming Montreal signs Durant, pick up another late round pick next year. The Riders also have a question of who will be their quarterback this year and who the Riders might go for in free agency or trade.
Now in the wake of all of this is news the Riders may become the new home for former Montreal receiver Duron Carter who, while talented, is also the type of player who caused a few fights amongst his teammates before getting cut last year.
I can see the rationale for trading Durant for something, rather than lose him to free agency especially as the team and Durant had differing opinions as to what his financial value to the team would be. I was in the stands when Ron Lancaster was booed in his last appearance as a player in Taylor Field and Rider fans are pretty unforgiving when they are losing.
Chris Jones feels winning will keep the fans in the stands in the stands, and that sense, he is not wrong, but if the Chris Jones experience does not work out in the next couple of years, the Riders will be looking at perhaps another rebuild from ground zero as the people loyal to Chris Jones, and not necessarily the Saskatchewan Roughriders, move on with him.
This is at the heart at the dichotomy of the decision to trade Durant.
It’s no different than trading Tom Burgess, Tom Clements or Kerry Joseph that the Riders have done in the past.
With Burgess, it was the emergency of Kent Austin as the starter following the 1989 Grey Cup and the opportunity to give Burgess his own shot at leading a team. Clements beat the Riders in the 1987 Grey Cup and for a portion of the 1979 season, Lancaster was hoping to rebuild the team with Clements leading. However, the beating he took behind an essentially rookie line had Lancaster trading Clements for mercy’s sake. Joseph was traded for salary reasons and probably because with Austin gone, the Riders felt they could find someone young and develop them.
The new stadium the Riders will be playing in next year was built mainly thanks to the exploits of Darian Durant. In a just world, Durant would open the stadium his success as a Rider would help build, but today on Friday the 13th, also a full moon day, Rider fans are thinking Chris Jones better be able to pull one out of the hat this year or 5-13 will look as a high point.
Jones mentioned the Riders only won five games with Durant last year. Which is ironically enough the same amount of games they won with Jones. Jones mentioned in his press conference the Riders had confidence in Mitchell Gale, Jake Waters and GJ Kinne, and mentioned they were talking to three quarterbacks with NFL experience.
There may be a free agent signing of someone like Kevin Glenn, or whoever else may be free, but that is something in Jones’s hands. How he handles this may determine if he can build something like the New England Patriots under Bill Belichek or in another two years look for a job as a defensive coordinator or a coach somewhere else. I have no idea how this will turn out.
Football can be a terrible and a wonderful business, all at the same time.
Saskatchewan fans can be fantastic, but they can also be whiny, self-absorbed and insensitive jerks.
Durant was capable of inspiring leadership, but also capable of the brain lapses that resulted in a two and out on a final possession in the 2009 Grey Cup that led to Montreal’s final drive and a Cup losing interception on the final possession of the 2010 Grey Cup.
But then Ronnie Lancaster threw some ill-advised interceptions of his own.
There are over 1 million Rider GMs and head coaches and they all had their opinion of Durant. Now that his time as a Rider is over, you have to respect he is one of only four men to quarterback the team a Grey Cup win.
However, for better or worse, his time is over.
In terms of intangibles, I would rank Durant third among the four Grey Cup winners and probably pushing Kent Austin for second, just because he got the Riders to the Grey Cup more times than Austin did. Lancaster played with a confidence and class but that said even though he might have thrown four interceptions, he would still go after the other team because he thought he could throw five touchdowns.
Some people didn’t like Austin because he was combative, but he asked a lot of himself and his teammates and more importantly, he delivered.
If the Riders had a better defense, perhaps Austin would not have been forced to throw so much, probably hastening the end of his career, but the public pressure in Saskatchewan had him go elsewhere and Austin has won Grey Cups elsewhere, but not as dramatically as he did here.
Durant lost a year and and a half to injury, which is harder to come back from when you get older than when you are in your 20s. That was the bottom line and you can’t put a lot of money on someone who may or may not finish a season just because he is well regarded.
If Durant had a better agent, maybe he could have lined up lucrative endorsements to take the edge off of not being the highest paid quarterback, but that is between him and his agent.
I get the feeling the first game at the new stadium will be Montreal at Saskatchewan. For Chris Jones’ sake, he better hope the team he wants the Riders to become shows up for that game, and not the team that didn’t show up the last time Montreal was in town, or the team that didn’t show up for the final game at Taylor Field.
It’s your move Chris Jones.
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