Riders Going Grey Cup or Bust in 2018!

January 22, 2018 - 12:44pm

The news Monday from Riderville was a bit like Christmas in January – the Riders announced they signed Duron Carter to a year contract and he was talking about his best chance to win the Grey Cup was going to come in Saskatchewan.

All of this seems to follow the message from CFL Commissionaire Randy Ambrosie that the CFL this off-season will do what is needed to keep the CFL in the public eye instead of hibernating until June.

So far consider it mission accomplished.

The news Carter has resigned follows the news Saturday night that Darian Durant, cut loose by Montreal, signed as a back-up in Winnipeg, reuniting him with former Rider offensive coordinator Paul LaPolice and receiver Weston Dressler.

This makes the Labour Day Showdown and the Banjo Bowl especially interesting if Durant comes in and throws to Dressler. This news will probably be followed by reports former Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall has been hired as the new President of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and George Reed will be the official greeter at Dollarama Field in Winnipeg. It makes sense considering all the former Riders being added to the Bomber roster.

Durant’s release by Montreal came as no surprise as he was apparently due a payment which would have handcuffed Montreal’s salary cap this season considering Durant’s play last year. The release, combined with the signing of former NFL quarterback Josh Freeman, seems to indicate Montreal is moving on, although the possibility of them trading for the right to negotiate with Johnny Manziel apparently cannot yet be discounted.

Manziel’s camp has apparently quieted down after giving Hamilton an artificial deadline to sign a contract of apparently equal value to former Hamilton QB Zach Collaros of $500,000 – more or less. For a quarterback who washed out of Cleveland, it was a ballsy demand and indicates either Manziel’s agent is hoping to make something off his client or maybe Manziel and his agent have absolutely no interest in playing CFL football.

Manziel’s agent tried to make a case out of how many jerseys Manziel would be able to sell in the CFL, which was funny considering the only team that moves the needle in jersey sales are the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Hamilton has already signed Jeremiah Masoli and apparently does very well in season ticket sales, so the addition of Manziel would be interesting, but not essential.

Montreal on the other hand is looking for a quarterback and recent moves by Kavis Reed indicate the level of ineptitude by that franchise continues unabated. Catherine Raiche, a former assistant GM in Montreal, resigned and was hired by Toronto. Raiche was originally hired by former Montreal GM Jim Popp, and was put in part of salary cap and contracts. However the hiring of former Green Bay Packer coach and GM Mike Sherman has led to some shuffling in Montreal and while Reed may be in charge at the moment, Sherman is likely to take over from Reed and has the experience to do a good job.

Montreal’s signing of Freeman seems to be a place holding kind of action with Freeman seeming to be someone who is a known quality to Sherman. Manziel was once recruited by Sherman, and would be a nice selling card in Montreal, but whether Manziel is serious about playing football is still an unanswered question and one that Montreal should not be counting on.

Montreal has been pruning their roster, releasing former receiving Samuel Giguere and defensive lineman Keith Shologan, a former Rider strangely let go by the Riders in the Ottawa expansion draft. They also filled out their coaching staff, bringing in Paul Dunn (offensive line coach and run game coordinator), Bert Hill (defensive line coach), Jason Tucker (receivers coach), Todd Howard (linebackers coach), André Bolduc (running backs coach) and Billy Parker (defensive backs coach). Tucker, Howard and Parker have CFL experience and Bolduc has both CFL and U Sport coaching experience. They join Khari Jones (offensive coordinator), Khalil Carter (defensive coordinator), Rich Stubler (special advisor to defensive coordinator) and Mickey Donovan (special teams’ coordinator). Montreal has some coaching talent, so long as Reed doesn’t get involved.

The Riders in the meantime signed Zach Collaros to a one year deal worth around $430,000, which should be a Rider record, and had Brandon Bridge wondering what was going on. Bridge signed earlier but when you are paying one quarterback a whole lot more, it begs the question of how competitive the quarterback position will be.

I suspect the bottom line will be Collaros will start, but if he falters, Chris Jones will have no problem in putting in Brandon Bridge. What makes things interesting for Bridge is he also has a one year deal, and if he shows he can take the next step towards starting and being consistent, then the Riders have their starting quarterback.

If Bridge is ticked off, then he has no one to blame but himself for having his agent agree to a new contract before seeing what the lay of the land looks like quarterback wise. Whether Bridge can overcome his disappointment to stake his claim to the starting job is something yet to be answered.

Whether Jones is laying the groundwork for a new contract with Collaros next year or has decided to put a down payment on a quarterback he believes will lead the Riders to a Grey Cup, it can be seen as a vote of confidence, but one which depends on whether Collaros can regain his near winning form with Hamilton.

One factor in Collaros’ favor is his familiarity with the offense, since he learned it when he was in Toronto. What will make things interesting for him is the state of the Riders’ offensive line, which tended to spring an occasional leak while trying to keep their quarterbacks upright.

Better play by the Riders offensive line, not just in pass protection but also in run support, will take the edge off the need for Collaros to do things all by himself. The Riders running game and their receiving corps appear to be in good shape, but the line will be central to any plans by the Riders to host a playoff game or move on to become Grey Cup Champions

Another Rider free agent, offensive lineman Bruce Campbell, was suspended for two games for taking a performance enhancing drug which makes things interesting for either the Riders or whatever team Campbell signs with. When Campbell came off the retired list to sign with the Riders, it helped the Riders become more consistent on the offensive line, and improved the teams’ offensive attack.

With free agency less than two weeks away, the Riders needs will not be as all-encompassing as they were in previous years. Adding a defensive lineman or end to help take the pressure off of Willie Jefferson would be the biggest get for the team, although a solid offensive lineman would also be nice.

The money paid to Collaros and Carter means someone is not going to be resigned and the Riders had to be realistic about having their quarterbacks available for the $500,000 altogether as they did last year. Glenn was already one casualty and another could be Canadian running back Kienan LaFrance, or maybe offensive lineman Derrek Dennis, who signed a hefty contract but didn’t really live up to billing.

This is going to make the free agent camps more important in terms of finding cap friendly talent to bridge the gaps that will emerge. There is also the possibility that some of the Canadian talent that has been percolating on the back counter, like Josiah St. John, take a step forward and justify the investment made in them.

The Carter announcement and the hype he gave in talking to Rider Nation, makes it clear the decks are open for a run at the Grey Cup. If the Riders surprised themselves by getting as far as the Eastern Final, it may have served the purpose of showing the team how close they are to actually winning it all. That may make focus, the lack of which was a frequent criticism of Rider teams of the past, the big factor in the team going all the way.

It’s only January and there is a long way to go, but the Riders made a big statement on where they want to go with Monday’s announcement. The Collaros announcement was expected since the Riders seemed to be ready to take another step forward at quarterback, but most people thought Carter was gone to the NFL and if he came back, the Riders would be leading the pack to sign him. Getting him in January as opposed to September was just the icing on the cake.

What the quarterback carousel did for the CFL was keep the league in people’s minds as free agency and then the draft showed up. By signing Durant, Winnipeg seems to be solidifying what may be a shaky part of their team as it prepares to try to end a 27 year title drought. While Montreal seems to have drifted towards Josh Freeman, Toronto is still awaiting word whether Ricky Ray will be returning for another season or turning the keys over to James Franklin.

Free agency should see the next flurry of activity, but it will be interesting to see where teams go as they try to address needs. For fans in Winnipeg, the CFL Week/Player Combine will be a great showcase for the CFL and fans there are urged to take in the festivities.

The Riders in the meantime are holding free agent camps and scouting college bowl games. That is a process that may not pay off for a few years yet, depending on what the players identified get to do with their professional careers.

The big thing is that people are talking CFL football. Which is something the CFL hasn’t seen much of, or known how to get into.

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