Arash Madani is a reporter with SportsNet and a columnist for 3DownNation.
Every Tuesday and Thursday, I pop on Rod Pedersen’s Sportscage radio program on CKRM Radio in Regina. A few years back, on the way to a Raptors game with a college friend, Pedersen and I had one of our on-air conversations.
After, my pal Matt looked at me in disbelief. “Dude, you just spoke about the CFL for like 12 minutes straight,” he said.
“It’s Regina, man. They can’t get enough,” I replied.
“Dude,” screamed Matt, “it’s March!”
Yeah, it doesn’t matter what month, nor what season it is in Saskatchewan – the Riders are a 12-month-of-the-year phenomenon that an insatiable fan base will constantly devour. When it comes to that franchise, optics are huge; having public sentiment on your side with the pro football outfit in the province is significant.
So now this week, and the latest on the soap opera involving pending free agent Darian Durant. The Riders floating it out there that they’ve made him another contract offer, even providing some broad parameters about the deal. Rider Nation, predictably, erupted. There was news, at last, about their franchise quarterback. Could, perhaps, this new sliver of news mean a renewal of vows in the lead-up to the opening a new stadium?
It’s not, not even close, actually. But what the Riders alertly did was fire the opening salvo of 2017 public discourse. The new-ish football regime now understanding how important it would be to have water cooler conversation this morning favourable to the organization’s side of the negotiation.
Why is it so critical?
Fundamentally this: we still don’t know if the Saskatchewan Roughriders football club believes it can win another Grey Cup championship with Darian Durant as its quarterback.
If they most certainly did, a deal would have been completed by now. Let’s remember: assistant GM John Murphy blurted to Pedersen that the Riders lead the CFL in salary cap status (whatever that is). If it’s what we think it means, shouldn’t that have meant the team had enough room in their 2016 budget to get a deal with Durant done before the calendar flipped? Even if Murphy got off Facebook long enough to ring in 2017, wouldn’t ensuring Durant was signed to open the new year have been a priority?
It would, if the organization was fully invested into a 34-year-old that will draw plenty of interest from Montreal should Durant reach free agency.
Ah yes, the dysfunctional Alouettes, and a new football operation of their own. With Kavis Reed, who worked with Durant once upon a time, and Jacques Chapdelaine, whose offence Durant mastered when they were together in Saskatchewan. That domino is significant here.
See, what the Riders failed to pass along Thursday – when letting it be known that they made Durant an offer that could pay as much as $400,000 with performance incentives – is that they also added a second year to the contract, offering zero off-season money for 2018. They may as well have offered a seven-year pact while they were at it, making season six worth $2 million. From what I’ve been told, if you read the fine print, the deal Saskatchewan put forth wasn’t all that much different from the original numbers both sides discussed before the holidays.
The aftermath of this latest offer by the organization, if they don’t follow-up with another before long, is that the Durant camp rejects this week’s proposal. Which may give the Riders enough ammunition to orchestrate a trade with the Alouettes.
Make no mistake about it: this was an optics offer by Saskatchewan. Because they’ve bought some goodwill with public sentiment, they can make claims like “we did everything we could to lock up Darian.” The messaging would be that “multiple offers” were presented to make Durant “among the league’s highest paid quarterbacks” and he rejected it. That the team (start ital.) had (end ital.) to ship him away so they would get something back before the quarterback became a free agent.
If the Riders really wanted their quarterback in the fold, this song and dance would have long been over. Because it’s not, you better believe the airwaves in Saskatchewan – even in January and February – will be lit up with Durant talk.
Pedersen’s football conversations will be juicy, and the end game may be most of all.
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