It’s not quite back to square one for the Saskatchewan Roughriders but it’s feels pretty close.
Since the free agent market opened on Valentine’s Day, the Riders had made some pretty big strides when it comes to their Canadian content. General manager and head coach Chris Jones signed running back Keinan LaFrance and safety Marc Olivier Brouillette, giving the team at least seven quality starting Canadians when you include three offensive lineman, middle linebacker Henoc Muamba and receiver Rob Bagg. Jones had options to play around with the ratio if he wanted to as well with the likes of Nic Demski, Ivan Brown, Linden Gaydosh and so on.
All of that is now out the window after right guard Chris Best announced his retirement earlier this week. Best along with Dan Clark and Brendon LaBatte would have been the foundation of the team’s starting Canadians. Even with the signing of left tackle Derek Dennis, the questions about the Riders offensive line are back.
The good news is Jones knew this was coming. He basically told reporter so last week when he said there would news on Best in the coming days. So, he’s been planning for life without Best for most of the offseason, so he should have a plan. The problem? It’s not an easy hole to fill. Even though Best has had bad hips since 2009, there was a noticeable difference in the Riders line play when he was in the line-up compared to when he wasn’t. Best was the cog that made the team’s running game work, even during the Kory Sheets days, when Best missed time the run game struggled. Sure, no one is rushing for 1,500 yards in the CFL anymore thanks to some rule changes but you still need to be able to run the ball.
Since we don’t the full picture when it comes to player salaries, we don’t know if Jones has already spent Best’s salary or not. Either way, a replacement will have to be found. If he hasn’t spent the money, someone like J’Michael Deane could be a good stop-gap, if he or LaBatte can move to the right side. If there isn’t room on the cap, then it will be up to the likes of Matt Vonk, Ryan White or Josiah St. John to take that next step.
What’s extra worrisome about the current state of the Riders offensive line is the unknown status of LaBatte. At that same news conference last week, Jones didn’t exactly paint a rosy picture when it comes to the Weyburn, Saskatchewan native. LaBatte missed most of last season with a concussion and Jones wasn’t ready to say if he would be good to go at the start of training camp or not.
If LaBatte isn’t ready to go? Oh boy.