Even a Grey Cup-winning football team needs to overhaul its roster, so when the non-championship-winning Saskatchewan Roughriders unceremoniously dumped veteran receivers Rob Bagg, Chad Owens and Bakari Grant, it’s just a part of the process.
The motivation process.
Nothing motivates professional athletes more than seeing proven, veteran players getting cut. It’s a way for coaches to ensure that complacency doesn’t settle into the locker room. How many veterans or rookies on the Roughriders now feel secure about their jobs? Not very many because fear — fear of being released and not playing, not earning a paycheque, not competing for a championship, not winning — is an athlete’s greatest motivator.
Bagg was a 10-year veteran who overcame two major knee injuries and won a Grey Cup with the Roughriders in 2013, but his speed and contributions were diminishing. Owens played for three teams in eight seasons and has been injured most of the time since joining the Roughriders in 2017. Grant, after six CFL seasons with Hamilton and Calgary, joined Saskatchewan last year and gradually became a non-factor, to the point where he dropped a wide-open, in-his-hands pass Friday during a 39-12 preseason loss to the visiting Calgary Stampeders.
For less money the Roughriders will replace the expensive contracts of Bagg, Owens and Grant, an important consideration for a team in a salary-cap league that is paying roughly 13 per cent of its players’ payroll to quarterbacks Zach Collaros and Brandon Bridge. The replacements won’t be as knowledgeable, but they will certainly be working their tails off to help improve a team that has won one playoff game since its Grey Cup victory in 2013.
Turnover of CFL rosters is imperative when teams are operating under a $5.2-million cap on players’ salaries. Don Matthews and Eric Tillman, two long-standing and successful CFL adversaries who worked together once and didn’t get along very well, still respected the process and shared similar philosophies as they built their teams.
Matthews followed the doctrine that every team had to turn over at least 25 per cent of its roster season to season — even Grey Cup teams, and Matthews was a part of 10 championship squads. Tillman, who always describes football as a “great sport but a crappy business,’’ believes a personnel manager who dispatches a player when the fans realize he’s no longer valuable, has waited too long. Matthews and Tillman certainly made some errors during their careers, but their philosophy is sound.
And Chris Jones, who oversees Saskatchewan’s roster as head coach, general manager and vice-president of football operations, obviously believes in that strategy. He was, after all, brought into the CFL and mentored by Matthews.