After proving again they’re the worst team in the Canadian Football League, the Saskatchewan Roughriders now face the challenge of making sure they aren’t in the same situation next year.
A 22-7 whupping Saturday by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, who had looked woefully inept one week earlier while losing to the Roughriders, left Saskatchewan with a 1-10 mark. A team that appeared in four of the last eight Grey Cups, winning twice, has become old and toothless without a road map into the future.
The philosophy of using veterans to “Win Now, Baby!” paid off with a glorious championship in 2013, but the Riders’ previous regime continued relying so heavily on “plug-and-play” players that it’s now virtually devoid of promising, long-term prospects.
Here’s an idea for whoever is going to be responsible for the Roughriders’ on-field product: Play the youngsters and trade any under-performing veterans for draft choices. Fortunately or unfortunately for the Roughriders, they have quite a few under-performing veterans.
The list of veterans worth keeping is short — receivers Weston Dressler and Rob Bagg, linebacker Tyron Brackenridge, tailback Jerome Messam and, perhaps, defensive ends John Chick and Alex Hall. That’s also a problem because those are the veterans who might draw interest from rival CFL teams, so they may have to get dealt in order to improve the Roughriders’ future.
Making in-season trades isn’t a hallmark of the CFL, but the Edmonton Eskimos have been able to make noteworthy trades during the past two weeks. The Roughriders should get involved in the trade market and stockpile draft choices as they fortify a roster around some of the newbies who have looked impressive: receivers Nic Demski, Naaman Roosevelt and Ryan Smith, defensive tackle Andre Monroe, defensive back Tyree Hollins, linebacker Jeff Knox and quarterback Brett Smith.
Although Smith struggled in his latest start, he has still shown the toughness, arm strength, running ability and intelligence required to become a CFL quarterback. There’s a great debate among Rider Nation whether Smith or Kevin Glenn, the veteran quarterback returning from injury, should be the starter. There’s extra importance because the uncontested starter, Darian Durant, has a ruptured Achilles tendon that could — or could not — be fully recovered for the 2016 season
Jeremy O’Day, the interim general manager, and Bob Dyce, the interim head coach, will be making a decision that could help them eliminate the “interim” description. It makes sense to start Smith if they’re looking toward the future.