With Jones at the helm, Riders’ rebuilding process full of unknowns

When assessing what the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ new boss is going to do during the CFL’s free-agent frenzy, here’s the lowdown:

Your guess is as good as mine.

Chris Jones recently became the Roughriders‘ — wait, what are all his titles again? — vice-president of everything, so he decides what the team is going to do with its roster. Since being hired in December, Jones has been regularly asked about his plans for the team. He’s not a very expansive guy, is he?

Jones usually says something about being competitive, getting better and finding the best players available within the league-imposed $5.1-million salary cap. Then he says he will discuss only the team’s latest transactions because he doesn’t want to reveal what else the Roughriders might be doing.

Jones has made bold moves by cutting veterans Weston Dressler, John Chick, Weldon Brown, Terrell Maze, Macho Harris and Tyron Brackenridge. To his credit, Jones released those players early enough in the offseason so they could seek new employment before a record-setting 140 CFL players were about to become free agents Feb. 9.

Jones directly faced his inquisitors, some of whom wondered about his sanity when releasing proven CFL players. He seemed calm, in control, a man certain of what he was doing. As he should be. Since joining the CFL in 2002, the four teams Jones has worked for have never missed the playoffs. He knows how to build a CFL roster. He is considered a superb judge of talent. He works his tail off. He has begun holding free-agent tryout camps throughout the U.S. and subsequently signed some of the most impressive attendees.

When the Riders signed quarterback Darian Durant to a new, cheaper contract, Jones said it was part of the makeover of a team that posted a 3-15 record last year while wildly overspending on aging, under-productive players.

The contracts of at least 12 more Roughriders were slated to expire Feb. 9. Most of them won’t be re-signed, even though fans are debating the merits of retaining receivers Ryan Smith and Chis Getzlaf or tackles Xavier Fulton and Levy Adcock. The Riders have re-signed four of their potential free agents, led by receiver Rob Bagg, and aren’t likely to chase many others.

Every team in the league would like to sign defensive linemen Ted Laurent, Brian Bulcke, both from the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, or Justin Capicciotti of the Ottawa Redblacks. Calgary Stampeders receiver Jeff Fuller is also in Saskatchewan’s sights.

Having coached the reigning Grey Cup-champion Edmonton Eskimos before joining the Roughriders, Jones may also covet Edmonton defensive backs Aaron Grymes and Otha Foster, running back/returner Kendial Lawrence and linebacker J.C. Sherritt.

If they’re too expensive, however, the Roughriders will proceed without them. And most likely, the majority of the free agents coming to re-fortify Saskatchewan’s lineup will be the ones spotted at Jones’ tryout camps in Nevada, Michigan, New Jersey…..

Darrell Davis has reported on the Riders for more than 20 years and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame media wing in 2006.