Darian Durant has options – but so do the Riders

Contract negotiations can get pretty nasty.

The ongoing discussions between quarterback Darian Durant and the Saskatchewan Roughriders haven’t reached that point yet, but they’re not as jovial as they were four weeks ago when it looked like the CFL team was poised to sign its premier free-agent-to-be. The difference between the sides is believed to be $100,000 and how it’s going to paid, which makes it look like the Roughriders aren’t totally committed to re-signing the franchise’s most important player.

Durant turns 35 next season. He’s been with the Roughriders since 2006 and became their undisputed starter in 2009, leading them to three Grey Cup appearances that culminated with a 2013 home-town championship in Regina’s old Mosaic Stadium. He’s Roughriders royalty, along with the QBs who have captured Saskatchewan’s other Grey Cups — Ron Lancaster in 1966, Kent Austin in 1989 and Kerry Joseph in 2007.

After signing a contract in the $450,000 range, Durant missed most of 2014 and 2015 with torn tendons; in his right elbow the first year and an Achilles in the latter.

When Chris Jones came aboard as Saskatchewan’s head coach, general manager and vice-president of football operations before the 2016 season, he met with Durant and — likely wary of his quarterback’s durability — renegotiated the pivot’s contract to closer to $350,000. With a reduced salary, Durant insisted on signing only a one-year deal, which he claimed gave him some options heading into 2017.

After missing only three games this season with minor injuries and showing that he’s still the team’s only CFL-calibre quarterback, Durant has options.

He can re-sign with the Roughriders for another reduced salary, reportedly worth about $250,000, which likely rewards him heavily for his playing time and successes, or he can refuse the lowball offer he received and look for a new team after he becomes a free agent in February —unless the ticked-off Roughriders release him early.

Following the conclusion of the team’s 5-13 season, Durant told reporters his contract negotiations are at “a standstill” and he realized there’s a possibility he could play elsewhere next season. Toronto, Montreal and Winnipeg would be the teams most likely interested in Durant.

Jones, in his post-season meeting with the media, said the Riders believe — contrary to Durant’s claim — that their offer is fair and they want Durant as their quarterback next season. After saying he doesn’t want these negotiations to look like Durant-versus-Jones, the Riders’ boss incredulously stated one of his team’s other four quarterbacks could win games for the team in 2017, but also hinted there are others who could join the Riders.

Veterans Travis Lulay and Ricky Ray are possibilities, but the most likely acquisition would be James Franklin, a promising second-year quarterback who Jones coached with the Edmonton Eskimos. Franklin is reportedly signed through 2017 and the Eskimos, after winning a Grey Cup and watching Jones depart for Saskatchewan with most of his coaching staff, might be reluctant to deal with the Roughriders, a West Division rival.

Of course contract negotiations don’t always go smoothly. There is lots of give-and-take, plenty of verbal sparring, closed-door discussion and some vying for public support. Even the best intentions often turn sour. Right now they’re sour. Nasty is next.

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.