Other than figuring out who the next quarterback of this team will be, the next question surrounding the Riders was which major free-agent was going to be the next to sign on the dotted line? The team has already lost linebacker and special teamer Jeff Knox Jr. to Tampa Bay of the NFL and Otha Foster had a workout with the Baltimore Ravens.
On Friday, Chris Jones delivered some good news to Rider Nation with the re-signing of defensive end Willie Jefferson. The Texas native joined the Riders late last season after being released by Washington of the NFL. Jefferson made an immediate impact in green and white with eight tackles and three sacks in just five games. Even though he played less than one third of the entire season, Jefferson finished the season tied for second on the team in sacks (which says a lot about the Riders pass rush last year). With a little luck, he probably could have ended up leading the team in quarterback takedowns as he found himself near opposing pivots quite often. Over the course of an entire season, Jefferson’s pace would have seen him pick up around 12 sacks, which would have been near the top of the league leaderboard. Of course, a pace is just a pace and we’ll never know what Jefferson would have done over an entire season last year.
Signing Jefferson after an NFL stint isn’t like signing other guys who give the NFL a go and come back and that’s because he’s still just 25 years old. That means the Riders could conceivably get another five-to-eight years out of the defensive end. That’s the most important part of this deal. Since John Chick originally left for the NFL in 2010, the team has been looking for their next great pass rusher. Chick did return to the team in 2013 and picked up where he left off but given his age, Chick was never going to be the long term answer for the Roughriders. Ricky Foley also had a good, but brief run, with team. When Jones blew up the roster when he took over in late 2015, it was about the future, and a guy like Jefferson fits into the future and has a track record of success with Jones and his defence making this move a no-brainer.
Now that the Riders have one end of the defensive line figured out, Jones needs to get the rest of the defensive line in order. With plenty of questions about the offence heading in 2017, the defence is going to have to grow by leaps and bounds if the team is to remain competitive. One area that will have to improve is the team’s pass rush, and Jefferson should do just that.