Riders president and CEO Craig Reynolds made it clear when he fired Brendan Taman and Corey Chamblin, enough of the boom and bust, he wanted his team to be successful year in and year out.
The Riders history is filled with stretches where they have been great and (more) stretches where they haven’t been. For a team that’s been around as long as the Riders have been, they should have more than four championships. Even more troublesome was the years spent not even contending for the Grey Cup. That day in August 2015, Reynolds made it clear, those days had to end, it was time for the green and white to build something like Calgary has for the better part of two decades.
Chris Jones was hired to be the man to lead the Riders into this new era. Jones retained Jeremy O’Day and added John Murphy out of Calgary to help him reach this vision.
Growing pains were going to be a part of this process, there’s no question. It’s not overly surprising that those growing pains are continuing this season. The question is: are the Riders on the path to sustained success?
The Stampeders have been, rightly, held up as that example in the CFL for a number of years now. They’ve done it with a foundation that includes players like Bo Levi Mitchell (Henry Burris before him), Charleston Hughes and Marquay McDaniel. After that, plenty of players have come and gone, but through smart drafting and strong neg-list signings, Calgary hasn’t missed a beat.
How does this apply to what’s happening in Saskatchewan? Well, a few of the building blocks you could say are in place. At 26, Willie Jefferson has some good years ahead of him still but after that, it gets a little murky. Is Naaman Roosevelt a cornerstone receiver? He has the skills but he’s already reaching 30. Could Caleb Holley develop into that guy? Maybe. We still don’t know who the quarterback will be beyond this season. Is anyone else a building block type player? I don’t know. The good news is there’s still time to find these guys.
The bigger problem with this regime right now has been unearthing new players. Thus far, Jones’ best draft picks are still playing in the NFL. The Canadian depth has improved but that’s mostly been through free agency. That’s not a sustainable way to build half of your roster.
Then there’s the neg list. In the last year and a half the Riders have either signed, tried to sign or expressed some degree of interest in guys like Greg Hardy, Mike Vick, Vince Young, and Trent Richardson. Generally speaking, going after that many NFLers who’s best days are behind them isn’t something successful CFL teams do.
Of the newcomers the team has added the top of the list includes guys like Holley, Ricky Collins Jr. (since traded to Hamilton – Winnipeg did sign him first but he never made it to training camp, so I’ll give them some credit), Armanti Edwards (dealt to Toronto), Samuel Eguavoen and Justin Cox. Three of those players are no longer on the roster. Other than a few other players who have shown flashes, there aren’t too many other neg-list players that have stepped up as the team continues to rely on free agency and trades to fill out the roster. There’s nothing wrong with adding some vets to the mix, every team does it, but good teams find their own guys too.
None of this suggests the Riders can’t turn it on this year and make a run at a playoff spot. They could do it again next year but that’s not what this is supposed to be about. If the Riders are going to achieve Reynolds’ vision, then it’s time for the team to stop focusing on the low hanging fruit and reach for the top.