The bill will come due for Riders big-money moves

Defensive end Charleston Hughes can still play football.

A legendary, 34-year-old pass rusher who was just traded to the Saskatchewan Roughriders, Hughes can also take a substantial chunk out of his new CFL team’s growing payroll.

Calgary Stampeders general manager John Hufnagel admitted Hughes no longer fit under his team’s CFL-mandated $5.2-million salary cap, so the 10-year veteran was dealt to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats for draft choices and subsequently flipped to Saskatchewan for third-string quarterback Vernon Adams. Hufnagel said trading Hughes was difficult emotionally, a thought that reverberated Wednesday throughout social media when the six-time West all-star donned Riders green for the first time at a media conference.

Hughes is evidently excited about playing the other end of Saskatchewan’s defensive line with Willie Jefferson, who might now be the CFL’s best defensive player. The Roughriders rely primarily on three- and four-man pass rushes, so being able to deploy two of the all-time best defensive ends simultaneously is quite a coup. Despite missing four games because of injuries, Hughes got 11 sacks in 2017 to give him a career total of 99.

With the addition of a player who makes approximately $150,000, the Roughriders are creeping closer to that cap. Teams exceeding the cap are subject to monetary fines and, in extreme cases, lose draft choices and negotiation-list players. No CFL team has been punished more for exceeding the cap than the community-owned Roughriders, who recently acquired quarterback Zach Collaros. He had been the league’s highest-paid player before taking a $110,000 haircut from his $540,000 annual salary, according to Justin Dunk’s earlier reports on

Saskatchewan also re-upped Jefferson and last year’s outstanding player, wideout Duron Carter, after getting backup quarterback Brandon Bridge to re-sign a better deal. Roughriders boss Chris Jones told the team’s website his team paid less than $500,000 for its four quarterbacks last season. That’s noticeably less than the Tiger-Cats paid for Collaros, who became expendable after losing eight starts and becoming a backup to Jeremiah Masoli.

Last year’s starting quarterback, Kevin Glenn, was recently released by the Roughriders. They have also lost linebacker Jeff Knox and Kacy Rodgers to NFL teams. And they continue making cost-cutting moves, such as dumping running back Kienan Lafrance hours before he was due a substantial contract bonus.

It’s all part of the gamesmanship needed to abide by the CFL’s cap, which is officially known as the Salary Management System and applies only to players. CFL teams can spend as much as they want on coaches, administrators, scouting, tryouts, training camps, facilities and any other football-related expenses. But when a roster has numerous high-priced veterans such as offensive lineman Derek Dennis and Brendon LaBatte, linebacker Henoc Muamba and receivers Chad Owens, Bakari Grant and Rob Bagg under contract, they have to make moves like Hufnagel did with Hughes in Calgary.

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.