Riders assistant GM John Murphy rips the CFL on headshots

Saskatchewan Roughriders assistant general manager John Murphy went on play-by-play man Rod Pedersen’s radio show last night and though Roddy’s take away was that it was “open season on Riders QBs” Murphy also spoke to some of the real issues the league is facing when it comes to dealing with unpenalized headshots.

Murphy rightly points out that headshots were an issue in the CFL last season, then outlined the series of hits Rider quarterback Zach Collaros took this year.

“I think to hear somebody including the person who’s in charge of the entire league say that a hit like yesterday needs to be closer evaluated, that it can’t just be an evaluation, it has to be something done about it. Well, now I’m going to go one step further and say something should’ve been done about it after last year’s playoff game. A turnaround play in the game should’ve been overturned when Kevin Glenn clearly got hit in the head in the East Final,” Murphy said.

“So now I go to a preseason game against Calgary and Zach Collaros gets hit in the head this year, no flag. In the first half of the Ottawa game, unintentionally, Collaros gets clipped, in the facemask by a helmet, no penalty. Two weeks ago, it takes us throwing the flag to get the hit-to-the-head penalized, and then at the end of the [West semi], there’s another clear hit, that’s clear to everybody but the people working the game. So for me, I’m saying clearly this is a league-wide scenario.”

Murphy points out that the league’s inability to address this issue will impact its ability to recruit American players, particularly in the face of stiffer competition from the Alliance of American Football and, eventually, the new XFL.

“But what exactly am I supposed to tell anybody who I’m asking to play that position, anybody who is a free agent from the NFL, looking at playing quarterback for us at that position? Who has now seen five times in less than a calendar year a Roughrider quarterback get hit – intentionally or not intentionally – leading with whatever part of your body you want to pretend like you led with or not, but the subsequent issue and result is the same: hit to the head, hit to the head, hit to the head, hit to the head, hit to the head,” Murphy said.

“And I’m gonna tell you if the math of that equation is half-a-game cheque and a meeting with the Commissioner versus winning or losing a game on the field, that’s not exactly hard to decipher why it continues to happen.

“In other words, it’s a blemish for every team.”

That’s where Pedersen’s story ends but Murphy wasn’t done, not by a long shot. He called out the CFL for not taking steps to deal with the issue last off-season when CFL vice president of football Kevin McDonald acknowledged the league discussed using replay and ultimately decided against it.

“This should have already been dealt with two weeks ago or 12 months ago and we’re still in the same situation we are now saying we have to do better. We already should’ve done better because it was reviewed last year. And the same thing two weeks ago, but all that came out of it was we’re not changing anything,” Murphy said.

“So regardless of the score and regardless of the time of the game, if Brandon Bridge gets hit, there’s no downside for the player who does that. He’s not going to miss the game against Calgary, he didn’t get flagged on the field, so the worst case scenario is he’s going to pay a fine.”

He also went back at the recruitment issue.

“I want it addressed because how can you address trying to get better players to come play in our league, when you’re fighting the AAF for players this is going to be a more critical scenario than $70,000 American versus $55,000 Canadian if a quarterback is looking at it saying I can go up there and look at what they’re allowing to have happen. Have my safety at risk, have the factor that it’s freelance on the quarterback, and that the result is not even what would happen in a college game: it’s not targeting, you’re not kicked out, you’re not suspended the following week,” he said.

The non-call on the Bridge hit and the league’s reaction to it has dominated the discussion this week, overshadowing what was a great game between the Bombers and Riders and a dominating performance by the Ticats in the East semi.

“The fact that this is what we’re talking about rather than the great game and the outcome of it and a great game that we’re looking for to next week,” he said. “If I’m any of these clubs playing I want to know the answer to this question with the same ferocity that I want to know about it because if not then what are you going to do when you’re dealing with it with one of the final four quarterbacks and you’re playing a Grey Cup game without one of those guys.”

Both Collaros and Bridge are set to become free agents in February and Murphy says the CFL’s inability to deal with this issue on an ongoing basis has now put both players in a difficult spot.

“Now you have two guys – and I don’t even know the last time this has ever happened with a club – to have multiple guys at the quarterback position who are basically entering the off-season in a concussion protocol state, is about as lousy a scenario to put two human beings into as possible because now you have no choice as a club but to be looking at things from the human nature and to be looking at it from the business perspective of it,” he said.

“That is a lousy scenario to put a team through for two hits that don’t need to be in the game.”

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