DAVIS: No reason for Riders to be secretive

“Garbage-bag Day” was delayed 24 hours this year for the Saskatchewan Roughriders, evidently to allow virtually everyone to head for the hills following the disappointing end of their season.

Maybe the Roughriders are embarrassed about their season ending last Sunday with a 23-18 loss to the visiting Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the West semifinal.

There’s not much to be embarrassed about following a 12-6 regular season, but there are plenty of questions regarding the team’s ever-changing quarterback situation and its logical result — an offence that wasn’t reliable enough to make the Roughriders into Grey Cup contenders.

According to reporters invited to the intimate gathering, three players and Riders boss Chris Jones were made available by the ever-secretive organization. Garbage-bag Day is traditionally held on the day following the conclusion of a CFL team’s season while players and other members of the organization are cleaning out their lockers.

Although it’s a community-owned franchise, no CFL team enforces a p.r. policy that is less accessible or more restrictive about one-on-one media interviews and making its players, coaches and administrators accountable for what’s happening within the organization. The secrecy tends to make observers curious about what’s really going on within a franchise that has become the league’s wealthiest while being punished more than anyone else for flaunting CFL rules regarding roster restrictions and payments.

Before the start of next season the contracts of 26 Roughriders, including starting quarterback Zach Collaros and backup Brandon Bridge, are slated to expire, according to 3DownNation’s Justin Dunk.

Adding more uncertainty is the expiration of the league’s collective bargaining agreement with the CFL Players’ Association before training camps open in 2019. Already there appears to be friction because the league is adamant it won’t allow teams to pay offseason bonuses to players, who are showing union solidarity by wearing CFLPA shirts to press conferences. And there will be another league vying for the players’ services when the Alliance of American Football is scheduled to begin play in February.

It also looks like the CFL is going to implement, in addition to already capping overall players’ salaries, an administrative cap that will limit the size and payroll of each team’s coaching, scouting and support staffs. Jones, Saskatchewan’s head coach, general manager and vice-president of football operations, surrounds himself with the largest staff in the nine-team CFL and confessed during his postseason remarks that 6-7 employees won’t be back while he and others face a 10 per cent pay cut. That includes much-maligned offensive co-ordinator Stephen McAdoo, who is reportedly returning next season.

Jones has an unresolved issue at the game’s most important position, quarterback, where through his three seasons in charge he has deployed with moderate success Darian Durant, Kevin Glenn and Collaros as starters, backed up the last two years by Bridge. Collaros is reportedly paid $430,000 annually and, although the Roughriders were 10-4 in his starts, with a rebuilt offensive line and receiving corps he threw 13 interceptions and only nine touchdowns while repeatedly and unfortunately suffering a continuing series of head injuries.

Collaros was sidelined for the playoff game, leaving Bridge to ineffectively and predictably guide an unproductive offence that didn’t suit his talents.

The biggest postgame outcry came because Bridge was knocked from the game in the final seconds by a dirty, unpenalized helmet-to-helmet hit from Winnipeg’s Jackson Jeffcoat. Jeffcoast was fined for the hit. A similar hit from B.C.’s Odell Willis injured Collaros in Saskatchewan’s final regular-season game. The CFL followed both incidents by admitting on-field officials missed the penalties. Commissioner Randy Ambrosie has vowed to reduce such debilitating hits in the future.

With strong special teams and a pitiful offence, Jones still assembled a game-altering defence that remarkably scored 11 touchdowns. Led by defensive ends Willie Jefferson and CFL sack-leader Charleston Hughes, whose contributions faded down the stretch, there were also admirable performances from multi-position players Tobi Antigha and Mike Edem, linebacker Sam Eguavoen and Derrick Moncrief and defensive back Nick Marshall, who doubled as an unstoppable short-yardage quarterback.

Going from five wins to 10 to 12 during Jones’ tenure is an impressive achievement, even though the Roughriders advanced to the East final in 2017 and lasted one game shorter this season. There might be optimism in the future, or maybe pessimism, but there’s really no reason to be secretive.

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