What releasing Zack Evans means for the Saskatchewan Roughriders

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/CFLPhotoArchive.com

The Saskatchewan Roughriders released defensive tackle Zack Evans on Friday, parting ways with the fan favourite and eight-year CFL veteran.

The Regina native was set to make $210,000 in 2021 with a $50,000 roster bonus slated for January 5. With the CFL looking to reduce spending however it can, it’s unlikely that many non-quarterbacks will be making more than $200,000 per season for the foreseeable future.

Several players around the league have already agreed to restructure their contracts to more cap-friendly figures for 2021. Vernon Adams Jr., Tony Washington, and Eugene Lewis all took less in Montreal, for example, to help keep the nucleus of that team together.

The Riders could have restructured Evans’ contract, reducing his pay while keeping him on the roster. That didn’t happen, which is telling.

The six-foot-four, 295-pound lineman recorded 79 tackles, 21 sacks, and an interception over four years with the Ottawa Redblacks, earning an East Division all-star nod in 2016.

Those numbers dropped off significantly after Evans signed with the Riders in 2018. He made just 20 total tackles, two sacks, and one forced fumble over two seasons, missing seven games this past season due to injury.

Makana Henry took over the starting role in Week 9 of the 2019 season, recording 26 tackles and three sacks in 18 games. The 33-year-old outperformed Evans and did so making significantly less money — around $75,000.

Saskatchewan was consistent with its approach to the ratio in 2019. The Riders started three nationals along the offensive line in each game, plus one receiver, one defensive tackle, one linebacker, and one safety.

Defensive tackle Charbel Dabire started one game as a rookie in 2019 and outperformed expectations, making seven total tackles and one sack. Provided the Riders can re-sign the former fifth-round pick, Dabire and Henry should allow the team to continue starting a Canadian defensive tackle even without Evans.

Safety Mike Edem recently re-signed with the team, while young targets Justin McInnis, Brayden Lenius-Dickey, Mitchell Picton, and Kian Schaffer-Baker should ensure that the club can always start one Canadian receiver.

There’s work to be done to shore up national depth along the offensive line and at linebacker — Cam Judge, the West Division’s reigning Most Outstanding Canadian, remains a pending free agent — but cutting Evans shouldn’t hurt the team’s ability to meet the ratio in 2021.

The upcoming CFL draft is not very deep along the defensive line if Saskatchewan decides to address the position.

Mohamed Diallo out of Central Michigan is the top defensive tackle available, though he may elect to play another year of college. Austin Fordham-Miller is the top U Sports defensive tackle available and should be available as a mid-round selection if the Riders want to bolster their depth behind Henry and Dabire.

As much as fans hate to see local players let go, releasing Evans was a pertinent move for Saskatchewan as the team looks to get younger and more affordable moving into 2021.

John Hodge is a Canadian football reporter based in Winnipeg.