The world was a very different place on January 13, 2017.
Donald Trump was about to be sworn in as President of the United States, there was no such thing as COVID-19, and the CFL knew for certain it would play its upcoming season.
It was the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ first year under in the brand-spanking-new Mosaic Stadium.
Then-head coach and general manager Chris Jones was still remaking the Riders his way and a year removed from his bombshell cuts of fan favorites John Chick and Weston Dressler. Jones had already made it clear he wasn’t afraid to make enemies with popular Rider legends.
The Roughriders’ success at the time appeared tied to its star quarterback, Darian Durant.
Durant was just the fourth quarterback to lead Saskatchewan to a Grey Cup championship in the 100-plus-year history of the organization. It was followed by an 8-2 start the very next season.
The Green and White sputtered mightily after Durant suffered his first serious injury — a torn tendon in his right throwing elbow — during the 2014 Banjo Bowl. The Riders’ record over the next two and a half seasons was a putrid 9-36, which was largely due to Durant’s oft-injured status.
The quarterback appeared healthy and ready to roll coming out of 2016. He took part in the stadium closing ceremony for old Taylor Field and declared he would not set foot in new Mosaic Stadium until he had a lucrative new contract in hand.
Durant and his agent appeared to command a lot of leverage for a brand still in need of a recharge in order to stay strong through the opening of its new play-pen down the street. Particularly at a time when the local economy had begun to show signs of slowing down.
Jones, however, had other ideas.
After infamously referring to Durant as ‘moderately successful,’ it was Jones who struck first, one month prior to his star quarterback’s pending free agency by trading his negotiating rights to the Montreal Alouettes for a couple of draft picks.
At the time, it appeared not only to be a slap in the face to the carrier of the franchise, but even treasonous to Rider Nation. Saskatchewan football fans would have to open their stadium without, arguably, its most iconic quarterback since Ronnie Lancaster.
Durant would quickly sign a handsome new deal with Montreal, reported to be in the range of $450,000 per season. It was believed to be $50,000 more than what the Riders had offered him.
The Alouettes appeared to have found their new franchise pivot. New GM Kavis Reed prepared to put his stamp down on Quebec’s most storied football brand.
Two teams in the same spot — the Roughriders and Alouettes — were taking different directions to dig themselves out of the ditch.
For Saskatchewan, the consolation prize ended up being career journeyman Kevin Glenn to duke it out with washed-up Rose Bowl sensation Vince Young. The options did little to excite anyone about Canada’s Team.
Predictably, Young was out of shape and didn’t make it out of training camp. Funny how that happens after going five years without a regular season appearance.
But, after a shaky 2-4 start and a minor quarterback controversy with Brandon Bridge along the way, Glenn would spearhead the club to a 10-8 turnaround season, capped by a playoff win in Ottawa, of all places.
Most of the credit went to a young Jones-built defence that, in its second year, was feeling its oats. But none of it would’ve happened without Glenn’s steady hand. He was, in every sense of the term, the Riders’ unsung hero.
The success of the team in 2017 made the 306 forget all about Durant in a real hurry.
A few more quarterbacks have churned through the new park ever since, but the Riders have steadily improved since that first Durant-less season.
The Alouettes, meanwhile, limped to an abysmal 3-15 season and Durant looked downright awful. He eventually set foot in new Mosaic Stadium as an Alouette spectator watching his new Montreal teammates lose to his old Saskatchewan teammates in the second-last week of the regular season.
Meanwhile, within a year of rolling him out at a press conference, the Als’ prized new leader was gone. Durant would never play again.
On the surface, determining who won this trade is a no-brainer.
Reviewing the players who Saskatchewan got in return is nothing more than a fun exercise on a slow CFL news day — we’ve had a lot of those lately.
With the fourth-round pick in 2017 received from the Alouettes, the Riders drafted offensive lineman Eddie Meredith from the Western University Mustangs. He was a gamble, at best, as he had stepped away from the game a year earlier and never played a down for Saskatchewan.
The second-round pick in 2018 received from Montreal in the Durant trade ended up with Edmonton who used it to select Wilfrid Laurier defensive back Godfrey Onyeka. He’s started a few games at field-side corner while contributing primarily on special teams.
For both teams, the return on investment turned out to be negligible. A blockbuster trade that turned out to be hardly impactful at all.
The Riders won this deal based on the direction they took, rather than the results of the transaction itself. The real winner will be determined by who wins the next Grey Cup — Saskatchewan or Montreal.
And, for that, we’re still waiting.