History says the Riders are justified in contract standoff with Charleston Hughes

Photo courtesy: Hannah Souster

Jeremy O’Day won’t make any friends in Riderville cheaping out on one of the team’s star players.

Saskatchewan’s general manager needn’t look back any further than the 2016 off-season when then-GM Chris Jones cut fan favorites John Chick and Weston Dressler over their refusal to accept steep salary cuts.

If that isn’t enough, O’Day might remember a year later when Jones’ unwillingness to pay Darian Durant what the quarterback and his agent wanted resulted in a trade to Montreal. The move disappointed many in Rider Nation who were uneasy about choosing between Kevin Glenn and overweight/overhyped/over-the-hill Vince Young to open the new stadium in Regina.

Then again, Chris Jones wasn’t paid the big bucks to run the Riders to make nice with the fans and neither is Jeremy O’Day.

Although Saskatchewan’s current boss gives off a much warmer and fuzzier vibe than his predecessor, there’s a few other reasons why he would be better off not offering the $200,000-plus salary it would take to match Edmonton’s Kwaku Boateng and Winnipeg’s Willie Jefferson as the league’s highest-paid defensive players.

Hughes is now 37 years old. Not only is he seven years older than Jefferson and twelve years older than Boateng, but there is also precedence for older star players who’ve been away from the game for a full season underperforming.

The lockout that wiped out the 2004-05 NHL season offered up plenty of examples for athletes in the same predicament following the cancellation of the 2020 CFL season.

Scott Stevens, who intended to play post-lockout at age 41, ended up quitting instead.

Brett Hull, also 41 at the time, made it a little further in wearing his dad’s No. 9 for the
Phoenix Coyotes but that only lasted five games before realizing he was too out of shape from the year off to carry on.

34-year-old Jeremy Roenick had the second-highest point-per-game production on a Philadelphia Flyers team that made it to within one game of the Stanley Cup finals going into the lockout. His numbers plummeted in half the year after.

See a pattern?

It’s a different sport, I know. But it offers as much of a precedence as exists anywhere for the current situation in which the CFL finds itself: a year off and how it impacts older players.

For a more direct comparison, consider Reggie White coming out of retirement to play with the Carolina Panthers in 2000 at the age of 38. The 13-time Pro Bowl selection was a shadow of his former self, making just 5.5 sacks two years after recording 16 with the Green Bay Packers.

For me, the point was driven home by my experience covering Detroit Red Wings games at Joe Louis Arena on a limited basis in that 2005-06 season.

Steve Yzerman had hobbled around on a wonky knee for years but never did his ability to perform fall off a cliff like it did the year after the lockout. The debate morphed from, “Will it be the last year for Stevie Y?” to “Will Stevie Y even make it through the season?”

It was a dreadful swan song for Detroit’s most iconic superstar from the past 50 years and he himself admitted the year off hadn’t done him, his knee or any other player near the end of their career any good.

And therein lies the rub with Charleston Hughes.

It is believed the Saskatchewan Roughriders are about $40,000 apart in negotiations with their star defensive lineman who wants to be among the highest-paid defensive players in the Canadian Football League.

He wants it, he deserves it and by golly, Charleston Hughes just might get the payday he wants.

But it’s looking less and less likely that he’ll get it in Saskatchewan.

If you’re the Riders and you’ve done your homework on this, you can live with that.

Even if the melon heads can’t.

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