The Riders will miss Saskie offensive lineman Brendon LaBatte

At the risk of getting some of my own “huge, if true” medicine, there’s no question the Riders suffered a serious blow this week.

During a pre-season media availability, Roughriders’ general manager Jeremy O’Day announced that future Hall of Fame guard Brendon LaBatte won’t be joining the team for the 2021 season.

O’Day stated that LaBatte isn’t retiring and remains under contract for the 2022 season. Whether that’s true or not, or ends up being true, is certainly up for debate.

The Weyburn, Sask. native will turn 36 during the 2022 season and would have gone two full seasons without playing. I’m not saying LaBatte definitely won’t play again, but despite what was said by O’Day, I wouldn’t be surprised if this was it for him.

Either way, LaBatte has chosen not to play this year. In today’s world, no one can begrudge him for making such a decision. Everyone can only do what is best for themselves and their family. At this point in time, LaBatte feels it’s best to sit out another year.

What does this mean for the Riders? Well, first off, they’ve lost their longest-serving player. LaBatte joined the team ahead of the 2012 season and has been a staple along the offensive line and in the community ever since. Even from a selfish media perspective, LaBatte was always a reliable go-to interview.

He’ll be missed on all fronts.

On the field is where LaBatte will be missed the most. No offence to any of the other offensive linemen currently under contract with the Riders, but none of them are the man known as “Blue” (LaBatte, Labatt Blue, get it?).

LaBatte has played in at least 15 games in all but two of his CFL seasons. That kind of experience isn’t easily replaced. The only upside to LaBatte taking another season off is he did miss most of the 2019 season and has suffered some injuries over the years, so a little extra time could be beneficial if LaBatte ultimately returns down the road.

The Riders’ offensive line was already expecting to look very different this season with LaBatte, centre Dan Clark and left tackle Terran Vaughn as the only returning starters. Now, without LaBatte, the change will be even greater.

LaBatte’s versatility will also be missed. Whenever Clark has missed time, LaBatte often slid into that centre spot and the line didn’t miss a beat. Off-season additions Evan Johnson and Brett Boyko will now certainly have some very large shoes to fill.

How this group comes together will likely decide just how far the Riders go in 2021.

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