Roughriders 2021 Grey Cup hopes are LaBatte-less Blue

Photo courtesy: Saskatchewan Roughriders

Saskatchewan Roughrider fans are missing LaBatte.

Not the Labatt beverage kind. They have Pil Country in the south end zone of Mosaic Stadium for that.

But rather the assurance that quarterback Cody Fajardo has what he needs in front of him to crank out that long-awaited shoot-out at the O.K. Corral. The Riders will inevitably need that to win in order to get to the promised land of Hamilton for the 2021 Grey Cup.

We’re talking about Brendon LaBatte.

The six-time Canadian all-star offensive lineman who is still young enough at age 35 to help the Riders and their banged up o-line. However, he’s sitting at home after opting out of the season due to COVID restrictions and not wanting to accept a reduced salary for a shortened schedule.

Starting centre Dan Clark, another Saskatchewan native just two years younger than LaBatte who was left to effectively anchor the offensive line with the departure of LaBatte, is playing on a bum ankle.

Not only that, but the play of the big men up front has been hit and miss ever since suffering back-to-back losses to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers back in early September.

Let’s not forget the Bombers are a team the Riders will need to solve in the West Final, should Saskatchewan get that far.

Considering the injury challenges facing Clark and sometimes shoddy play from the offensive line, especially the night in Montreal two weeks ago when Fajardo hit the turf six times, it would make the sound of LaBatte returning to Mosaic Stadium music to melon head ears.

The COVID restrictions this late in the season shouldn’t hamper LaBatte’s family life as much as it would’ve back when he objected to playing the whole year back in the summer. Playing for a prorated salary might not look so bad to him if he’s only doing it for a week before the playoffs.

Despite the undeniable evidence for both sides suggesting this should totally happen, head coach Craig Dickenson doesn’t see much likelihood of the Rider front office reaching out to LaBatte about a late season reunion.

“Not really,” Dickenson said. “Brendon knows that we’re playing games and he knows he’s still got his jersey here and it’s waiting for him if he wants to come back but he’s got to initiate those calls.”

LaBatte, who signed a contract extension after the scrapped-due-to-COVID season of 2020, is under contract through 2022 and hasn’t ruled out a return next year, especially since the Grey Cup will be played in Regina. But still, Dickenson is skeptical.

“I don’t know if he’s even been working out. He may have shut the door on football for all I know. We have talked to him but more in lines of: ‘How you doin’?’ And that.”

“I don’t think LaBatte’s the saviour here, to be quite honest. You can print that and he’ll be ticked off to hear that. We need more than just one good Canadian to come in and solidify that offensive line,” Dickenson explained.

“If he came in ready and in shape and with his mindset of playing football, he’d be a darn good football player but I really believe he’s at that point where he’s had a good career and he’s ready to move on to the next thing and I wish him all the best.”

“He’s a good friend of mine and I’ve got a ton of respect for him but that call has not been made and I don’t think he’s going to walk through that door anytime soon.”

Should the situation not resolve itself in the near future, there’s a better chance Dickenson and general manager Jeremy O’Day would juggle the import ratio in order to add a second American offensive lineman to go along with left tackle Andrew Lauderdale who struggled badly in Montreal.

“Yup, we would. We feel like we’ve got enough good Canadian receivers that we could dress an extra one and play another American up front — absolutely,” Dickenson said.

Rider fans will have to find their LaBatte fix elsewhere in beer stores and bars over the next month because they won’t likely find it on the football field.

Brendan McGuire has covered the CFL since 2006 in radio and print. Based in Regina, he has a front-row view of Rider Nation.