Just when the Saskatchewan Roughriders appeared ready to wipe off the last remaining Chris Jones fingerprints from their defence, they pulled a 2017 all over again.
It was the Riders inaugural season in the glitzy new Mosaic Stadium when they first signed strong-side linebacker Derrick Moncrief, who turned in three stellar seasons for the green and white, including a 2019 all-star selection that got him a job in the NFL.
Moncrief is expected to fill the spot vacated by A.J. Hendy who walked out on the team in a dispute over playing time prior to last November’s West Semi-Final playoff win over Calgary.
Hendy had shared that spot with Canadian Godfrey Onyeka, who just recently re-upped with the Riders, for much of last season.
Within hours of the opening of CFL free agency, the Riders made it crystal clear that a remake of their linebacking group was the big splash general manager Jeremy O’Day wanted.
The poaching of Moncrief from the Edmonton Elks along with 2021 CFL leading tackler Darnell Sankey from the Stampeders at middle linebacker, makes it clear the Roughriders will have a considerably more star-studded, and much more expensive, linebacking crew then they did last season.
That doesn’t include Larry Dean who was supposed to be the Riders prized free agent linebacker pickup in 2021 before he and three others suffered season-ending torn Achilles tendon injuries before training camp even got started.
The return to Riderville for Moncrief is a curious development, particularly when considering the fact the 27-year-old former Los Angeles Ram chose the Elks over the Riders just five months ago.
One might’ve thought his connection to Jones, the new sheriff in charge of Edmonton who originally brought Moncrief to Canada in the first place, would be enough to keep Moncrief in green and gold.
Instead, it was Moncrief’s history in green and white that carried the day over his loyalty to Jones.
The re-addition of Moncrief to the green and white front seven on defence will ease the sting of the Riders losing one of their top pass rushers from 2021, Jonathan Woodard, second in CFL sacks last year only to teammate A.C. Leonard, to the NFL after signing with the Kansas City Chiefs.
It remains to be seen how two middle linebackers like Dean and Sankey fit in with Moncrief on this retooled linebacker set.
But this much is clear: when the Roughriders eased away from defensive free agent stars from last year’s team such as Ed Gainey and Loucheiz Purifoy, you just knew there was at least another defender out there who O’Day wanted more than those guys.
And one of those guys O’Day targeted, Moncrief, just so happened to be a blast from their past.