Saskatchewan Roughriders’ general manager Jeremy O’Day doesn’t anticipate that he will be able to upgrade the team’s offensive line ahead of Wednesday’s trade deadline.
“It’s tough to bring in really good offensive linemen this time of the year. Most of those guys are under contract, most of those guys are in NFL camps,” O’Day told the media in Regina on Tuesday.
“I think everyone thinks that there’s going to be an influx of NFL players that leave NFL training camps but the reality is there’s such a big [financial] variance of coming up on our practice roster compared to getting on a practice roster in the NFL. A lot of those guys — and we’ve talked to a lot of them — are really just waiting for another chance in the NFL and typically you get those guys in the offseason.”
The Riders have allowed a league-worst 59 sacks this season, which is almost twice as many as the league average. O’Day suggested that injuries along the offensive line are partly to blame, which is fair. Dan Clark missed 12 games at centre with a broken leg, while left tackle Terran Vaughn has missed eight games. Only one offensive linemen — veteran right guard Evan Johnson — has been available for all 15 of Saskatchewan’s games this season.
“I think in the beginning of the year we felt pretty decent coming out of training camp. Early in the season, we were having some success protecting the quarterback and also running the football but then progressively it started to get worse. The reality is we’re trying to get some continuity on the offensive line,” said O’Day.
The Hamilton Tiger-Cats traded defensive back Alden Darby to Winnipeg on Tuesday, but it appears as though O’Day expects this year’s trade deadline to be quiet, much as it often is in the CFL.
“The trade deadline’s interesting. It’s a lot different than any other league, so we don’t sit and wait for the trade deadline and then go, ‘OK, there’s a trade deadline, let’s start making trades.’ But you always understand that at a certain point you’re not going to be able to make any trades anymore,” said O’Day.
“I would say that we’ve had conversations and we’ve been in communication with other teams. I don’t think that there’s gonna be any trades that are happening for us before the deadline here, barring something that changes at the last minute.”
The Riders have lost four straight games and eight of their last ten to fall to 6-9 on the season. Expectations are always high in Riderville but especially so when the Grey Cup is being played in Regina. O’Day recognizes that the year hasn’t gone as planned, though he remains hopeful that his club will make able to make noise in the playoffs.
“I don’t need anyone to tell me that [our record is] not acceptable for the Saskatchewan Roughriders. We’ve been fortunate enough to have good teams the last number of years and put ourselves in a position where we can win a championship and we’ve gotta continue to do that,” said the third-year general manager.
“You want some adversity to happen, you don’t want as much as what we’ve faced. Hopefully, we’re growing from that and we’re learning from everything that’s gone through the season and we just really need to make the push here in the playoffs.”
Saskatchewan can finish no higher than fourth in West Division, leaving the crossover spot as their final opportunity to earn a postseason berth. The team currently sits four points ahead of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (4-10) for the third and final playoff spot in the East Division, raising the stakes of the upcoming meeting between the two teams scheduled for Friday at 7:30 p.m. EDT at Tim Hortons Field.
No team has ever qualified for the Grey Cup via the crossover, though the Riders came close to doing so in 2017 in a narrow loss to the Toronto Argonauts in the East Final. For now, O’Day is choosing to ignore history to focus instead on his team qualifying for the postseason.
“You get into the playoffs and anything can happen, so if we’re going through the East, that’s the challenge we’re accepting and we’re gonna do everything we can to get to the Grey Cup and win the Grey Cup. Our goals have not changed, we’ve gone through a lot of adversity and some tough challenges and some tough games but we’re still focused on this game against Hamilton and getting us one step closer.”