Riders’ brass undecided about Duke Williams’ future in Saskatchewan

Photo Courtesy: Ingrid Bulmer/ rattleboxmultimedia.ca/3DownNation. All right reserved.

The Saskatchewan Roughriders have yet to make a decision regarding Duke Williams’ future with the team.

The pending free agent receiver was never far from the headlines in 2022 but had a disappointing first full season with the Riders. Williams caught 29 passes for 480 yards and four touchdowns while being limited to just eight games due to injury.

“We’re still having conversations on a couple of our players on whether we’ll offer them back or not,” Riders’ general manager Jeremy O’Day told 3DownNation‘s Justin Dunk earlier this week.

“I know it’s a tough situation for Duke. People don’t know that he was injured very early in the season and was really fighting through some nagging injuries until he had the ankle that really caused him to kind of shut it down.”

A highly coveted NFL cut, Williams arrived in Regina at the end of the 2021 season and played in the final four games, recording 17 receptions for 285 yards and a touchdown, while recovering three onside kicks. He added nine catches for 163 yards and a major in the team’s two playoff games but faced allegations of spitting and eye-gouging from opponents.

The team re-signed Williams ahead of free agency on a deal worth $255,000 in hard money, but the six-foot-three, 225-pound pass catcher failed to live up to expectations. In addition to his myriad of injuries, the 29-year-old was suspended one game for throwing his helmet at an opponent before the Touchdown Atlantic game, was once again accused of spitting, and was flagged for a personal foul while watching a game in street clothes.

The circus surrounding those high-profile incidents, his lacklustre production and offseason ankle surgery have led some to question whether retaining Williams would be a wise decision. That’s a dilemma that the Riders also face internally.

“It’s always tough when you sign a big contract. It’s obviously well-publicized, the contract and the numbers, and from a fan perspective or a media perspective and even our perspective, when you put a big contract at the end of the year everyone wants to look was the contract valued?” O’Day admitted.

“It’s just the nature of it. I think a lot of players are rewarded for the year before and sometimes you’ll see guys that take a step back because they didn’t have the year they wanted.”

Williams began his CFL career in Edmonton in 2017, catching 46 passes for 715 yards and four touchdowns in 13 games. The Auburn product posted 88 receptions for a league-leading 1,579 yards and 11 touchdowns the next year, landing him a contract with the Buffalo Bills. He spent three years in Western New York with the NFL team, recording 12 receptions for 166 yards and one touchdown.

Riders’ head coach Craig Dickenson revealed in an interview with 3DownNation that he has not recently talked to Williams, but that the receiver’s prior production would continue to play a role in the organization’s decisions.

“When he’s healthy, he’s shown he can be, if not the top guy in the league, one of the top guys in the league,” Dickenson insisted. “We’ll see where it goes. That’s a decision Jeremy and I will have to make.”

CFL free agency is scheduled to open on Tuesday, February 14 at noon EST.

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.