The good, the bad, and the dumb of the Riders’ 2023 free agency

Photo: Andrew Parry/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

The dust has more or less settled on CFL free agency and it’s time to look at the moves made by Roughriders’ general manager Jeremy O’Day.

2023 marks the first time that the team’s head of football operations has really gone on a big spending spree on the open market. The long-time team executive had previously opted for relatively quiet free-agency periods.

But after going 6-12 last year — and entering the final season on his contract — O’Day left himself with little choice but to go all-in to try and bring the team back to respectability.

We won’t know until November whether the moves work out or not. Winning the offseason more often than not doesn’t lead to a championship, but O’Day has put all his chips in the middle of the table to try and keep his job.

The Good

Nothing alters a football team quicker than making a change at the game’s most important position — quarterback.

Right or not, the Riders made the choice that they were going to move on from Cody Fajardo months ago after diminishing returns following a M.O.P.-nominated 2019 season.

Not everything that happened the last couple of seasons on offence lies at the feet of Fajardo. Only time will tell just how much was his fault and if the team was right to move on.

Whatever you may think of the move, it’s done now. And given the list of quarterbacks that ultimately hit the open market this year, the Riders did the best they could by signing former Alouettes quarterback Trevor Harris.

It seems like Harris fell into the Riders’ laps fairly late in the process as things went further off the rails in Montreal — the only other place where Harris was likely to be the Day 1 starting quarterback this season.

How many offers Harris had, we don’t know. Regardless, O’Day got the job done and upgraded the position. By how much, we’ll soon see.

I have my reservations about Harris, but he’s definitely one of the top quarterbacks in the league right now. Some of that has to do with the lacklustre overall quarterback talent in the league but anyway you slice it, the Riders should get improved play at the position in 2023.

The Bad

It’s pretty hard to nitpick any of the moves made by the green and white to date.

I have questions about whether the receiving corps will be drastically improved over last season with the additions of Jake Wieneke, Juwan Brescascin, and Shawn Bane Jr., but changes had to be made. O’Day also made some changes along the defensive and offensive lines that were required. We’ll wait and see how all of that plays out before deciding whether the right moves were made or not.

The only really bad thing that’s played out for the Riders was the situation with linebacker Darnell Sankey.

Before the opening of free agency, 3DownNation reported that Sankey turned down an offer that would have made him the second highest-paid American linebacker in the league. Sankey and his agent didn’t take kindly to the reporting but also refused to offer up their side of the story — something they claimed was lacking.

If something was off, they were welcome to share what had happened. They didn’t. So, it feels like an agent and his client were simply mad that they turned down the best offer they’d see and Sankey ultimately signing in the XFL seems to back that theory up.

At the end of the day, Sankey and his agent actually did the Riders a favour. I believe the team overspent at the position last season and may have again this year had the offer been accepted. They were saved from themselves and will have a quality tandem on the cheap in Larry Dean and Micah Teitz.

The Dumb

I’m not going to say that this is an “only in the CFL moment” but it feels close to it.

Defensive lineman Micah Johnson is returning for his third stint with the Riders after originally signing with the team in 2019 following a long run with the Calgary Stampeders.

Johnson joined the B.C. Lions in 2020 but never played on the west coast, opting to return to Saskatchewan in 2021 following the COVID-lost season. Johnson then signed with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats last season and is now back.

I guess the question is who will the defensive tackle sign with in 2024 before returning to Riderville in 2025?

Joel Gasson is a Regina-based sports writer, broadcaster and football fanatic. He is also a beer aficionado.