New year, new me: the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ 2024 New Year’s resolutions

Photo: Michael Scraper/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

It’s that time of year. The calendar turns to January and, magically, many of us decide it’s time to try and do something differently — even though we’re all quite capable of making change any time of year.

There’s just something about the new year that feels like a new beginning. Well, at least for a few weeks.

2024 is truly a new beginning for the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Even though new head coach Corey Mace was introduced at the beginning of December, how the new man in charge shapes the locker room will become evident over the next year. The salary cap is freshly cleaned, some players will soon be gone, and new ones will be coming soon.

If the Riders are to have success in 2024 and beyond, there are a couple of resolutions they’ll have to keep.

Restore the pride

There’s no question the heartbeat of the Saskatchewan Roughriders has been the fans.

Rider pride was once a big deal, not only within the province but across the country. The Rider logo was seen as regularly as a Toronto Maple Leafs or Montreal Canadiens logo at just about any sporting event held in Canada.

It’s still generally true, but there’s no question that the pride isn’t what it once was.

After reaching the pinnacle in 2013 when the franchise won its fourth Grey Cup and first ever on home soil, it’s been a slow decline. It wasn’t an overnight thing and it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what happened. The quick decline on the field did not help, but it was more than that. The connection with the community that once literally raised money to keep the team alive isn’t what it once was.

There was the Chris Jones era — where things did start to improve on the field but there was never the vibe that Jones was here to be a part of the community. He lived out of a hotel his entire tenure in Saskatchewan. Fans enjoyed the progress on the field, but the connection off of it wasn’t the same.

Jones’ departure led to Craig Dickenson and Jeremy O’Day taking over. In 2019 and 2021 spirits were briefly up but all of that quickly imploded over the last two seasons, leading to record low attendance at Mosaic Stadium.

Mace seems like the kind of coach who’s in this not only for winning games but being a part of the community. He’s saying all the right things and has thus far followed it up with action by moving to Regina and hosting a meet and greet with fans following his introduction.

It’s a good first step, but Mace is just one man. It’ll take a team effort to turn it around.

To the team’s credit, you started to see players out in the community more again last season. They’re trying to turn things around. It didn’t get to this point overnight and it won’t be restored quickly either.

Protect the quarterback

On the field, there’s one thing that’s cursed this franchise more than anything and that’s keeping the most important player on the field healthy.

For at least the last three years, the Riders’ season has gone off the rails in one form or another thanks to an injured quarterback.

In 2021 and 2022, even though Cody Fajardo never missed any significant time, he played injured and it showed. Last season, we all know what happened to Trevor Harris when he got rolled up and broke his leg, ending his year.

While Harris’ was a freak accident as opposed to Fajardo’s consistent wear and tear from taking hits all season long, both point to something the Riders have struggled to do for some time — protect the quarterback.

Yes, in Fajardo’s case, some of it was his own doing, but not all of it. And, in O’Day’s defence, he did try to change it up last year bringing in the likes of Peter Godber and Philip Blake. Sometimes, the best intentions don’t work out.

Whether it comes down to personnel changes, systematic changes, or both, the Riders simply have to solve this problem or else 2024 won’t be much better than the last few years.

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