Darian Durant regrets not taking pay cut to finish CFL career with Saskatchewan Roughriders

Photo: AP/Jeff McIntosh

If he had access to the DeLorean from Back to the Future, it appears Darian Durant would immediately hop inside and travel to Jan. 5, 2017 when he and the Saskatchewan Roughriders were at an impasse in contract negotiations.

“In hindsight, I would have taken the pay cut and stayed in Saskatchewan. When you’re in the moment, your competitive drive is what fuels you and you feel like you should be compensated as such, and that’s how I felt at the time,” Durant told the media via videoconference on Wednesday.

“I just want to be transparent: I was offered a contract from (then-head coach and general manager) Chris Jones and the staff and it was me who turned it down. So, looking back, of course I would have loved to finish my career and been able to stay with the Riders my entire career.”

Durant was a pending free agent after the 2016 season, Jones’ first in Regina. The veteran quarterback had just thrown for 3,839 yards, 14 touchdowns, and seven interceptions over 15 regular season games as the team finished last in the West Division at 5-13.

The native of Florence, S.C. was reportedly offered between $300,000 and $400,000 to sign an extension with the Roughriders, a significant cut from the $450,000 he earned the previous season, which had already been negotiated down from $500,000.

Durant rejected the deal and his rights were traded to the Montreal Alouettes the following week, where he signed a new three-year contract. He threw for 3,233 yards, 15 touchdowns, and 16 interceptions in his only season with the Alouettes as he was released on Jan. 15, 2018 ahead of an off-season roster bonus. He never played another CFL game.

The relationship between Durant and the Roughriders — one that spanned 11 seasons, four Grey Cup appearances, and two CFL championships — had come to a messy conclusion. There was no elaborate press tour after he retired and Durant didn’t return to Regina until 2023 when Saskatchewan’s 2013 Grey Cup team was inducted into the Plaza of Honour.

Many of his teammates from that era had already been inducted individually, including Kerry Joseph, Wes Cates, Weston Dressler, Chris Getzlaf, Andy Fantuz, Neal Hughes, and Mike McCullough. The absence of Durant’s name was glaringly conspicuous.

Nowadays, things have changed. The 41-year-old has started making regular appearances on local radio while splitting his time between Toronto, where his family lives, and Atlanta, where he owns a business. He plans to return to Regina twice this year — once for the Plaza of Honour induction alongside Ray Shivers and Steve Molnar on Oct. 12 and once for the annual Labour Day Classic.

“We all know that things didn’t end in the way that I would have liked it to but as time goes on, you mature and you realize that it happens to everyone — even the best of them, you name them — their time comes to an end. Very, very few guys get to finish their career with the team they started with, so of course I was a little upset about that, that’s just naturally the competitor in me,” said Durant.

“It just made sense to basically come back home, so to speak, and enjoy this next phase of my life as an alumni. Saskatchewan has been so good to me and my family and it just makes perfect sense for me to come back home and rekindle that relationship because it was long overdue.”

As for his love of the game, Durant hasn’t ruled out a return to professional football, albeit not as a coach.

“I would love to get back involved — not in coaching, though. I think coaching is tough. You lose your quarterback and you can lose your job. I don’t want to get involved with that,” said Durant. “I think I’d be a great scout, I can evaluate talent. I’d like to work my way up to some sort of front office position at some point, but I think as far as evaluating talent, I think that’s something I’d be really good at.”

The Saskatchewan Roughriders (1-0) will visit the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (0-1) at Tim Hortons Field on Sunday, June 16 with kickoff slated for 7:00 p.m. EDT.

John Hodge is a Canadian football reporter based in Winnipeg.