Or, “What in God’s name is Chris Jones doing to the Saskatchewan Roughriders?”
Ninety per cent of Saskatchewanians were saying the above quote just this past week with the sudden (and shocking) releases of the squad’s two most prominent players in John Chick and Weston Dressler. You said it, I said it, fans of other teams in the league laughed and mocked the Riders, but at the same time, the harsh truth quickly did set in. Chris Jones made the right decision.
Dressler and Chick were old by football standards, at 30 and 33 respectively, and their best days can be seen in the mystical rear view mirror that sports writers always look into. But, it just all seems so backwards. Fans were cheering in the streets when we got these guys back from their shot at the NFL, and it just did not seem to be real when they were let go by the new regime that Chris Jones brought in. We still have 2013 to look back on and smile; 2007, too, when you consider Chick’s longevity with the team, but unfortunately those days are over.
This is Chris Jones’ team. Not Brendan Taman’s, not Ken Miller’s, not Eric Tillman’s, this is Chris Jones’ ride, and he’s going to do what he believes will bring a championship to the Roughriders organization. It will take a while to get used to, getting away from the mediocrity that we have accepted after the Riders went all in in 2013. No one saw past that season, no one really cared.
With every team in professional sports, it always comes down to championships. In other leagues such as the NHL, NFL and NBA, once a team wins a championship, that usually buys them a few years of mediocrity, but judging on the size and the passion that comes with this franchise, mediocrity is not accepted.
The Riders fan base is the most unique in professional sports. From the four months (if we’re lucky) of good weather, to the small market business sense that makes no sense in Riderville, the true passion runs through every Rider fan’s blood. That’s why this decision to release these two elite players came as a shock to everyone and their dog last week. But, at the same time, we have to wonder if this is the end of the overhaul that Mr. Jones is creating in Riderville.
Guess what, it isn’t.
As shitty as it is, Rider fans, your Darian Durant jerseys will be collectibles soon. To think that they won’t be is bizarre. When you take into account that Chick and Dressler were let go because of their salaries, Darian is the next to go. He’s presumably healthy, but at the same time, do you gamble with a guy like that? Coming off a ruptured Achilles and a completely destroyed throwing arm, the cards are not in Durant’s favour. In all honesty, I’m shocked that Darian has been kept on payroll to this point. He is the highest paid guy on the Rider roster and will be until they decide that it’s too much of a risk putting this man back on the field.
All of a sudden we come to this thinking it isn’t even a matter of if Darian is going to be as good when he comes back. He won’t be. The bigger question is if he will even get the opportunity to take another snap in the Canadian Football League. It’s a scary thought, considering how Darian went down. He was at the peak of his playing days, but two years away from football is a lot, especially considering how the landscape of the league has changed within these two years.
Anyways, enough of the negatives, on to the positives – because there are positives coming out of this! First off, the shock that first came down in Riderville has subsided; we are all still here and breathing, so kudos to all of Rider Nation. Second off, new players are here to fill those gaping holes in the Rider roster. Shawn Lemon and (hoping they re-sign him) Ryan Smith are the new “guys” in town, presumably. In theory, Smith was better than Dressler last season, Lemon is younger than Chick and, in essence, is a better fit for Chris Jones. This team is getting better, a culture change has begun and as hard as it sounds, it had to happen. This was inevitable from the beginning and the Riders will continue on with their every day operations. This is just the beginning. This team is going to look like the Ottawa Redblacks of their inaugural season when we kick off in just a few months time.
This is an interesting position to be taking, but after the instant burn of losing Chick and Dressler, the light went off in everyone’s heads and we are now looking at another unique situation, players want to play for Chris Jones. No disrespect to other coaches in the league along with Corey Chamblin, but players are going to flock to Saskatchewan once free agency begins, which is where it gets interesting.
If Jones can pull it off, he could create an almost championship-ready team within his first season with the reigns in Saskatchewan. It’s interesting to think about, but at the same time, I know diehard Rider fans will struggle not seeing #7 and #97 on the field next season.
But, if Jones can take this team to the Grey Cup next season, will any of us in Riderville really be complaining?