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February 27, 2014

Pedersen: Off-season exodus not a concern for Riders

CFL.ca

A comment by the maintenance man in the hallways of CKRM Radio caught me off-guard this week.

We brushed shoulders one sunny, cold, morning a few days back and as he passed, he smiled and said, “Did anyone leave the Riders today?”

It caught me off-guard because I hadn’t really thought of this off-season exodus as a daily occurrence, but you can’t blame the guy for asking the question.

Bye bye Butler

He had some options, including that of staying with the only CFL team he’s ever played for, but Canadian linebacker Craig Butler ultimately decided to sign with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

With Tuesday evening’s news that kick returner/running back Jock Sanders signed with the Calgary Stampeders, that brings – by my count – the total number of players and coaches departing the Roughriders this winter to 19.

Yes folks, it’s an epidemic.  Although, not everyone left by choice.

Keith Shologan, Zack Evans and James Lee were claimed in the Ottawa Expansion Draft, Drew Willy was traded to Winnipeg and a handful of pending free agents weren’t offered contracts and signed elsewhere. That’s just to name a few.

Still, the 2014 version of the Saskatchewan Roughriders won’t resemble the 2013 Grey Cup championship team a great deal.  With offensive stars Weston Dressler and Kory Sheets jumping to the NFL and many of their past teammates now suiting up for other CFL teams, last year’s magical campaign is becoming a distant memory.

And no one within the walls of Mosaic Stadium seems that surprised by it.

“In this business you’re going to lose players each and every year no matter how good or bad you play,” shrugged Rider slotback Geroy Simon on CKRM this week. 

“But when you have a good team like we had last year, people are going to try to cherry pick as many players from your team as they can.  They’re trying to bring the same magic that you had, to their team.

“You kind of understand it but you hope that guys can see the value in sticking with the team that they were with because sometimes it’s not as good as you think it is playing for someone else.”

Those players are about to find out. Truthfully, it’s stunning to me that there’s been such a fire drill to the province’s exits.  It seems that in just about every scenario, players have left for better opportunities (i.e., more money and the promise of more playing time). 

Dressler Departs

A fan favourite, Weston Dressler’s days as a Roughriders are over, for now, as the team released the receiver to allow him to pursue an opportunity in the NFL.

I suppose you can’t blame them for that but it’s still hard to understand what they wouldn’t want to stay in the heartland of the league and try to repeat the title.

The late-season quote from Rider defensive end Ricky Foley about signing as a free agent last year will always ring in my ears.  “If I’d have known what it was like to play here, I would have signed here a long time ago!” Foley smiled.

And, he’s not going anywhere. At least, not any time soon.  But almost half the team has bolted!

Because it’s the off-season I haven’t spent a great deal of time in the team’s offices but in pretty much every case in which I’ve spoken with team personnel and closely-associated alumni, they shrug their shoulders and say “We saw it coming”.

It’s true, they did.  With 19 free agents coming out of the 2013 season you had to know it would be virtually impossible to keep them all.  And then when you consider the club won the championship, you knew everyone would be coming to GM Brendan Taman looking for a raise in 2014.  That includes not only the free agents, but a few others who are under contract but felt they deserve more dough.

Coaches Khari Jones and Johnny Holland both bolted for the BC Lions but in each case it was for a more-elevated role and likely more money as well.

Roughrider President Jim Hopson said on CKRM a few weeks back that it can be considered a compliment that other teams are recognizing the Riders’ success.

That truly is finding a silver lining!  It’s frustrating no doubt, and perhaps even a little scary.

But the Riders are still the defending champions and will be on the top of the mountain until the trophy gets handed to someone else.  And you can take some solace in the words of CFL Coach of the Year Corey Chamblin when asked about the exodus and the team’s chances in 2014.

“We’ll still be good,” Chamblin smiled.

Right now we have no choice but to trust him.