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REGINA — Don’t expect a quarterback controversy in Riderville this off-season.
Less than a week after releasing two franchise cornerstones, the Saskatchewan Roughriders made it clear on Tuesday that Darian Durant is their man going into 2016. A day later the Riders confirmed as much by announcing a re-structured contract for Durant for 2016.
“He’s our starting quarterback,” Riders assistant VP of player personnel John Murphy told CFL.ca’s Rod Pedersen on the phone from Florida, where the Riders held two free agent tryout camps over the weekend.
“That’s his status.”
The Riders released defensive end John Chick and receiver Weston Dressler last Thursday, spurring even more speculation about the team’s roster as the off-season progresses – particularly the status of 33-year-old quarterback Durant.
But while new head coach and general manager Chris Jones is wasting no time stripping down a roster that last year won only three games, count Durant among those not going anywhere. Murphy, hired by the Riders as an assistant to Jones shortly after his arrival, reiterated as much.
“The most important thing for us is that he’s on a great path,” said Murphy, now in his 12th CFL season after also spending time with Winnipeg and Calgary in various front office roles. “He’s been between Toronto with his family and with his girlfriend and down in Atlanta rehabbing.
“He’s on a great course and he even thinks he’s ahead of schedule. At times we’ve had conversations about slowing down a little and making sure that he’s delicate with the rehab.”
Durant is coming off two injury-shortened seasons in a row, his 2014 season ending during a Banjo Bowl win over the Bombers when he suffered an elbow injury on his throwing arm. The Riders were 8-2 at that point but won only two more games since Durant left, finishing the season 10-8 before losing in the Western Semi-Final.
A more devastating injury was suffered the next time Durant took the field, the Riders’ season-opener against Winnipeg in 2015, when he sustained a torn left Achilles tendon late in the first half. The Riders went on to lose that game while the injury set the tone for a 3-15 season and an eventual housecleaning.
While some fans believe the quarterback position should be part of the transformation in Riderville, others began last week sweating the idea that Durant could be on his way out. For a team that’s gone 5-21 in Durant’s absence the last two years, CFL.ca’s Jamie Nye says retaining him as the starter is a no-brainer for the Green and White.
There is no way I’d be willing to part ways with Durant,” Nye wrote on his blog at News Talk 980 CJME. “None.
“Durant is going to come into this season highly motivated and on a contract year,” he added. “He’s going to have to play all-star quality football. Durant is one of the all-time greatest competitors on the Roughriders roster.
“When the chips are down, he’s the one you want with the football. See the 2013 Western Semi-Final.”
That doesn’t mean there won’t still be difficult decisions at the position. Durant did re-structure his contract, but still won’t be under contract beyond 2016. Meanwhile, two proven pivots in Travis Lulay and Trevor Harris could be available as free agents on Feb. 9.
What we know is that as of now, the Riders have no intention of starting anyone at quarterback other than Durant.
“There’s no truth to any of the suggestions that Darian Durant’s going to be doing anything other than playing quarterback for us this season,” Murphy told Pedersen.