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Steinberg’s MMQB: You can’t help but feel for Henry

THE CANADIAN PRESS

Back with another weekly edition of Monday Morning Quarterback, CFL.ca’s Pat Steinberg talks about a tough situation for Henry Burris; the wild week that was in CFL free agency; and when it’s the right time to step away from the game.

Last week’s Monday Morning Quarterback finished with a thought on recently retired Riders linebacker Shea Emry and how it was the right time for him to step away. What about the other side of that coin, though? For some that drive to prolong a career is tough to shut off even when opportunity isn’t as abundant as in the past. We explore that this week with a three-time Grey Cup champ but we kick things off with what was a wild first week of free agency.

What a start

The start of 2016 free agency was as exciting and eventful as we all had hoped. Yeah, we had some surprises with players changing teams, but there were also some notable players who stayed put. I’ve put together my top three stories from the first week of free agency.

1. Once again, I feel really bad for Henry Burris.

I totally understand that one of the central themes of pro football is replacing veterans with players who are younger and better. Yet, I still can’t help but feel for Burris.

Let’s go through the timeline really quickly here: At the end of the 2011 season, Calgary decided to move on and give the ball to Drew Tate. Fair enough, it was probably time for the Stamps to make that call. So, Burris gets moved to Hamilton where he has two really good seasons capped by a trip to the Grey Cup in 2013. Almost immediately following that, though, the Tiger-Cats acquired Zach Collaros and moved Burris to Ottawa.

With the REDBLACKS, Burris suffered through a tough inaugural season but had an MOP season in 2015 and led a second year team back to the Grey Cup. And once again, he’s got company at quarterback. Ottawa signed Trevor Harris on day one of free agency, which makes things slightly unclear for Burris again.

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Now, don’t get me wrong, because I get the move. Burris is 41 while Harris turns 30 in May. On top of that, the latter looks like he has the chops to be a legitimate number one in this league. I think Ottawa might very well have its succession plan in place, and it looks like a pretty good plan at that. But I still feel bad for Hank.

2. I like what the Hamilton Tiger-Cats have done this off-season.

First off, they took care of their biggest priority and re-upped with defensive tackle Ted Laurent. He was number one on my list of potential free agents and Hamilton paid up to keep him in the fold.

Laurent’s return makes the Ticats’ earlier signing of John Chick look a whole lot better, too. Chick had 11 sacks with the Riders last year and had nothing close to the type of interior presence Laurent brings each and every snap. I wouldn’t be surprised to see an even more impressive sack total for Chick in Black and Yellow.

The addition of Chad Owens is interesting and I’m curious to see how he and Collaros work together having spent time together in Toronto a few seasons ago. I won’t lie, it was strange seeing Owens don Ticats colours after so long in double blue, but I like the fit with his new offence.

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With Andy Fantuz coming back too, Hamilton has a few really solid veteran receivers who can set the table for Luke Tasker. Let’s not forget that Tasker’s yardage totals likely would have been right up there with the likes of Eric Rogers and Adarius Bowman had he played an entire season. This remains a very good offence.

There’s only one thing I don’t like about the start of free agency for Hamilton and that’s the loss of Justin Medlock. The CFL’s best kicker is now a member of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and he’s going to be extremely difficult to replace. The Tiger-Cats don’t get home field in the playoffs without him, and we all remember what he did in the Eastern Semi-Final versus Toronto.

3. I don’t think anyone was surprised to see the Winnipeg Blue Bombers make a number of splashes in free agency, because they needed to.

But the one big difference between their active off-season and the one we just talked about in Hamilton comes down to one word: foundation.

The Tiger-Cats have a solid and proven foundation and they’ve added to in in free agency. Winnipeg isn’t standing on the same type of solid ground, which makes the Bombers’ multiple big forays into free agency a little riskier.

I’m not saying the additions of guys like Andrew Harris, Ryan Smith, Justin Medlock, Jeff Keeping, and Keith Shologan won’t make a positive impact. But to win in this league, you also have to build properly from within. Pulling no punches, that has been Winnipeg’s largest issue over the last number of years.

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GM Kyle Walters has hit some potential free agent home runs so far, I’ll agree. But for those signings to really fly out of the park, the Bombers have to keep building up their home-grown core. If that foundation can start to get stronger, these recent additions will really have a chance to succeed.

An individual choice

“I love to compete. If I didn’t feel that I could compete at the highest level on game day, when I look in the mirror, I would retire. But I can’t [say that].”

Those words came from veteran long snapper Randy Chevrier this past week. Joining my partner and I for a few hours on Sportsnet 960, the long-time Stampeder talked about his wide open future. Calgary informed Chevrier last week the Stamps would be going in a different direction after 11 years with the team. That leaves the three-time Grey Cup champion without a team for the 2016 season and with a very uncertain future.

But that doesn’t mean Chevrier is ready to retire.

It’s funny, because at 39, one could say the writing is on the wall for the Montreal product. On that same token, though, Emry seemed to have so much still in front of him at the age of 29, yet chose to step away. Just like every situation is different, every player is different, too. Emry wasn’t wrong to retire when he did, and Chevrier isn’t wrong to keep pushing for work this season.

For Chevrier, it all comes down to mindset.

“The fact that I don’t have a contract or a job waiting for me at the end of the tunnel is no different than it’s been every year,” Chevrier told me on Wednesday.

Whether it be his time in the NFL with Jacksonville, Dallas, and Cincinnati, or his time with the Eskimos and Stampeders, Chevrier has always felt one step away from uncertainty. So now that it’s here, he’s more than prepared for it.

The fact that I don’t have a contract or a job waiting for me at the end of the tunnel is no different than it’s been every year.

As I said earlier, every player is different. Because Chevrier has always been pragmatic about his job security, being in this spot now is a whole lot easier to deal with. And yet, that drive to compete isn’t going anywhere, at least for the time being. So why should he have to ignore that urge? If he’s at peace with his situation mentally, who are we to say it’s time to retire?

“The football player in me…that guy is a little upset that he’s not playing,” Chevrier said. “But there’s so much to me that makes up who I am.

“There’s many facets of me that are saying you’re going to be okay.

“And if that football guy never gets to get out of the box, don’t worry, [I’ve] got other boxes to open up.”

Chevrier has been preparing for life after football for quite some time. He’s been in the queue with the Calgary Fire Department since 2014. He does teaching work in the off-season and is an established anti-bullying advocate.

THE CANADIAN PRESS

Maybe his cell phone doesn’t ring come May when training camps open across the league. And perhaps Chevrier is without a job in football when the regular season kicks off in late June. He’s prepared for that, but he’s also prepared to pounce if an opportunity does present itself.

Chevrier is training as hard, if not harder, as he ever has in an offseason. He’s coming off a season where he won the job as long snapper on merit out of training camp. He was the starter all season and feels fully capable to be in that role once again.

“[Let’s say] come October or November, a team calls me and says they need me to play,” said Chevrier. “If I have the ability because I’m still good at what I do, and I love to compete, and I’m good and I can compete, why wouldn’t you?”

Put yourself in his shoes and try and answer that question. I don’t know why I wouldn’t.