February 16, 2012

Riders get tough, sign LaBatte and Picard


REGINA — Brendon LaBatte is returning home.

The Saskatchewan native agreed to terms Wednesday with the hometown Roughriders. Contract details weren’t immediately divulged but LaBatte’s deal will reportedly pay him in the neighbourhood of $200,000 annually.

The Roughriders also announced Wednesday they had come to terms with centre Dominic Picard, another free agent who spent last season with the Toronto Argonauts.

The acquisition of the six-foot-four, 304-pound LaBatte is huge for the Roughriders, who entered free agency looking to shore up their offensive line. LaBatte, a native of Weyburn, Sask., was regarded as not only the top available lineman in free agency but the top player overall, along with Saskatchewan slotback Andy Fantuz.

Fantuz remained unsigned Thursday although the Hamilton Tiger-Cats remained in hot pursuit of the native of Chatham, Ont. With Saskatchewan investing heavily into its offensive line with LaBatte and Picard, it would seem the Ticats are solid favourites to secure Fantuz, the CFL’s outstanding Canadian in 2010 who led the league in receiving yards that season.

Edmonton and Saskatchewan were reportedly both working hard to sign LaBatte, who had spent his entire CFL career with Winnipeg after being selected in the first round, sixth overall, by the Bombers in 2008 out of the University of Regina.

LaBatte was a CFL all-star in 2011 and helped Winnipeg reach the Grey Cup. The 25-year-old has the ability to play guard or centre but prefers guard and will play there in Saskatchewan with Picard’s arrival.

Prior to the start of free agency Wednesday, the Riders released linemen Alex Gauthier and Marc Parenteau and are still awaiting word from veteran Gene Makowsky on whether he’ll return for an 18th CFL season.

The six-foot-two, 302-pound Picard spent the last three seasons with Toronto after starting his CFL career with Winnipeg in 2006. The Blue Bombers were also interested in securing his services this time around.