Nye: 5 burning off-season questions for the Riders

The sight of Cody Fajardo‘s final pass of 2019 ringing off the crossbar will be a sight the team and the fans won’t soon forget.

Football operations brass will move on a lot quicker than players, of course.

General Manager Jeremy O’Day, Assistant GM Paul Jones and Head Coach Craig Dickenson will start putting together their plan next week on how to attack a season that will see the team host the 2020 Grey Cup.

Six years ago, the team delivered the biggest moment in Rider history as the team won the Grey Cup at historic Taylor Field.

» Accuracy Grades: Who was on target in the Division Finals?
» Through the Lens: Photos from the Western Final
» Recap: Bombers defeat Riders to head to Grey Cup 


So what will it take to repeat that glory?

First off, the coaching staff and management have already gone over the roster to piece together a puzzle for next season.

Free agency will be a huge test for O’Day.

The team has over 30 free agents and a majority of them were the starting lineup from the Western Final. 10 of 12 defensive starters are potential free agents, with seven of 12 offensive starters also could hit the open market.

O’Day gets an additional two months more than he had last year to further put his own stamp on the roster with assistant General Manager and top scout Paul Jones.

He already started the road to the 2020 Grey Cup by locking up quarterback and West Division Most Outstanding Player Cody Fajardo.

Fajardo’s play in his first year as a starter gives the Riders a tonne of optimism for what is ahead but without the players around him, it’s going to be difficult to repeat that performance.

That’s where we find the five burning questions for the Roughriders for this off-season.

1. Will the NFL come calling?

Will Shaq Evans test the waters down south? (Matt Smith/CFL.ca)

There has to be some serious concern that some of the team’s young up and coming starters will get looks down south.

It starts off with receiver Shaq Evans. The free agent receiver had a career year and started to get a lot of attention, as well as respect throughout the CFL. After seeing his teammate Jordan William-Lambert get a look last season, Evans’ 1,300+ yards and big play potential should get a similar shot this off-season.

Linebacker Derrick Moncrief was roommates with Sam Eguavoen for his first two seasons in the CFL and is getting to watch his former teammate on Sunday. Moncrief has already admitted he’ll take a week or two off before gearing up for potential workouts with NFL teams.

Top Canadian nominee Cameron Judge could also get a call. Judge impressed on defence but also on special teams, where he could get a shot. Judge is clearly interested in the NFL but is also not sure what his future holds with the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

2. Who is calling the plays?

The fans are calling for a change to the offensive playcalling by Stephen McAdoo after a horrendous red zone performance in the West Final. However, Craig Dickenson was quite happy with the overall season of his coaching staff in Dickenson’s first year as a head coach.

Dickenson may want to put his own people in place now that he has the chance to do so this off-season. His fellow coaches were given extensions by Chris Jones a week before Jones bolted south. That left Dickenson hand cuffed to make any changes to the coaching staff due to the new coaches cap.

Does Dickenson want a change at playcaller? Will it even be his option? McAdoo is one the most loyal people in the CFL to Chris Jones and without Chris, it’ll be interesting to see if McAdoo has his own interest to stay here. If not, look for names like Buck Piece, Ryan Dinwiddie, Jarious Jackson to get a call from Dickenson to gauge interest if the offensive coordinator job does open up.

3. Veteran savvy or time to move on?

When you look at the free agent list you see Charleston Hughes, Naaman Roosevelt, Solomon Elimimian, Micah Johnson, Cory Watson, Emmanuel Arceneaux, Dan Clark and Thaddeus Coleman.

That is a lot of players over the age of 30 who will also be asking for some decent cash for the most part. The reality of the salary cap era is there is no way Dickenson can keep all these players.

Some will price themselves out of the conversation, while some continue to show their play is well worth the price they’re being given. Although O’Day has to read the tea leaves and hope he’s right.

There is nothing worse than declaring a guy isn’t worth it or is past his prime only to see them burn you somewhere else. The Riders took advantage of the Stamps giving up on Hughes too early, while the Lions were clearly wrong about Solomon Elimimian.

4. Comfortable at quarterback?

Who will back up Cody Fajardo next season? (Matt Smith/CFL.ca)

After the season, will the Roughriders will totally comfortable with Fajardo and Isaac Harker as their one/two? The CFL is changing the roster rules to see just two quarterbacks on the active roster next season.

There is once again a few veteran CFL quarterbacks that could be free agents and the Riders could be looking to upgrade that position just in case Fajardo gets hurt.

I’m not sure the Riders would be overly thrilled to leave their season in the hands of Harker just yet without having a capable and proven veteran to get the job done in a season they host the Grey Cup.

5. Owning the line of scrimmage?

It is the priority of the Roughriders to have strong offensive and defensive lines and they did in 2019. Can they get better for next season?

The Riders were beaten up front on key plays in the Western Final and have the chance to upgrade the offensive line if necessary in free agency.

However, the group was a deep one with young talent up and coming and could they improve by giving the opportunities for younger players to take the next step in their careers.

Free agency could impact the Riders’ offensive line as well with Dan Clark, Dariusz Bladek, Philip Blake and Thaddeus Coleman all pending free agents. That will be huge priority for the former offensive lineman, Jeremy O’Day, to figure out.

On the defensive line, the Riders were constantly wreaking havoc on opposing quarterbacks. But as mentioned, they have Charleston Hughes and Micah Johnson on the free agent list. A.C. Leonard and Makana Henry are also on that list.

If the Riders are going to repeat a 13-win season and be at the top of the West, they can’t afford to take a step back in talent along the defensive and offensive lines.

In 2012, the Riders invested in the offensive line bringing in Brendon LaBatte and Dominic Picard. The following off-season, they brought in John Chick and Ricky Foley to have them set up on the defensive line.

If offensive line is priority number one for O’Day. Re-signing their impact defensive linemen or finding their replacements is priority number two.