February 20, 2024

Cauz: The Riders’ off-season winner? It’s Trevor Harris

Arthur Ward/CFL.ca

There are some obvious takeaways with the first round of free agency in the books. The Hamilton Tiger-Cats loved the 2023 Toronto Argonauts’ defence. Brandon Barlow, Dewayne Hendrix, Jordan Williams and Jamal Peters all heading to the Hammer? Come on Orlondo Steinauer and Ed Hervey, save some for the rest of Canada.

The Bombers secured their foundation while ensuring the sale of faux fur coats will go up and the BC Lions’ passing attack stands to be as potent in 2024 as it was in 2023.

After taking a moment to breath and look at new landscape my biggest takeaway is Trevor Harris has become the most fascinating player in the league, even though his address did not change. I couldn’t help but think about the veteran quarterback every time there was news coming out of the Saskatchewan Roughriders organization.

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All the big moves the Riders made and just importantly the players they did not pursue screams one simple message: this team is going all in on their 38-year-old quarterback who has seen it all in his 11-career year. You don’t bring in AJ Ouellette unless you think you can win it all. Rebuilding teams don’t invest in running backs of that caliber. Top end running backs are a luxury for teams just starting their path back to respectability but a necessity for a team that truly feels it can be the last one standing.

While offensive linemen can have longer careers than workhorse running backs I wonder if general manager Jeremy O’Day pulls the trigger on the Jermarcus Hardrick signing unless he also believes a healthy Harris can deliver a Grey Cup to the city of Regina for the first time in over a decade. The 2023 CFL All-Star is a perfect bodyguard for any quarterback.

When you throw in a new head coach in Corey Mace and some new defenders in Jameer Thurman and Malik Carney, it’s clear the front office is doing everything it can do to distance itself from the past two seasons.

The flip side of this coin is who the team did not go after.

I didn’t hear about a bidding war with the Ottawa REDBLACKS to land Dru Brown, nor did I see any report about Saskatchewan making a serious play for a McLeod Bethel-Thompson or a Chris Streveler. Instead, they said goodbye to last year’s leading passer, Jake Dolegala and are content with Mason Fine and Antonio Pipkin as backups. This is unequivocally Trevor Harris’ team going into training camp, especially after restructuring the final year of his contract.

 

So those are the football storylines but there is also the human side to this sports equation. Trevor Harris is the classic tale of a player fighting against both time and his own body. It’s easy to forget but Harris was 3-1 before his tibial plateau fracture wiped out that promising start. All injuries are difficult for every player, but they take on greater stakes when the individual is getting closer and closer to 40 years-old in a game filled with players a decade younger whose goal is to take the quarterback down.

I can’t speak for Harris, but I imagine he knows there are only so many chances to win the Grey Cup and this roster he is currently on may represent the last real opportunity to guide a team to the trophy. Harris has started in over 100 games in this league. We’ve seen brilliant postseason moments from Harris, throwing six touchdowns in the 2018 CFL Eastern Final and completing 22 consecutive passes in a playoff win the following season.

We also know the reality of playing quarterback for so long. At the end of the day the first thing we all want to know is, did he win a Grey Cup? Fair or unfair, that is part of this game. Saskatchewan has bolstered its running game, offensive line and defence because they believe they have the passer who can lead them to the promise land.

So, in summation you have a classic case of man vs. man, man vs. time and man vs. Willie Jefferson all wrapped into the possible remarkable comeback story of a quarterback who has been a part of the CFL conversation for over a decade. Fair to say there are few players entering the 2024 CFL season with all those stakes and storylines as Trevor Harris.

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