If one wants to judge the first day of CFL free agency by the splash, consider the Winnipeg Blue Bombers all wet.
The Bombers appear to be going all in with signing former Riders Ryan Smith, Keith Shologan, BC running back Andrew Harris, Hamilton kicker Justin Medlock, and Toronto offensive lineman Jeff Keeping. The Bombers are preparing their Grey Cup parade as we speak.
So in Riderville, or Jonestown as it seems Taylor Field is being called, the Riders biggest signing, at least at the time I am writing this, is former Eskimo receiver Shamawd Chambers, the outstanding Canadian in last year’s Grey Cup, signed with the Riders.
The Riders also re-signed offensive lineman Chris Best, brought back defensive back Craig Newman from the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Canadian offensive guard Andrew Jones, formerly of the Eskimos, 6’6” wide receiver Jeremy Kelly, re-signed Canadian defensive end Dylan Ainsworth, receiver John Chiles, formerly of the Argos who was down in the NFL and pending a physical.
The Riders are also apparently in the running for Canadian defensive tackle Ted Laurent, which would be a coup, but I am not holding my breath. Ah, apparently Laurent is going elsewhere, likely Montreal.
The Riders also signed since the last time I posted running back Malcolm Cyrus, who is small and if he pans out may well be our kick and punt returner and Shea Emry, who we traded Ricky Foley to Toronto for and last almost one half, retired because of concussions.
Oh, and Jacques Chapdelaine’s salary is now off the books as he signed a contract with the Montreal Allouettes to be a receivers coach.
So the Riders went for size and Canadians, but interestingly enough, no Chris Getzlaf, who is getting his foot checked out by a specialist in the States and may or may not be in the running to return. The Chambers signing is for one year, which is a bit unusual, but Chambers himself has had injury problems.
The Riders seemed confident that prior to free agency they would be in a position to hear from people, never mind contacting them to see if they were interested in coming. While Jones has a thing for receivers with size, the question is if these receivers can play or if they are glorified flag poles. This is why the Good Lord invented training camp to answer these questions.
Winnipeg going big is probably in retrospect no big surprise and their signing of Smith was interesting in that apparently Jones didn’t even offer Smith a contract, considering his size and his concussion history. Losing Smith shows the Riders are not interested in coddling fan favorites and are dedicated to building a winning team.
So the question for Rider fans is do you want a team that wins with players you don’t know or a 3-15 record with players you do?
I would like to win, so I am waiting and seeing, but part of all of this that causes me to pause a little is too much depends on the new guys being healthy enough to contribute and/or be more than projects like Jordan Reaves, the son of former Winnipeg running back Willard Reeves who was a basketball player until a couple of years ago.
This seems to be the trend the CFL is heading with the rule changes with larger receivers who force smaller defensive backs to commit interference on them if the ball goes over their heads. The Rider defensive backs are also large with the question of whether they can play. Large defensive backs are a premium in the CFL and NFL so any good defensive back who is over six feet tall is likely lining up in the NFL.
However, unlike former Rider Coach Cory Chamblin, Chris Jones can coach defense so even if the skill level of these guys is not the best, they won’t make the same mistakes last year’s group of yahoos on defense did. Anyone remember Junior Mertile and his matador attempt as he stepped aside from Adarius Bowman in scoring a touchdown?
The first day of free agency was interesting. Jones did not break the bank, even his signing of Chambers showed some restraint with a one year deal. The Riders with bringing Newman back have solidified the safety position which will be a Canadian position, and it remains to see if they can bring in a Canadian defensive lineman to provide a rush.
Unlike Winnipeg who has gone 25 years without winning a Grey Cup, the Riders don’t need to make a quick fix and repeat the mistakes of the past by signing and overpaying players.
They have put their faith in their scouting and coaching and while it hurts to see good former Riders go to Winnipeg, if Winnipeg goes 26 years without winning a Grey Cup, then that will be a good step forward.
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