11 LATE HITS
1 - WILLY FREED AND GLENN AGAIN: The Canadian Football League was flipped on its ear late-Sunday afternoon when the Winnipeg Blue Bombers announced they'd made a pair of trades involving quarterbacks for the stretch run. The details of the trades are in the post below but the principles of the trade were Drew Willy being shipped from Winnipeg to Toronto, and Kevin Glenn leaving Montreal to join the Blue Bombers.
Backing up a little bit, the murmur of a trade involving Drew Willy was circulating through Investors Group Field in Winnipeg a few hours prior to Saturday's Banjo Bowl. It was first mentioned on the Bomber pregame show on 680 CJOB when I joined Bomber broadcasters Bob Irving and Doug Brown and they'd mentioned Toronto had been after Willy for weeks but Bomber GM Kyle Walters was unhappy with what Argos GM Jim Barker was offering.
About a half hour before kickoff, TSN's Rod Black popped into our Rider Radio broadcast booth and mentioned, "It looks like the Willy trade's going to happen". It took 24 hours, but Black was correct.
The prevailing notion in BomberLand was that it's all well and good for them to dump Drew Willy, but if Winnipeg's going to make a run in the CFL's West Division this year, they'd need to have a quality quarterback tandem involving starter Matt Nichols. Kyle Walters covered his butt in that regard, pulling off the trade with Montreal to add the CFL's best insurance policy in Kevin Glenn.
Will Winnipeg challenge the Calgary Stampeders for the 2016 West Division title? Who knows, but they feel they're in a better position today. However the 8-3 B.C. Lions will be heard from in the end as well.
I feel it's Calgary's Grey Cup to lose and therefore it's not a bad season for the Riders to have a downturn. In the words of Ricky Bobby, "If you're not first, you're last".
I should mention that it's not a "Grey Cup or Bust" attitude in Winnipeg this year. According to "Knuckles" Irving and Doug Brown, they'd all be content to host a home playoff game in Winnipeg and prove they're on the right track for the immediate years ahead.
And an aside, we were treated like absolute gold in Winnipeg. GOLD.
Winnipeg gets it.
2 - WHAT ARE THE ODDS: The oddsmakers had the Bombers favoured by 7-points for the Banjo Bowl and they won 17-10. They were favoured by 3.5-points in the Labour Day Classic and they beat the Riders 28-25. I may go with the odds the rest of the way when making my picks.
3 - SO DARIAN STAYS: Rider fans scoffed at the notion that quarterback Darian Durant could be moved to Toronto as a "rental player" given the fact he's scheduled to become a free agent in February. Perhaps the idea was preposterous - especially since it never initiated from within the Riders - but the speculation seemed fair since Saskatchewan shipped Kevin Glenn to Montreal at last year's trade deadline and he immediately became the Alouettes' starter.
But with the 2016 season having gotten away from the Roughriders (they're 1-10 following Saturday's 17-10 loss in the Banjo Bowl), there's plenty of talk about Durant's future. The 11-year veteran has addressed the situation twice in the past week and on both occasions he said he wants to finish his career in Green and White even if he plays for another seven or eight years.
He wants to open the new stadium. And he should.
But this consternation will continue until Roughriders GM & Head Coach Chris Jones actually opens contract talks with Durant and that could very well wait until season's end.
There's no doubt Durant has some anxiety about it. "This is my home," Durant told the Leader Post's Ian Hamilton after Saturday's game, even if he's privately wondered what his future holds if it's not in the 306.
I'll suggest the following to all of you today, just as I did to Darian last week: What indication has Chris Jones given to any of us that Durant is not his guy?
None that I can see.
Sure he got Durant to agree to a $50,000 paycut last winter but Jones made it a priority to drive from Tennessee to Darian's home in Atlanta to offer the deal face-to-face rather than an impersonal phone call. At every turn over the past nine months Jones has said, "Darian's our quarterback" and whenever he's been healthy, Durant's been the starter. There has been no challenge for the #1 position.
Another trump card up Durant's sleeve is the backlash Jones and Company received when they cut loose Weston Dressler, John Chick and Chris Getzlaf in the off-season.
It's unlikely Jones cares to make the same mistake twice - that's even if he feels those moves were a mistake - and I'm willing to bet any money that Durant is back with the Roughriders in 2017 and beyond.
4 - BUT AT WHAT PRICE?: The offshoot of the pending Durant negotiations is what Jones will be willing to offer Durant financially in a multi-year deal. There's no question the Riders are going to have salary cap issues in 2016 and these things tend to carry over year over year. Durant's reportedly earning $450,000 in 2016 and one has to wonder if Jones will offer him a more-significant paycut.
Durant's never told me this but those close to him have hinted that Darian feels he owes the Riders quite a bit after missing half of the 2014 season and all of 2015, all-the-while still pulling down the highest wage in the history of the franchise.
That's just the kind of guy Darian Durant is and it wouldn't surprise me if that story is true.
5 - ON TO THE ROUGHRIDERS: I had to wait a good 36 hours after the Banjo Bowl to pen this column because my mood coming out of that game was pretty glum. They should've won the Labour Day Classic - and everybody in the CFL knows it - and they were in good position to capture the Banjo Bowl until they inflicted multiple fatal blows over the final 16 minutes to give the game away. It was their seventh consecutive loss, their longest since ... since ... last year.
As it was, they were swept by the contending Blue Bombers in a pair of games where the margin of defeat was just 10 points. They were right there, but it again signalled their inexperience and lack of cohesion.
"Anybody can see how much better they're getting lately," said my Mom on Sunday, a long-time Roughriders season ticket holder, and a real sharp gal.
In The Huddle co-host Marshall Hamilton said on television last week, "This might be the best 1-9 team in CFL history".
It's so true. Travelling to Winnipeg with the team on Friday, I was struck by the notion of, "This does not feel like a 1-9 club". They are surprisingly upbeat, ever-smiling, and forming the bonds that you'd hope they would halfway through a rebuild season.
Players I'd never even heard of before this season were needling me about my suit selection or music choice (Ian Tyson was playing on my Ipod). They've all got a twinkle in their eye, unlike a year ago when the pilot light had gone out for all of the Rider players. They're going to get some wins down the stretch and they dearly don't want to go into the record books as the worst team in franchise history.
Last year Rider fans checked out on their team and I didn't blame them. They didn't miss much either over the second half.
But with this bunch, if you're not watching the games, you're going to miss a lot.
Right now the Saskatchewan Roughriders are "Little Brother" and as such, are taking their lumps from their older brethren across the CFL.
But one day Little Brother grows up and starts to administer the beatings. The question is, how long will that take?
|Jones in the Banjo Bowl|
Anyway, the callers thought the fake on the field goal with 4:44 remaining, facing 3rd-and-2 at the Winnipeg 50 and trailing 17-10, was ill-timed. To me it was simply ill-executed. Had back-up QB Brandon Bridge converted, Jones would be lauded as a hero. Who knows what initially tipped the Bombers off but the mere presence of Bridge as the Riders' holder likely got their spider senses tingling. That was a brand new look.
Jones was further flamed for challenging a potential Roughing The Passer call on Darian Durant in the fourth quarter but I have yet to get a good look at the play again so I'll reserve comment. However the fans felt there was nothing wrong with the tackle and Jones was displaying some cracks in his decision-making.
And then Jones got even more criticized for reportedly skipping the postgame handshake with Winnipeg Head Coach Mike O'Shea at the end of the Banjo Bowl. He was likely still seething at the Durant non-call from the Command Centre and really I could care less about the handshake. I've seen WHL coaches do the same thing at the end of heated playoff series, but they've gone on to land their dream jobs in the NHL. Their fans didn't cry afoul, and it didn't affect their rep.
At this point it's just nitpicking and this has always been Jones' MO. What did you think you were getting when he came to Saskatchewan?
When the team's winning, and they're strong enough to execute fakes like this, no one's going to care about Jones's antics.
7 - HOW DO YOU KEEP THIS TEAM TOGETHER?: Building a championship CFL team seems harder than ever before whatwith the shorter contracts for players and the lack of loyalty. That's no slight on the players by the way, because loyalty from the clubs seems to be at an all-time low as well.
However Chris Jones has methodically gone about constructing this Roughriders team and hand-picked the players of his liking. It's no secret; a large number of these players have come from checkered backgrounds and at times, they seem like a pack of rabid dogs. Jones likes them hungry.
Exhibit A: Rookie defensive end Jonathan Newsome.
"A lot of guys in this locker room, we're all different guys but are cut from the same cloth," Newsome, who led the NFL's Indianapolis Colts in sacks in 2014, told me last week. "We've all been through stuff. We've all had to battle some type of adversity. I actually told this in a team meeting, I stood up and said, 'In a room full of guys that overcome and beat the odds, 1-9 really is nothing in the bigger scheme of life.
"We've been through worse stuff that we've had to overcome. So a 1-9 record, where we know it's not the effort or preparation, it's just about staying faithful and believing."
|Newsome sacking Peyton Manning, and with the Riders|
ON PLAYING IN SASKATCHEWAN
JN: Canada man, it's awesome. It's freedom to me. The lifestyle up here is way more free. People accept you for who you are. I can just be a football player and people love me for that. I love them for coming out and supporting what I love to do.
Just this side of the world is way different from where I come from (Cleveland, OH). Being down there and being profiled all the time, I just don't get that stuff up here. Having to look over my shoulder all the time ... I love it up here man.
ON THE PLAYERS' TOUR OF NEW MOSAIC STADIUM
JN: It's one of the best stadiums I've ever seen and I've been to a lot of big stadiums: Dallas, Indianapolis, Seattle, Denver, Ohio State, but this is one of the best stadiums I ever saw. When I was walking through there, I just thought it was a blessing to be a part of this. It's a big thing to be a part of something like this, where the whole community chipped in to build it, and Riderville, and I thought 'Man we gotta win'. You can't have all this nice stuff and not be winning. We gotta win.
I wanna be a part of this. I already told them, I'm fully committed. I wanna make plays and get to the point where I can have me a picture on the wall there or something. Be a part of it forever. That's my goal is to just lock in and I can't wait to play in that stadium next year.
** It should be noted that on Labour Day Classic weekend, a down-on-their-luck Regina family was in the Rider ticket office hoping to purchase tickets to the big game. To their dismay, the tickets were simply too expensive. They were heartbroken.
Jonathan Newsome happened to be walking through the ticket office at the very same time. Witnessing the situation first hand, Newsome pulled out his wallet and plopped down enough money to buy tickets for the family at $100 each.
The family was in tears with gratitude.
9 - NO ORRIDGE, NO PROBLEM: It's true; the Roughriders have the CFL's worst record but they're still the league's most-talked about team. Last week's story that Commissioner Jeffrey Orridge will bow out of attending this Friday's Plaza of Honor induction ceremony at Evraz Place made headlines from coast-to-coast.
However, it really isn't that big of a story. Would NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell be the featured speaker at a New England Patriots banquet in Boston? Not on your life. This really isn't a lot different.
The whole situation has pretty much blown over and hopefully so too have any hard feelings between the Roughriders and CFL headquarters. I'm told Orridge isn't my biggest fan but over the past few MMG columns, I'd be shocked if he was. He lost my support with his statement, "The recent conduct, behaviour and activities of the Saskatchewan Roughriders have compromised the reputation of the CFL" when he announced the fines for Roster-Gate but that's my beef, not the Riders'.
Personally I think Glen Suitor would make a wonderful Commissioner of the CFL.
The Riders could be hearing from the league office again this week after Kendial Lawrence's postgame comment to the Leader Post on Saturday where he said, "I kind of feel like the refs have it out for us".
When I floated the notion of a conspiracy after the Calgary game in mid-August, I didn't pull it out of mid air.
Many have asked me what it will take for Chris Jones to get on the good side of Jeffrey Orridge and Glen Johnson and my answer is simply that they need to become a dominant enough team to overcome bad calls.
That's the only way. Otherwise, Jones isn't going to kiss anybody's ass.
10 - ON THE GREY CUP HALFTIME: I'm five days late on this but thought I'd take this opportunity to post my thoughts on OneRepublic playing the halftime show of the 2016 Grey Cup in Toronto. Flatly, I'm against it. Every year I maintain that the Grey Cup halftime act should be Canadian but OneRepublic hails from Colorado Springs, Colorado.
This isn't meant to be a slam at the decision-makers with the CFL. Is OneRepublic a wonderfully talented group? Absolutely. But it's the Canadian Football League and therefore, I feel, the Grey Cup halftime show should be used as a platform to advance Canadian performers. Otherwise we're saying Canadian acts just aren't good enough and I heard from quite a few on Facebook who thanked me for my stance.
You may be shocked to know that I'm always surprised when people don't agree with me but 49% of respondents in my Twitter poll did. One Regina marketing executive said the CFL should get the best big-name act it can afford, even if it's American.
I simply don't agree.
And I can only hope that Drake, The Weeknd and performers of that ilk were approached but simply weren't available on Grey Cup Sunday.
But I doubt it.
11 - IT'S PLAZA WEEKEND: That's one thing to get excited about despite the Roughriders' dismal record. This Friday the Roughriders will honour franchise greats Matt Dominguez and Ivan Gutfriend at the induction ceremony at the Credit Union Eventplex. I'll be the emcee for the much smaller annual Plaza luncheon on Friday where we'll hear from the inductees plus Rider President Craig Reynolds.
We'll go over some plaza memories on the SportsCage today on 620 CKRM with Rider Hall of Famers Dan Rashovich and Scott Schultz.
Rashovich, by the way, won $101,688 in the 50/50 at Saturday's Banjo Bowl. He's splitting the pot with fellow Rider alumni Jeff Tretlin. It couldn't have happened to two better guys.
Ivan Gutfriend will join us live on In The Huddle on Tuesday evening on Access and on Wednesday on Shaw.
You can get tickets for the 2016 Plaza of Honor induction celebration at the Rider ticket office or by calling 1-888-4-RIDERS.
THAT'S IT! SEE YOU ON THE RADIO AT 4:00 PM