BACK AT IT
1 - SCOTTSDALE, AZ: When I mentioned last month that the CFL was significantly lacking buzz in the media this off-season, this isn't exactly what I had in mind.
Last week's report that the Saskatchewan Roughriders worked out free agent bad boy NFL quarterback Johnny Manziel was the biggest thing to hit pro football since, well, Super Bowl 51.
But is it the type of notoriety the CFL should want? Not necessarily. When the news hit on Thursday courtesy 3DownNation.com's Justin Dunk, the whole football world got knocked on its ear and the Riders were front page news across the continent.
Regina Rams quarterback Noah Picton even got in on the fun, photoshopping a photo of Manziel's head on a Roughrider quarterback's body. If nothing else, the U of R's Business School is doing a great job of instructing graphic design.
However the serious news reports of broken CFL rules and the subsequent denials didn't make the CFL look very good.
There's a lot of misinformation out there - and I'm guilty of some of it - and we'll try to sort out as much as we can in today's column.
2 - As crazy as Thursday's Manziel news was, Friday (and every day since) has been eerily quiet on the matter. I expected a thorough review to be conducted by the Riders the day after the report surfaced however I was told team President Craig Reynolds was in Toronto on CFL business. If there was any internal inquiry, it would have had to have been conducted by phone, I'm guessing.
Of course as we all know by now, Chris Jones and Johnny Manziel have both denied any workout took place and I'm told Jones even personally assured the Ticats as much. Hamilton owns Manziel's negotiation list rights and such a workout would be a violation of CFL rules.
However Justin Dunk and 3DownNation.com Editor-In-Chief Drew Edwards both told me on Thursday that they stand by their story 100%.
Which brings me to ...
3 - CFL Communications Director Paulo Senra said Thursday that the League was conducting an investigation and at that point, because of the Riders' denial, "it appears the report is false".
That was a bit of a slap-in-the-face to Dunk, however he's clearly a big enough boy to handle it. In the case of Senra, I'm not sure what else he could say but some of these investigations have been thin at best.
Dunk seemed undaunted by Senra's comment, even going so far as to tell me he's as doing just as fine as this gorgeous Arizona sunshine I'm enjoying. That was in response to me asking how he was doing whatwith the storm he was embroiled in. I know how that feels and also know what it's like to get a bad tip from a good source. However Justin is adamant that this isn't the case here.
Meanwhile on Sunday a 3DownNation.com representative told me that the source of the story was neither from the Roughriders nor the Tiger-Cats, but he obviously wasn't prepared to give up its ultimate origin.
Some unaware commenters wrote into this blog on Friday saying this should be an open-and-shut case; Dunk simply needs to give up his source and everyone can go on with their business.
Uh, not so fast. The Supreme Court has habitually protected journalists over the years from giving up confidential sources as recently as the Federal Sponsorship Scandal.
While the Manziel story is nowhere near as serious as that, the basic premise remains the same in the journalism business.
4 - Regarding some of the misinformation out there, I was told on Friday that the original 3DownNation.com story had the date of January 27 listed for the workout but that had since been edited out. I mentioned that on Friday's SportsCage but it was quickly debunked by Drew Edwards.
I don't know what's true, but now I can't find a story anywhere listing January 27 as the date of the alleged workout.
5 - Furthermore on the misinformation bit, it was pointed out to me on Friday that if you check Johnny Manziel's social media timeline, he was nowhere near Florida during the time in question. However I quickly rebuffed that. Who can forget last April when Manziel's Instagram account showed him playing with his dog on the floor of his Cleveland condo when in reality he was in Las Vegas in a disguise, playing Blackjack at Planet Hollywood? I only remember the date because I was in P.H. that same day.
No matter where he plays, Johnny Football's going to take a lot of work. I saw somewhere where he recently announced he'd been sober for 18 days. As a former active alcoholic, I can tell you that 18 days of sobriety seem significant. However as a person who's been in Recovery for literally years now, I can tell you 18 days are definitely not significant.
What a magnificent perspective this newfound life has given me!
And working with guys like Johnny Manziel is a very rewarding sideline I'm now involved in.
6 - Rider President Craig Reynolds declined to comment on this situation last week but Tiger-Cats Head Coach & GM Kent Austin discussed the matter rather jovially on TSN 1150 Hamilton Friday morning.
Austin basically said you've got Chris Jones saying one thing and Justin Dunk saying another and the truth generally lies somewhere in the middle. If the Riders had in fact worked out Manziel - or talked to him at all - it didn't seem to faze Austin one bit.
In fact the Ticats are sitting in the catbird's seat right now because if Manziel does in fact want to play in the CFL in 2017, Hamilton will control where it is. They can either bring him to camp or trade his rights for a handsome fee.
And perhaps most important out of all of this is that a source told me Sunday that there's a good chance Manziel will try to resume his pro career north of the border this season!
It's anyone's guess as to which CFL team it'll be with, but Manziel would be the most high-profile American to come to the CFL since Rocket Ismail in 1991. (Yes, even more than Ricky Williams in 2006).
I guarantee every football fan in America would tune in to watch Manziel in the CFL.
7 - Regarding the CFL's investigation into the matter, I suspect this will all blow away if there's no video or photographic proof such a workout took place. And even if it does exist, Chris Jones and Manziel both better appear in the shot.
8 - Onto other matters ... I chatted with literally hundreds of Rider fans over the course of our two Rider Nation get-togethers in Glendale and Mesa last week. I couldn't get to many of them on Thursday due to our live SportsCage broadcast but on Friday I ventured from table to table to sit down and get the fans' take on the current state of the team.
These fans hailed from Lebret, Weyburn, Choiceland, Raymore, Saskatoon, Calgary, Kamloops and everywhere in between and their opinion seemed pretty much universal; their patience with Chris Jones is waning.
Of course it started with letting go Weston Dressler, John Chick and Chris Getzlaf, continued through Ratio-Gate and Roster-Gate, and certainly didn't slow down with the trade of Darian Durant to Montreal. Kevin Glenn and Vince Young? Don't get them started. And the Manziel story only added more fuel to their fire.
They mentioned Jones' terseness with the media too, but I think us reporters can handle that.
"How does he treat you?" many of them asked, and I repeated that he treats me as well as I've ever been treated.
That seemed to appease them a tad, and it's as true as anything I've ever written in this space.
But just like all the other Rider Priders back home, after I've listened to their stories and criticisms of Jones, I always ask, "But do you think he'll be successful here and win multiple Grey Cups?"
They all say that yes, indeed they do.
9 - So I'm pretty confident in saying Jones is okay with all the heat he's taking from his own team's fans. He said from Day 1 that he's not here to win a popularity contest, but rather to win football games.
And don't be the guy who says, "Yeah but they only won five games last year."
This regime is only one year into the rebuild and had a massive mess to clean up.
Every single thing Chris Jones and Co. have done is to gain an edge and improve this football team to the point where they're at the top of the CFL year-after-year. I don't think that can be denied.
He's doing exactly what he was hired to do.
If he hurts some feelings along the way, he's prepared to do that because that's the way to the Promised Land. There were a lot of people miffed at Jim Hopson in the early going too, but he was undeterred.
Once this franchise is back on top, I feel its management group believes all will be forgotten and fans will be too busy wiping champagne out of their eyes to remember what they were upset about in the first place.
That's honestly how I see things going.
10 - Lost in the shuffle of last week's news was the fact Roughriders linebackers coach Phillip Lolley has jumped to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats as a defensive position coach. Initially the news release from the Ticats set off alarm bells since Chris Jones and Lolley were joined-at-the-hip however I was informed Lolley made the move for family/personal reasons. The Riders had no issue with Lolley's decision.
11 - All good things must come to an end and I'll be travelling home from Arizona on Monday. As you can tell by my social media posts, it's been a dizzying, decadent week here in the Valley of the Sun and it was topped off Saturday night by spending time with Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald.
The NFL superstar was being honoured at Saturday night's Coyotes-Penguins game and then watched from the Coyotes owners box at Gila River Arena. He spent more time with Carm Carteri than me but I did ask him about new Rider receiver Duron Carter, whom is a long-time friend.
"Will you vouch for Duron?" I asked Fitzgerald.
"Absolutely," he said with a deadly serious face.
Fitzgerald spent a good deal of time checking out Carm's 2013 Rider Grey Cup ring and mentioned he's good friends with former Rider defensive end R-Kal Truluck!
It was also staggering to have a long conversation in the suite with a neurologist from the Arizona Mayo Clinic who's one of four esteemed doctors investigating the link between football and C-T-E. He wanted to get the take of someone working in the CFL and see if it aligned with what's being said in the American football community. Ask me about the discussion some time. It's too long to get into here.
12 - The next 48-to-72 hours are going to be a blur for Saskatchewan and CFL fans alike. On Monday, representatives from the CFL will be on hand for a news conference at Mark's Work Wearhouse East to unveil plans for next month's CFL Week in Regina. The Grey Cup will be in attendance as well, and the CFL's Christina Litz will be on the SportsCage later in the day.
Of course CFL free agency opens on Tuesday and the Roughriders may be prominent.
13 - While the Riders aren't likely to do a cannonball into the free agent pool like last year, they do have money to spend and holes to fill.
There are some offensive line starters up for grabs - both Canadian and American - and I expect the Riders to make a move or two there.
Due to the tragic death of Joe McKnight and the release of Curtis Steele and Matt Walter, the Rider backfield is wide open.
Saskatchewan has some cornerback spots open too and the free agent list is headlined by Ottawa RedBlacks star Abdul Kanneh who's slated to become a free agent this week.
We'll go wall-to-wall on Tuesday's SportsCage with the CFL Free Agent Frenzy.
14 - Speaking of Rider news, it seemed to go under the radar last week whatwith Tuesday's unveiling of the 2017 schedule but Riders' Assistant V.P. of Football Operations Jeremy O'Day announced on the SportsCage that this year's training camp will be held in Saskatoon.
That had Saskatoon Rider fans jumping for joy and it was also welcome news to me too. I very much enjoy the three weeks in the Bridge City and it's important for the football club to be up there.
I'd heard the rumour that the club wanted to stage training camp in New Mosaic Stadium so as to work out the kinks, but I guess that was a bad tip.
Meanwhile Rider staff moved into the new facility over the weekend and I'm eager to look at the facilities for myself this week!
15 - And lastly, between Friday's Suns NBA game, our Rider parties, being treated wonderfully by the Roughriders staff themselves, and the great hospitality from the boys at Canada To Arizona, this has been our best trip to The Valley yet.
I'll be back on the SportsCage on 620 CKRM on Tuesday and likely won't take another vacation day until next December.
That's just fine by me. I've made the most of the past two months but it's time to get back where I belong.
BIRTHDAYS: Happy Birthday today to Regina Pats alum Brad Hornung (48) and CFL legend Angelo Mosca (80)!
THAT'S ALL! THANKS FOR READING,