© Herald photo by Perry Bergson
As harsh as this may sound, the dismantling of the 2013 Grey Cup champion Saskatchewan Roughriders begins on Monday when the Canadian Football League holds a dispersal draft for its newest member -- the Ottawa RedBlacks.
Less than a month after winning the franchise’s fourth championship, the Riders, along with the other CFL teams, get down to business preparing for next year with the stocking of talent for Ottawa’s latest entry in the league.
Each of the eight existing teams are allowed to protect one quarterback, six non-import players and 10 imports with everyone else on the roster up for grabs. Ottawa in turn can take any two unprotected quarterbacks -- not from the same team -- one import player off each roster that isn’t protected as well as one non-import player that is put in the pool of unprotected players.
While Saskatchewan’s submission for players to be protected is being kept close to the vest there are some guesses being made with Darian Durant being the most obvious choice for the quarterback position. That means Drew Willy is available to Ottawa and rumours are being spread that he will indeed be picked up by the RedBlacks after Ottawa chooses Kevin Glenn from the Calgary Stampeders.
The non-import players that Saskatchewan is expected to protect include 2013 offensive lineman of the year Brendon LaBatte, slotback Chris Getzlaf, defensive tackle Keith Shologan and another trio of offensive linemen -- Chris Best, Dominic Picard and Ben Heenan.
The list of import players being retained by the Riders is the area that creates the most discussion, but notable players in that group include wide receiver Weston Dressler, safety Tyron Brackenridge, defensive end John Chick, defensive back Rod Williams and offensive lineman Xavier Fulton.
Dressler is the big question mark in this group as the diminutive receiver is going south to audition with several NFL teams and the Riders might be protecting a player who is no longer on the roster, but Saskatchewan brass would become public enemy No. 1 if the fan favourite was left off the list and claimed by Ottawa. Seeing Dressler with the RedBlacks rather than the Green and White would be wrong on so many fronts.
These five aforementioned import players are locks to be protected, but the Riders have some tough choices with their other five spots. Running back Kory Sheets is heading to Indianapolis for a tryout, but has stated he will only re-sign with Saskatchewan should he not make the Colts. Do the Riders protect him or do they take him for his word and leave him out there? Ottawa could still select him then make a trade with Saskatchewan at a later date if Sheets does return to the CFL. What would the price be then? Would the RedBlacks, who desperately have to fill their roster, waste a selection in the hopes that such a scenario would unfold?
Another factor coming into play is players who are under contract or who are about to enter free agency. There are some who think back-room deals are being made with teams telling players if we leave you unprotected and you aren’t picked we will negotiate a contract then. Ottawa would then have a decision to make on taking certain players if they feel signing them as a free agent is unlikely.
Yet another component to all of this is the new wealth the league is going to be coming into with the new television deal recently signed with TSN. Starting in 2014, the league will get $47 million a year for broadcast rights for five years, which is three times what was being paid under the old agreement.
The collective bargaining agreement is expiring shortly and one can only assume the players will be wanting a bigger piece of the pie. That fact will come into play on Monday when Ottawa makes its selections because if they chose a player facing free agency, are they going to be able to afford that player?
With that said, are the Riders going to be able to afford the same player? There is no idea of what the salary cap will be until a new CBA is negotiated, but assuming everything follows the same thought process, it is safe to say the ceiling will be raised therefore creating an environment where available players will shop their talents to the highest bidders.
Regardless of who Saskatchewan leaves unprotected, the Riders are certainly going to lose a couple of key players from their championship squad. Whether it is someone who Ottawa feels fits into their plans or it is through free agency, the team will be different.
With that said, the league is going to be different as well. Salaries are certainly going to rise and with those costs escalating the fans can also expect to pay more to watch the product.
Monday is the start of big changes for the CFL and it will be interesting to see how everything pans out. From a fan’s perspective I hope the RedBlacks get some quality players so that they can be competitive in their first year. But, being the selfish guy that I am, I hope it is at the expense of the other existing teams and not the Riders.
That, however, is foolhardy because Saskatchewan will certainly lose several talented players. One can only hope the cut isn’t too deep and then when the free agency market opens next year they can stop the bleeding by signing key players, either from their current roster or by bringing in those who are looking to come to the best place in Canada to play football.
Dave Leaderhouse is a reporter with the Prince Albert Daily Herald.