Saskatchewan Roughriders Rebuilding is No Longer a Valid Excuse

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Rebuilding
Saskatchewan's Zach Collaros tackled by Edmonton's players, during CFL game Edmonton Eskimos vs Saskatchewan Roughriders, at The Brick Field at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton. On Thursday, August 2, 2018, in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

As the Riders enter their second bye week of the season, fans and pundits alike have had time to dissect the season thus far and more. Jamie Nye in his article with CFL.ca brought to light a troubling, yet simple statistic.

1-9.

4-6.

0-2.

Those are the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ records against their own division over the last three seasons with Head Coach Chris Jones.

The combined record of 5-17 is nowhere close to being good enough for a team in year three of the Jones era in Saskatchewan.

On various forums and social media, fans are pointing to the quick turnaround the Riders faced when Corey Chamblin took over in 2012 and comparing it to what Chris Jones has brought to the table. Two years after missing the playoffs the Riders were hoisting the Grey Cup on home soil in 2013. However, there is a misconception in why the Taman/Chamblin turnaround was so much more accelerated than what fans are seeing with Jones.

The Taman and Chamblin Era

Taman and Chamblin were under more immediate pressure because of the high stakes at play. 2011 and 2012 saw both the B.C. Lions and the Toronto Argonauts successfully host and hoist Grey Cups on home soil. Regina was next in line and expectations were high. It’s hard to blame Taman/Chamblin for rolling the dice and going for broke, there simply wasn’t a choice.

Setting up for the 2013 season the Riders brought in veteran stars and role players. The began by trading a 4th-round pick and Justin Harper for Lions legend Geroy Simon (38). Furthermore, the Riders would bulk up their defence with the likes of Ricky Foley (31), Weldon Brown (26), Tristan Black (29) and Dwight Anderson (32). Finally, they added a familiar face in John Chick (30). Capped off with Darian Durant, Weston Dressler, Chris Getzlaf, Robb Bagg and Korey Sheets you had the CFL version of a super team.

Of course, there were bumps to be had throughout the season as the Riders clawed their way to an 11-7 record before turning it on in the playoffs. At the end of the day, these roster moves created one of the greatest if not the greatest moments in Roughriders history, but it came with a price.

The Price of Winning

After championships, players are rewarded and coaches are promoted. The 2014 off-season saw the losses of key players such as Dressler (NFL), Sheets (NFL), Keith Shologan and Zach Evans (Expansion Draft), Craig Butler and Jock Sanders (Free Agency). Quarterback’s coach Khari Jones was also lost to the B.C. Lions as well.

The reason why the Taman and Chamblin team didn’t have any sustainability was a culmination of a number of factors. The aforementioned Grey Cup victory saw players be rewarded either by other CFL teams or the NFL. Ottawa Redblacks expansion draft took place right after the Riders were center stage at the end of the season. Finally, many of the players the Riders traded for and signed prior to 2013, were on one-year deals.

The next two seasons would see star quarterback Darian Durant suffer season-ending injuries and have Taman and Chamblin fired in 2015, a season where the Riders finished 3-15. While the “what if” game can be played in terms of Durant’s health and other factors, the fact remains that Taman and Chamblin went all in for the 2013 Grey Cup and it paid off. When President Craig Reynolds fired Taman and Chamblin, he mentioned that he wanted “sustained success” and at the time, going from a Grey Cup to 0-9 in a season and a half was not it.

Enter Chris Jones and Co.

When Chris Jones and his staff took over, they gutted the team. According to CFLdb (unaffiliated with the CFL), the Riders roster turnover from the year prior was 90 players. Many of those released were fan favourites such as Weston Dressler (31), John Chick (33), Weldon Brown (29), Tyrone Brackenridge (32) and others. A restructuring of Durant’s contract would also occur to free up additional cap space. It appeared as though Jones and co. were building for sustained success, yet there was still an expectation to win in 2016. The signings of Shawn Lemon, Ed Gainey, Justin Capicciotti and Kendial Lawrence proved that.

Year Three

The Jones regime now finds itself in year three and expectations are beginning to mount. The “rebuilding” excuse should have been thrown out the window after going 10-8 and making it to the East Final last year. The bar has been set and a 5-17 record against Western foes is simply unacceptable at this stage. While “sustained success” may have been the philosophy at the start, the subsequent moves have not mirrored that vision. Trades for Charleston Hughes and Zach Collaros and the signing of Zack Evans sent a clear message of a “win now” mentality but the Riders are not seeing it come to fruition yet.

Is “Rebuilding” a Cop-Out?

There are many arguments for the short or long-term “rebuilding” but the greater question is if even such a concept exists. Field Gulls (A Seahawks based NFL blog) makes a relevant point in that rebuilding is just a hot-button word used instead of just admitting a team is bad:

People say that Cleveland is “always in a rebuild mode.” No. Cleveland is always bad. That’s all that is. They’re trying to get better for next season and the season after that, and that’s it. You can’t plan for 2020. How are the Browns going to plan for 2020? The entire NFL landscape could be different in 2020. Imagine the 2016 Browns “planning” for 2018, which is where we are right now.

The same could be said for the CFL. There is no farm league for the CFL like the American Hockey League (AHL) is for the NHL. It’s impossible to know who will be on your team in a year let alone 3-5. In the NFL, many contracts go beyond one-year, the CFL is facing a one-year deal “epidemic” where fans are reluctant to get a name on the back of their jersey. How could even the brightest minds in CFL football predict what the makeup of their roster will be in 2-3 years? Especially considering the factor of players fielding NFL offers.

The Last Word

So is it fair to compare the quick turnaround of the Taman and Chamblin led Riders to the Chris Jones? Probably not, as outside circumstances dictated the former’s actions. However, the “Jones is just rebuilding for the long-haul” argument has expired considering the points above.

The Calgary Stampeders have been the pinnacle of stability in their management, coaching and drafting. No one called it a rebuild when they made a flurry of player personnel changes this off-season after another devastating Grey Cup loss. Because in the CFL you’re either good or bad and “rebuilding” is a cop-out term used for bad teams. The Riders at 3-4 have 11 games to decide which one they are.

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