Since trading Darian Durant shortly after the 2016 season, the Riders search for a new franchise quarterback has been tumultuous, to say the least. The biggest black mark on Chris Jones’ time in Saskatchewan has been the failure to secure a franchise pivot. Though it hasn’t been through a lack of effort. Here’s a look at what the Jones regime has done since Durant’s departure.
The 2016 off-season going into 2017 saw the Riders welcome back Kevin Glenn. Glenn was brought in to serve as the “bridge” quarterback (no pun intended). The main goal was to have a starting quarterback good enough to keep the team competitive while a successor was sought out or groomed on the sidelines. Kevin Glenn would put up respectable numbers in his 2017 campaign going for 25 touchdowns and 4,038 yards. However, he was often pulled in favour of Brandon Bridge and promptly released after the acquisition of Zach Collaros.
This brings us to our next quarterback of discussion. During the 2017 campaign, Bridge would go on to put up respectable numbers himself in relief for Glenn. The common thought in Saskatchewan was that Bridge was being groomed to be the next franchise quarterback. His ability to extend plays behind the line of scrimmage made him a fan favourite in 2017. Bridge averaged 6.4 yards-per-carry in 2017 to go along with his 10 touchdowns and 1,236 yards passing. It was reported that in the subsequent off-season, Bridge signed a one-year deal worth $90,000 in base salary with added incentives on top.
Now a free agent once again the future is uncertain for the young Canadian pivot. Bridge struggled in his time starting in 2018, most notably in the Western-Semi Final vs Winnipeg completing only 54.5% of his passes for 100 yards and a touchdown, however, he did add 86 yards on the ground. The Riders could bring him back at the right price but with a majority of teams having openings at quarterback, Bridge will likely test free agency.
The Roughriders rolled the dice on Zach Collaros, hoping he could be the Riders next franchise quarterback. Collaros has been chasing the ghost of his 2015 season that likely would’ve seen him become Most Outstanding Player had it not been for a torn-ACL. Collaros was a stable presence guiding the team to a 10-4 record as the starter.
— CFL on TSN (@CFLonTSN) September 30, 2018
Collaros left much to be desired in terms of his statistical performance. He came in 12th in quarterback efficiency rating (79.5) among quarterbacks with at least eight games played. Yes, that includes Johnny Manziel. Beyond his play, another concern is Zach Collaros’ concussion history. In 2018 alone, Collaros would be sidelined with the injury twice (Week 2 @ Ottawa & Week 20 vs BC), the latter forcing him to miss the Western Semi-Final vs Winnipeg. It’s not likely the Riders back-up the Brinks truck to make Zach Collaros the franchise quarterback anytime soon.
A Look Ahead
Mike Reilly, Bo Levi Mitchell, Trevor Harris, Jonathon Jennings, Collaros and Bridge are all set to test the open market. Reilly and Mitchell have been fielding NFL offers since the conclusion of the 2018 season. Reilly has worked out with the Jacksonville Jaguars while Mitchell has had workouts with the Minnesota Vikings and Denver Broncos. Mitchell has already stated that he would be back in red & white if he doesn’t find an ideal NFL suitor. For simplicity sake, we’ll rule him out.
The intriguing thing about Reilly’s situation has been the rumours of returning to the B.C. Lions where Reilly got his start in the league. There’s a connection with GM Ed Hervey, who was the one to bring Reilly to Edmonton in 2013. It’s no secret with new head coach DeVone Claybrooks that the Lions are forging a new identity, it’s rumoured that Nik Lewis will be joining the staff as well. It appears as though the Lions and Eskimos would be front-runners for Reilly’s services. Regardless, the Roughriders would be foolish to not bring him in for a visit and offer him a lucrative contract.
Coming off a record-breaking playoff performance in the East Final, a heartbreaking loss in the Grey Cup and a one-year contract, the 32-year-old pivot appears primed for a fruitful contract. However, Harris has recently stated he would like to finish his career in Ottawa, it remains to be seen if he’ll test free agency. What may prevent an immediate extension is the pending situation surrounding the expiring CFL Collective Bargaining Agreement and the 30 plus players set to hit free agency from the Redblacks. On the cusp of being in the conversation with Mitchell and Reilly, Harris would be an instant upgrade at the quarterback position for Saskatchewan. Harris posted 5,116 yards passing with 22 touchdowns, 11 interceptions and a 99.6 quarterback rating in 2018.
Jennings set the league on fire in 2016, throwing for 27 touchdowns, 15 interceptions and adding four more on the ground. Since then, Jennings has thrown for 24 touchdowns and 26 interceptions in 25 games played. It’s hard to pinpoint why such a drastic falloff occurred over the past two seasons. Needless to say, after a public spat between his agent and Lions GM Ed Hervey, Jennings isn’t likely to return to the west coast and is an option worth looking at for Saskatchewan.
Does anybody have $70k in cash kicking around?
The Last Word
There lie the options for the Saskatchewan Roughriders going into 2019. Of course, there’s always a chance a player no one has heard of comes in and steals the job. It’s not a coincidence the Roughriders have four quarterbacks on this year’s negotiation list. A major deciding factor may be the extent to which Jones is able to keep his defence intact going into free agency. Still, Willie Jefferson and Sam Eguavoen likely have the NFL in their sights. Management will have to decide whether to rebuild the defence and bring in another stop-gap quarterback for a low price or roll out the red carpet for an elite quarterback like Mike Reilly or Trevor Harris and go younger (and cheaper) on defence. Either way, this off-season will be as unpredictable as any in recent history, buckle-up.
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