Darian Durant is gone, traded away by the Saskatchewan Roughriders and replaced as the CFL team’s starting quarterback by…..
There’s, uh, Brandon Bridge and Bryan Bennett and G.J. Kinne and Jake Waters and whoever Riders boss Chris Jones can recruit in the offseason. Those are the underwhelming pivots listed on Saskatchewan’s roster, plus there’s pending free agent Mitchell Gale, last year’s backup.
When meeting the media to announce the deal, Jones said next year’s quarterback will be decided by an “open competition.”
There may be some CFL free agents available after Feb. 14, when Durant’s contract was also set to expire. Now that Durant has departed, a potential free agent like Winnipeg’s Matt Nicholls could become an option.
Evidently Montreal wanted Durant more than the Riders did, so he signed a new contract with the Alouettes that was announced hours after Friday’s trade.
It’s an emotional time in Saskatchewan, where Durant spent his first 11 CFL seasons; he was a third-stringer for the Riders’ 2007 Grey Cup victory and led them to a magical, home-town victory in the 2013 league championship.
Most fans are furious, berating Jones for dealing a hero without an apparent succession plan. Some fans realize the business side of the transaction, that Durant wasn’t going to accept another reduced salary and that his ability may fade as he approaches his 35th birthday.
This was never going to work though, this forced marriage between Jones and Durant.
When Jones was hired as Saskatchewan’s vice-president of football operations, general manager and head coach 13 months ago, it was obvious he wasn’t enamoured with having an expensive, injured and aging legend as the quarterback of a team he was trying to rebuild.
As part of the rebuilding, Jones quickly shedded high-priced veterans like John Chick, Weston Dressler, Tyron Brackenridge and Chris Getzlaf. Then he renegotiated Durant’s contract, with a reduced salary and a one-year term.
After missing most of two seasons with serious injuries, Durant had a respectable 2016 and suffered a few minor injuries while the Riders went 5-13. Jones alluded to that five-win season as a reason for not retaining Durant. Never mind that Jones constructed — or it that deconstructed? — the roster that won just five times.
The Riders reportedly made two contract offers and were optimistic in November that Durant would re-sign. Jones said the tone changed noticeably when Durant’s agent, Dan Vertlieb got involved, and it convinced the Riders they were going to lose the quarterback to free agency. Instead, the Riders got a minimal return in a 2017 fourth-round draft choice and a 2018 conditional second-rounder.
Successful football teams don’t usually dump a veteran quarterback unless they have a worthwhile replacement waiting in the wings.
Think about the Calgary Stampeders, the CFL’s winningest team in recent years, dealing Henry Burris away to make room for star-to-be Bo Levi Mitchell. Or the San Francisco 49ers, who replaced Steve DeBerg with Joe Montana and then replaced Montana with Steve Young, all while winning Super Bowls.
The Riders, right now, are nowhere near that stage.