There was plenty of euphoria in the rectangle province with the arrival of Chris Jones following an impressive run with the Edmonton Eskimos that culminated in a 2015 Grey Cup victory. Riderville was ecstatic making bold proclamations of a first place finish, 12+ wins and a trip to the Grey Cup marking what would be the most incredible one-year turnaround in league history.
The reality of the situation appears very different. The arrival of Jones and his ego have cast ominous shadows over what should have been a positive and productive off-season leading towards a season of renewal and hope. Instead, since Jones arrival, the rider organization has been dealing with a series of misfortunate events, miscalculations and missteps by the Jones administration. Of note:
-Riders release Dressler and Chick. Two of the better players on the Riders (not saying much I know) unceremoniously dumped and they have yet to find a quality replacement for either. Chick, while declining, still brings some ferocity and dominance to most D-lines in the league while Dressler is still a top-notch receiver whose stats suffered from poor Qb depth in the Rider organization with a early season - ending injury to Darian Durant.
the expenditure of draft picks in a trade for wide receiver Maurice Price, a player who plays a position for which the Riders have paper-thin depth. Shortly thereafter, Price quits. You would think Jones and his management team would have had a better idea of a player’s motivations and desires prior to giving away draft picks for him. Guess not.
the retirement of Ben Heenan. Yes, he was on the Indy Colts practice roster, but this would have be classified as a crushing loss for the Riders as I’m sure they were hoping he would be back in green either this season or the following one. The Riders O-Line has seen a shocking drop in quality and depth the past few seasons and getting Heenan signed after the inevitable release from the Colts would have helped immensely.
the St. John debacle. Another blow for the immediate future of the Rider’s O-line. Desperate for depth with an aging and shallow O-Line, the Riders proceed to draft St. John with the first overall pick hoping he can see spot duty at the very least. St. John’s agent proceed’s to request a salary over $100,000 per season and rather then compromising with a reasonable offer, the obstinate and arrogant Jones proceeds to offer him the a paltry $52,000 per year. Shortly following this, Hardaway demands a trade. Inevitably, the Riders will have to acquiesce to these demands receiving pennies on the dollar for the first overall and letting him sit and dealing their already poor Canadian depth a severe blow. Way to show them Jones.
Canadian depth. A rather problematic area for the Riders the past few years, this area has shown no improvement in the off-season. With no hope for the return of Ben Heenan, a first overall draft pick holdout, and two of their best nationals - Rob Bagg and Chris Best - over the age of 30 and injury-prone, the Riders appear to have the poorest Canadian depth in the CFL. The addition of Capicciotti helps, but does nothing to lessen the growing sense of unease over this group.
The decline of Darian Durant. After suffering back-to-back season-ending injuries, it appears Durant’s days as an elite CFL quarterback are over. When you rely on mobility as a key aspect of your on-field success and that ability is taken away from you with a ruptured Achilles tendon, how successful will you be in the future? Not much, one would suspect based on past evidence. Few, if any, players have come back from such devastating injury and returned to dominance. Considering his scrambling ability and evasiveness has played such a key role in Durant’s career up to this point, it is doubtful he can regain his form of the past. The situation at back-up is cloudy at best as Brett Smith did little to impress in his rookie season.
I think this will culminate in a 2-16 season for the Jonestown Riders. Yes, things will get worse before they get better…assuming Jones learns anything of course. Combine his personality and with his unfettered control over all aspects of the Rider organization and that is far from a guarantee. That my friends is…
The Last Word