Whinerpeg figures out Mo Price, Mo Problems as training camp begins

May 16, 2018 - 4:36pm

A couple of years ago the Saskatchewan Roughriders signed receiver Mo Price as a free agent who then got a signing bonus and then promptly retired, providing the province of Manitoba with hours of chuckles.

While the question came up of whether Price should return the bonus, he never did since it wasn’t against the rules and I wonder if Darian Durant filed that in the back of his mind for future reference.

In the CFL teams cut players all the time, especially before they get bonuses and teams think they can get a cheaper alternative to a player who taking a chunk of their salary cap.   Player contracts in the CFL are not guaranteed so this is a nifty way for teams to stickhandle their way through the salary cap.  Coaches and general managers have their contracts guaranteed which explains when teams fire their coaches, they are on the hook for the duration of the contract until it ends or the coach gets hired elsewhere.

So when Durant announced his retirement prior to training camp, and after depositing his bonus, the wailing and gashing of teeth from Whinerpeg made it clear the Bombers and their media regarded this as a personal betrayal and one that had to be satisfied only by Durant returning the bonus. Well, welcome to the world of what the players call the Cash Flow Low (CFL) Collective Bargaining Agreement. A toothless or preoccupied union wanted one year contracts and players relying on bonuses to get through the six months of offseason with no cash flow had to grin and bear it as teams cut them seemingly on financial whims.

This may change in the upcoming agreement, which is expected to be negotiated this off-season, but what Durant did was do to teams what they do to players on a regular basis. Remember, Durant was cut before he was supposed to be paid a bonus on his former contract with Montreal.

Winnipeg and their media allies want to spin this for all they can, and I can’t blame them considering what a black eye it leaves the club.  I’m aware of the Mo Price situation, and I think there were at least a few other similar situations, but if Kyle Walters had structured the money so that there would be incentive for Durant to sign and then stay, I doubt any of this would have happened.

Instead we have Durant taking a page out of the Mo Price playbook and retiring to start the next phase of his life. From a Rider perspective, there are certainly enough giggles at the Bombers expense to make this, in the words of the Seinfeld episode….Gold Jerry, pure gold!

Winnipeg sought to repair the public relations damage by hinting their quarterback depth is amongst the best in the league. This is a somewhat touchy subject because when Matt Nichols went down toward the end of last year, what Winnipeg put up under centre was less than inspiring.

It’s an issue that should be of concern for the Bombers because Nichols plays a lot like Mike Reilly, very physical which can lead to injuries.  Right now Alex Ross is the most notable name to be the back up, and Ross played spot duty with BC last year.

The back-up is an important position because as the Philadelphia Eagles showed in their march towards the Super Bowl, having a capable back-up means if your starting quarterback goes down, you have someone competent who can help carry the team to a championship. Whether Ross is that guy will become apparent when he sees real game action.

With Jeff Matthews getting cut, the former Toronto/Hamilton back-up at least has seen game action, understands the game and was cut purely because of the wealth Toronto has at quarterback with Ricky Ray and James Franklin. Matthews would add some much needed credibility to Winnipeg’s stable of QBs and hey, they certainly need it.

As for Durant, his comments following the retirement announcement about being glad he never played for Winnipeg and how their drought continues, well, this has won him some goodwill back in Riderville. It definitely earned some laughs at the expense of the Bombers who tried picking a social fight with the Ottawa Red Blacks only to have them send Winnipeg a list of Burn Centres in Canada. It was definitely not Winnipeg’s week.

In looking at Durant’s career, his emergence from the bottom of the depth chart to take the starting position in 2008 demonstrated that Durant understood what Ron Lancaster said about quarterbacks – the only statistic that counts is if you win.

The problem with Durant at the beginning was when he was good, he was very good, such as the 2010 Canada Day Shoot-Out with Montreal, and when he was bad, he was extremely frustrating as when he threw an interception in the final minute of the 2010 Grey Cup. If one was going to pick a game, the 2010 season opener and the 2013 Western Semi-Final against BC would demonstrate Durant at his best.

I might mention the 2013 Grey Cup, but Durant coughed up the ball a number of times and thank Jebus for Kory Sheets and the defense with Sheets catching one fumble and turning it upfield for a major gain and the defense for pressuring Henry Burris into an early pout.

Durant also played with a bit of a chip on his shoulder and that chip enabled the Riders to trade him to Montreal last season where he threw like he was skipping rocks off some lake. Durant’s taunt of the Riders after beating them in the season opener, thanks to a missed field goal, was a definite sign both sides needed to move on.

With having the status of being only one of four men to quarterback the Riders to a Grey Cup (should have been two, but let’s not go there), his legacy in Saskatchewan is assured. And that chip on his shoulder which seemed to motivate him through his career came out for a final bow when he responded to the Bombers whining about the move lacked class.

Quick note – the Bombers cut Canadian receiver Matt Coates who had played for Hamilton for three years before joining Winnipeg and just before training camp, but hey, class will win out eh?

And the beat goes on in Montreal where Khalil Carter was moved from defensive coordinator to socut just before training camp. Montreal said it was due to an illness in the family, but Herb Zurowsky of the Montreal Gasette (great football reporter) said the move was necessary because Carter let the position go to his head and apparently during last year’s Grey Cup Week got into a fight with Tommie Campbell, whom the Als signed in free agency. Reed has made some good moves during the CFL draft, but also continues to make some bonehead moves and was hoping to sweep this under the rug. Montrel’s defense is in the hands now of Rich Stubler, who was hired as a consultant, and at least Stubler has run defenses in the past – although it will be interesting to see if he can work miracles with this bunch.

Other pre-training camp moves include the New Orleans Saints waiving former BC Lion Adam Bighill. With the CFL apparently cracking down on contracts in the drawer for players leaving to try their NFL luck, it will be interesting if Bighill decides to come back to BC if he can’t stick it in the NFL.

Bighill is fighting a height issue, in that he might not be the right size to be a regular contributor in an NFL defense, but his tenacity could lead to a lucrative special teams career and the NFL money makes such efforts worthwhile The trick is finding the right defense or special team situation where he can contribute.

If he decides to come back to BC, he raises the level of the defense, which may  be trending older with the addition of Odell Willis. But if another team has the salary cap room, Bighill may look at a situation where he gets paid and gets to play on a regular basis, but I can’t see BC letting him talk without at least making an offer.

In Hamilton, retired offensive lineman Mathieu Girard came out of retirement, somewhat making up for the loss of offensive lineman Ryan Bombein who got traded to Montreal.  In kind of a reverse situation, offensive lineman Simon Rottier retired after six seasons with the Eskimos, but kept the door open for a return if the Club needed him. The Eskimos have invested in upgrading their offensive line and Rottier apparently has taken a beating.

In his retirement statement, he said he would continue to work out if needed, leaving the door open for another go around if the Eskimos fall into another streak of injuries like they did last year. The Eskimos continued to cover their bets by signing offensive lineman Tommie Draheim who was cut by Ottawa. The Eskimos are looking to protect Mike Reilly more, which could see them have two American tackles or even play four Canadians depending on how things shake out. Another thing to watch would be Edmonton’s ability to keep a running back healthy for a whole season, although CJ Gable does bring a lot to the table.

In Calgary, the retirement of Andrew Buckley leaves the Stamps back up QB position wide open with Ricky Stanzi having an early lead. But the Stamps will not be afraid to bring someone in if the situation demands it.

The Stamps changeover also hints at trying to shift the team culture around. Back to back Grey Cup losses means the Stamps have a good team, but also an internal flaw that is keeping them from sealing the deal. Players who play for each other, rather than say, individual stats or compiling film for an NFL shot, are those who more likely than not hoist the Grey Cup in November. Dave Dickenson is now seeing if the foundation of the Stamps is strong enough to handle alterations so they can raising the Grey Cup instead of watching it being raised.

Speaking of Grey Cup Champs, Argonaut Head Coach Marc Trestman is applying the same philosphy he had in Montreal with the Argos as the face the role of being defending champs. Trestman in Montreal said after the Als won the Grey Cup, the next season he did not refer to his team as defending champs, stating the season is like a mountain and his team’s job is climbing the mountain and if things went right, they would be champions again.

If Trestman is applying that Montreal philosphy to the Argos, he is apparently also going to play Ricky Ray as much as possible. There was some talk about James Franklin seeing some action, but Trestman has said Ray will see the most reps, Ray is the starter, and Franklin will not have anything handed to him.

That is the same approach Trestman used with Anthony Calvillo in Montreal, and with Calvillo joining Trestman in Toronto,  consistency seems to be the game plan. The downside of this is that teams are trying to avoid putting all their quarterbacking eggs in one basket unless they have an all-world offensive line, which is an open question in Toronto.

It wouldn’t be fair to assume based on Trestman’s preseason conference call that Ray will see all the snaps but let’s say Ray sees all the snaps, until he wins it all again or gets injured. If Franklin doesn’t see any playing time, or about the same as he would have in Edmonton, the question of his career in Toronto will likely come to a head at the end of this season if Ray does not retire. Franklin will no doubt learn more about quarterbacking from Ray, Calvillo and Trestman, a sort of masters degree this season, but he would like to be able to put that knowledge to use.

In Ottawa, the big question will be the impact of Noel Thorpe as the new defensive coordinator. Thorpe was fired by Montreal last season and surfaced with Ottawa and no doubt a bone to pick with Kavis Reed. Ottawa has been a 500 or sub 500 team and while the offense seems to be relatively smooth, the defense has had its pain cramp moments. Thorpe seems likely to use Kyries Hebert as a mentor for the younger players as he teaches them one of the more effective defensive systems in the league.

So training camp is about to open, let the good times roll!

 

 

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