It must be a stressful process for Saskatchewan Roughriders’ general manager Jeremy O’Day and head coach Craig Dickenson to go through, plotting out their strategy for free agency, and then trying to execute it. Both their jobs depend upon how successful they are right now, and they won’t know if it paid off until they are several weeks into the 2023 CFL season.

I don’t know why any sane person becomes a professional football general manager or head coach.  It seems akin to putting one’s head into a guillotine and waiting for months (or years) to see if the blade will fall. (And it almost always does.)

I was reading an article at 3DownNation, which has really become the go-to source for news and opinions about the CFL (aside from Discombobulated), written by some guy allegedly named Joel Gasson. His bio says he is “Regina-based” and likes beer. I think you have to like beer, a lot of beer, if you are Regina based.

Anyway, Mr. Gasson’s analysis of the Roughriders’ 2023 free agency is pretty spot on.  Reading between the lines, I think it is clear he is not sold on the idea that Cody Fajardo had to go, or that he was the problem last year.  He is also lukewarm about new Saskatchewan quarterback Trevor Harris, which I also think is fair. He writes that Mr. Harris is an upgrade from Mr. Fajardo. I dunno…. I think Mr. Gasson might have been enjoying his beer a little too much when he wrote that.

Cody Fajardo looks like a professional athlete; a stud, really. He took the Roughriders to two consecutive West Finals, and it would not be wrong to suggest those teams could have been consecutive Grey Cup champions if not for the unexpected emergence of the monster known as the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

Trevor Harris looks like a strip mall accountant whose hobbies include antique model planes, vaguely fascist conspiracy blogs and amateur surveillance drones. Nevertheless, he takes serious care of himself and has had some impressive stats and success in the CFL.

I remain convinced, as has been expressed elsewhere here at Discombobulated, that the offensive line was and will be the key to success for any quarterback here in Saskatchewan. It looks like free agency probably improved the offensive line, but there is no way the offensive line could have gotten worse, so that’s not saying much. I am intrigued by whether Saskatchewan’s signings of the American CFL newcomers will pan out.

But I am currently pessimistic.

With all the new players arriving on offense, it will take time to gel.  That’s just normal and natural, and that’s why I am sceptical this offensive overhaul was a good move for Mr. Day and Mr. Dickenson. They should know they need to win now.

I’m not sure how much rope Mr. Day and Mr. Dickenson will be given.  I can see another mid-season Taman/Chamblin-esque massacre taking place when the Roughriders are unable to start winning right away.  The offense can be expected to struggle early to familiarize themselves with each other.  But panic sets in quickly in Riderville (frankly, it may have already started), and looking at the Roughriders’ schedule, it is easy to predict a 0-5 start.

The Roughriders play Edmonton and Calgary twice in their first five games.  The other team:  the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. All pushovers.

The Edmonton Elks have reloaded and it is standard practice for Chris Jones teams to start kicking ass in the second year of a rebuild. And whose idea was it to let Kyran Moore escape to Edmonton?  That guy is a killer. I predict he will make the Roughriders pay next season with his de rigueur timely catches.  He’s the guy everyone always forgets about until he snags those 2nd and 14 passes under the defense, extending drives in back-breaking ways. Mr. Jones also knows what to do with guys like A.C. Leonard.

The Calgary Stampeders are always good, and even if they do not look terrifying on paper this year, they are always competent.  Mere baseline competency is usually enough to beat Roughriders teams, especially Roughriders teams with a pile of new players who have never played together before.

And the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.  Is there anything that suggests they will not be good again in 2023?  I mean, like, really good. Like, juggernaut good.

C’mon CFL schedule-makers, you could have thrown us a bone here.  Really? Five games against five western opponents? Would it have killed you to toss in Montreal or Ottawa at the beginning?

Obviously, there is some reason for hope.  The defense looks pretty good (what the hell was Sankey’s problem? And XFL? And Arlington XFL? Geez Louise…) with a very nasty front four (or five) shaping up.  Mr. Harris is not without his talents, so we shouldn’t be too hard on him, and if the offensive line does gel quickly, Mr. Harris has been known to demolish opposing defenses.  There is experienced and proven talent at running back, so again, if the offensive line starts functioning quickly, there is plenty of potential there.

But again, the key is the offensive line.  Say it together:  offensive line.

I am also just a tiny bit optimistic that both the Stampeders and the Blue Bombers might finally, finally, be on a downward trajectory.  History tells us it is impossible to remain consistently excellent forever, and the fall typically arrives both quickly and unexpectedly, like the sack of Rome or the 2014 Roughriders. It’s pretty pathetic to hope for the demise of others rather than the success of ourselves, but I’ve been a member of Rider Nation for over 50 years and it kinda comes with the territory. Being pathetic, that is.

I can see the Roughriders going 0-5, cleaning house, and then going 7-6 over the final 13 games with a new head coach and an improving offense that starts learning how to play together.  If Mr. Day and Mr. Dickenson had one or two years left on their contracts after 2023, a 7-11 season would likely be enough to secure their employment for the 2024 season, especially if the Roughriders showed promise at the end of the 2023 season by stringing together, say, three late victories (even if they were against out-of-contention opponents or teams resting their starters for the playoffs).  But with their contracts being up at the end of 2023… yikes.

And one more thing about Mr. Fajardo. I don’t know why successful but discarded Roughriders quarterbacks who have plenty left in the tank end up with the Montreal Alouettes.  I’m not confident Mr. Fajardo will do well in Montreal any more than his discarded quarterback predecessor Darian Durant. I do wish the Roughriders could have played the Montreal Alouettes on the first game of the 2023 season, a la 2010, since that’s a game they would have had a fighting chance to win.

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