Our pigskin pundits tackle Chris Jones’ huge Rider rebuild

RIDER FAN FORUM by Gregory Beatty

When we last spoke with Earl Camembert, John’s Chick, Cal Corduroy and Ron Mexico, the Riders had just concluded a disastrous 3-15 campaign. Change was in the air, and the off-season has certainly given our four fan-forum friends plenty to talk about.

In December the Riders hired Chris Jones from the Grey Cup champ Eskimos as V-P Football Operations, GM and head coach. Jones then pinched most of his former Edmonton assistants, and also scooped Calgary’s master talent scout, John Murphy. Anything stand out as a big plus or minus?

JOHN’S CHICK: The changes were definitely a big plus. Many thought the candidates for the GM job were Chris Jones, John Murphy and Jeremy O’Day, and we somehow managed to get all three! Quite the coup! I think Rider president Craig Reynolds earned a lot of respect.

CAL CORDUROY: I’d probably be pissed if a team raided the Riders’ entire coaching staff, but Lord knows there hasn’t been a threat of that happening in 50 years. From what I understand, both Jones and Murphy had the salary cap scenario (by position) sorted out prior to their interviews. I hated Jones when he was in Edmonton, but now that he’s here, I have to admit I’m impressed. We’ll see what the final product ends up like on the field, but if the players have a portion of the confidence he and Murphy are demonstrating, we’ll have a good team.

RON MEXICO: I’m entirely positive about the hiring of Chris Jones and John Murphy, particularly Jones. He’s had the Midas touch for several years in the CFL going back to his time as defensive coordinator in Calgary and Toronto. I wasn’t as familiar with Murphy until he became a candidate for the GM position.

EARL CAMEMBERT: Greg, you may recall that in November I was in the “blow ’er up” club and boy did they ever do that. I see it as all pluses. I heard that when the Riders interviewed Murphy he told them their roster was shit and that they were overpaying a bunch of guys. No kidding. Chris Getzlaf at $220K? That’s what we’re paying for a guy who hurt himself running a pattern in practice? Then apparently Murphy asked how many times the Riders had finished first in the last 40 years. Once? Maybe twice. Enough said.

Releasing John Chick and Weston Dressler were the two highest profile roster moves, but plenty of other players were cut as well. How did you view the shake-up?

JC: The Dressler move was somewhat anticipated, but Chick’s release was initially surprising — especially for me (ha! ha!). They did make sense though once I had a chance to digest them. And I think the fact they eventually signed much lower contracts with other teams proved that we had no choice but to release them. I did like some of the other players who were cut (LB Weldon Brown and RB Anthony Allen, for example). But when you look at the moves objectively without emotion, they all made sense.

CC: Doesn’t bother me in the slightest. Both Chick and Dressler were being overpaid, as evidenced by the pay cuts they took. We have a range for each position… fall within that range, or go elsewhere.

RM: I called for the end of Chick and Dressler in this column in November. The great teams and great personnel guys make these tough calls a year early rather than two years too late. We were 3-15 last year, which means that even if those guys were our best, they weren’t that great. The other thing not to overlook is the purging of 19 players within the first few weeks of the Jones/Murphy regime. They obviously believed our roster wasn’t any good. I’m happy to give them all kinds of rope, and if they hang themselves with it, so be it.

EC: Cutting Dressler and Chick was sad but necessary. As per my previous observation, with those two and Getzlaf they were in for $700K. No reason to do that if there’s talent out there and it’s cheaper.

Speaking of that, free agency kicked off on Feb. 9. How do you rate the signings the team made?

JC: I think the Riders were the biggest winners in free agency, and I give them an A for sure.  Winnipeg signed some big names too, but I think our moves were more strategic and perhaps even more affordable. The signing of D-Linemen Shawn Lemon and Justin Capicciotti were big on defence. I like the direction they’re going with taller receivers such as John Chiles and Jeremy Kelley. WR Shamawd Chambers and RB Kendial Lawrence are good gets too. We may need a program in front of us for the first few games, but I think last season proved we needed a complete overhaul — especially on defence.

CC: Good so far. Capicciotti and Chambers are good signings. I expect they may even grab another one or two from the pile of mostly defensive players that remain. Chris Getzlaf is likely done unless he’s prepared to play for $25K/year. By the way, nice to see Nik Lewis re-sign with Montreal. We need someone to work over this year.

RM: I really like the free agent signings. Capicciotti, Chambers and LB Greg Jones should all make a good impact. I get the sense that the cost of these guys isn’t in the stratosphere like Dressler, Chick and Getzlaf (who at this point hasn’t been signed by anyone).

EC: I give Jones and Murphy credit for making a ton of moves. They canned Chick, then signed both Shawn “Meadowlark” Lemon and Justin Capicciotti for less money and they’re better D-lineman. They were terrible on D last year, so they brought in DBs Otha Foster and Ed “Bob” Gainey and, maybe most importantly, middle linebacker Greg Jones. The Riders haven’t had a decent middle linebacker since Rey Williams got hurt, and this might plug that hole.

By virtue of stinking in 2015, the Riders have the #1 pick in May’s draft. Then they don’t draft again until the third round. Who would you pick #1?

JC: I’m leaning towards Tevaun Smith who played in the NCAA with Iowa because I think we need some young Canadian receivers. But Daniel Onyemata (Manitoba Bisons) sounds interesting too. It would be a great ratio changer if we could have another national D-Lineman.

CC: I’d suggest the Riders pick WR Tevaun Smith first. They could also use the pick as trade bait, as the Riders have already signed some O and D-Line players as well as receivers — and that’s essentially the entire Top 20 of the draft.

RM: It’s hard to judge the Canadian draft unless you’ve either done a lot of research, or a local guy is ranked near the top. No local guys are highly ranked. The Iowa receiver is impressive, as is DB Arjen Colquhoun from Michigan State and O-Lineman Josiah St. John from Oklahoma.

EC: I don’t follow college ball enough to say whether the Riders should draft person A or B. When I looked at the latest draft rankings I noticed quite a few players were from big U.S. colleges. I always wonder about picking those guys since they would’ve gotten scouted by the NFL a lot. If I were to pick a position, I think you can always use Canadian O or D-Linemen. If a receiver is head-and-shoulders ahead of everyone, then I’d pick him. That would be Tevaun Smith. Big college though.