Roughriders ready to explore free agency

The pieces of the puzzle that is the Saskatchewan Roughriders roster are starting to come together on the eve of free agency.

It begins a week from Tuesday, but with the league’s negotiation window opening on Sunday, the wheeling and dealing is about to begin.

Saskatchewan Roughriders General Manager and Vice-President of Football Operations Jeremy O’Day spoke to the media on Thursday from Texas, where he is taking in the East-West Shrine Bowl.

GM and Vice-President of Football Operations Jeremy O’Day. Photo: Blaine Weyland

Just minutes before, the Roughriders announced a key signing with a new two-year deal for wide receiver Shawn Bane Jr. He led the CFL in receptions in his first season in Saskatchewan. O’Day was happy to lock up one of the team’s top targets.

“Shawn has the ability to break long ones, he can run all the route tree, just an exceptional guy in the room.”

The defensive line got a boost this week with the re-signing of Anthony Lanier II to a one-year contract extension. With a former defensive lineman in Corey Mace stepping in as head coach, O’Day feels Lanier is capable of big things this season.

“Corey (Mace) is really excited to get to work with Anthony (Lanier II) and he just feels like he can get a lot out of him,” O’Day added that it’s very likely Lanier II will line up inside at the defensive tackle position after spending the majority of the 2023 season playing at the defensive end spot.

Last week, the Roughriders filled their quarterback room as they welcomed back Mason Fine with a two-year deal. He will be reunited with Trevor Harris, Antonio Pipkin and Shea Patterson, with Jake Dolegala set to become a free agent on February 13. O’Day said the scouting and coaching staffs spent plenty of time evaluating quarterbacks, and the group concluded that Fine was more suited to the Roughriders offensive scheme.

“The fit with Marc’s (Mueller) offence and how comfortable he would with the quarterback.”

O’Day mentioned that the Roughriders may add another quarterback for training camp but said the new coaching staff is excited about working with Patterson.

“Just needs a bigger opportunity.”

Free Agency will be Running Wild

There are some notable free agents for the Roughriders even after their recent re-signings, including running back Jamal Morrow. O’Day said there has been some discussion with Morrow’s representatives, but there are no signs of an imminent deal.

Morrow isn’t be the only high-profile free agent running back that could become available later this month. Winnipeg’s Brady Oliveira, Toronto’s A.J. Ouellette, and Calgary’s Ka’Deem Carey are all eligible to become free agents. William Stanback was released by the Montreal Alouettes earlier this week, allowing him to speak with teams ahead of free agency. The fact that several prominent running backs are potentially available doesn’t surprise the Roughriders General Manager, with the possible motive for each player’s departure being different from the other.

Sunday will mark the first opportunity that O’Day and his counterparts will begin talking with other free agents across the league when the negotiation period opens at 11:00 am Saskatchewan time. Teams will have a week to verbally agree to contracts that can’t become official until February 13.

The advantage of the negotiation window, according to O’Day is that it allows teams to spend time with other free agents and try to find the right mix on both sides.

“If we do have interest in that player, that player has an opportunity to see where he fits, opportunity for him to talk to the coordinator, the positional coach and making sure there in a good position to be successful.”

O’Day noted introducing legal tampering has been a huge change to free agency in recent history and believes it adds comfort when signing a free agent.

“The communication was really limited before that, so before that you kind of had to take a leap of faith.”

Compared to his days as a player, O’Day noted that there are currently players with one-year contracts, but doesn’t believe that’s necessarily a bad thing.

“If you’re signing a high-priced player and he doesn’t perform, then you can adjust the contract the following year.”

With the Roughriders plans, O’Day kept his cards close to his vest but said the team’s plans need to be flexible.

“If you get this player in free agency or if you’re able to attain them in free agency, what that means to some of the other areas, and if you don’t get a player that you were earmarking or putting into the puzzle, then you shift to a different plan.”

Besides Morrow and Dolegala, other notable players from the Roughriders that can begin negotiating with other teams on Sunday unless they sign a new contract are linebackers Larry Dean and Micah Teitz, defensive tackle Micah Johnson, defensive end Pete Robertson, and wide receiver Tevin Jones.

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