If there wasn't already enough pressure to keep pace with the other eight CFL clubs who seemingly improve year-after-year, the Saskatchewan Roughriders don't have the luxury of time and it's a lot of their own doing. "Time for what?", you ask. After consecutive losing seasons without a playoff birth, the Riders need to make the playoffs in 2017 for this season to be considered a success.
We have all seen beautiful, shiny, new Mosaic Stadium by now. When the sun is on the horizon, it casts its beautiful profile and our prairie pride over a few older venues around the league. Yeah, Dave Dickenson, I just went there. If the Riders were looking to keep a low profile, they've really shot themselves in the foot with the new state of the art facilities. The CFL media, and the league community in-general, all had a teaser with CFL Week in March. The upgrades that the league scribes and analysts enjoy when they visit Regina now, compared to in the past, is something they hope will extend to the on-field product to make their storyline that much easier to compose. How hard was it watching the 2013 Winnipeg Blue Bombers open Investors Group Field with a 3-15 season after a year of costly delays? Another example is last year when the narrative could have read success at BMO Field for the re-born Toronto Argonauts. Instead the story was empty seats and a then record high of optimism was lost by the organization. The Ottawa Redblacks only won two games at TD Place Stadium in it's inaugural year, but the optimism wasn't lost on the brand new franchise.
Then there's of course all the ironic luxury worked into the stadium design that should allow the players to be their best selves throughout the season. Mosaic Stadium will work for the Riders, but only if they don't let it work against them which is apparently fairly easy to do by losing the majority of their games. First impressions mean a lot and the Riders would do themselves a huge favour winning the majority of their home games in 2017.
To go with the new ballpark, athletic facilities, and offices the Riders have had to recruit, sign, and acquire some players to overcome the potential sting of another losing season. Have they ever. Where do I even start with the again monster list of high-profile signings this offseason? I suppose the light has shined none brighter than on former third-overall pick in the NFL draft and 2x Pro Bowler, Vince Young. His signing brings an entirely new dimension to the media coverage that will be involved with the CFL, but particularly the Riders, should he make the football team. Bo Levi Mitchell can go right ahead and be flippantly optimistic about facing one of his idles. Maybe he's got a method to his madness though and hopes that any media circus in Regina that could arise would be a negative thing for a west division rival? It's not just Vince Young either. It's new players all over the depth-chart in Kevin Glenn, Duron Carter, Kienan LaFrance, Derek Dennis, Bakari Grant, Glenn Love, Chad Owens, Eddie Steele, and Ryan White. That's replaced almost a quarter of the roster with guys that have been in a position where they have won. That's happening right now, so can they win together with the Saskatchewan Roughriders in 2017? Attached to a pretty strong core of players assembled in 2016, the first of Chris Jones seasons as chief cook and bottle washer of the Riders, anybody can feel pretty optimistic about that happening. Mind you, there are eight other teams also looking to hold their heads under water. These players and any to be added before the season have got to integrate well and prove that they were good acquisitions for the club. The pressure only builds with the outstanding additions the club has made.
The time could be sooner than later for changes off the field if the Riders don't breed some sustainable success soon. I'd hate to think in retrospect that folks like me gave guys like Jones and fourth-year President/CEO Craig Reynolds too little time to prove they can turn the trick, but you can't wait too long either. While they have a luxury stadium and some luxurious new players, it's time that is not their luxury. Win or people will and should start screaming for changes up at the top.
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