Here are two of the questions in the poll of CFL writers:
24. First Canadian you’d sign if all were available:Now, considering that these questions cover the two types of players in the CFL, the inescapable conclusion is that the 'Riders have the player on their roster that observers around the league would most like to have as a team's cornerstone. And despite Fantuz' massive lead in the non-import category, I doubt there's much dispute that the category which features the CFL's top quarterbacks is the one which best tells us who teams would most like to build around.
Andy Fantuz, Saskatchewan — 76.9 per cent
Josh Bourke (Montreal), Jon Cornish (Calgary) — 5.8 per cent
25. First import you’d sign if all were available:
Darian Durant, Saskatchewan — 21.2 per cent
Anthony Calvillo (Montreal), Cory Boyd (Toronto), Travis Lulay (B.C.) — 13.5 per cent
Chad Owens, Toronto — 9.6 per cent
Henry Burris, Calgary — 5.8 per cent
Markeith Knowlton (Hamilton), Ricky Ray (Edmonton) — 3.8 per cent
So it's probably fair to say that at least based on current media perceptions, Darian Durant is the single most valuable building block in the CFL. And that's been a rather rare occurrence in the 'Riders' history to date.
After all, the CFL tends to be a quarterback-dominated league - so one can fairly safely rule out players at nearly any other position for the title. And even when Saskatchewan has had an effective young starting quarterback in the past, it's never had much of a claim to the most valuable player in the league from the standpoint of future team development.
Ron Lancaster would obviously be the most likely prospect for the title given that he actually turned into one of the league's all-time greats. But I'm not sure that Lancaster would have been considered more valuable than Russ Jackson around the league while the latter was still active - as Jackson established himself as a star far earlier without being substantially older. And by the time Jackson retired, Lancaster was 32 years old, leaving open the argument that younger quarterbacks like Sonny Wade and Tom Wilkinson would have been expected to carry more future value (for the same reason that Travis Lulay ranks ahead of Burris and Ray today).
And Lancaster's arguable case in the early '70s is likely the only point in 'Rider history where one of the team's players was even close to the title of most valuable property in the CFL. As great as Kent Austin was, there wouldn't seem to be any moment in his career whether either Tracy Ham or Doug Flutie didn't carry far more projected future value. Kerry Joseph's Most Outstanding Player award was more the result of a single season when the likes of Calvillo, Burris and Ray were injured or slumping than any sense that he was actually the league's best player to build around. And while one might be able to make an argument for Henry Burris at some point in the early 2000s, it's tough to give him the title for a 2000 season when he was eyeing the NFL, or his return when he was at best battling Nealon Greene for the 'Riders' starting job.
Of course, a ranking like Durant's can be a product of timing and luck to some extent. Durant's place surely has much to do with the fact that he's the league's only established starting quarterback under 30 other than the painfully fragile Buck Pierce, allowing him to rank at the top of the list without holding a huge lead over either better-established or high-upside alternatives.
And more importantly, while there's reason for optimism that Durant can develop into a Flutie-style threat with time, for now his future value figures to be based in large part on the expectation that he hasn't yet hit his ceiling - as evidenced by the fact that Durant doesn't even register in the "quarterback to win one championship game" question in the same poll.
But it's still worth noting that with Durant being seen as the #1 target of those who cover the CFL, the 'Riders look to have an advantage that they've arguably never enjoyed before in building their team for the future. And whatever happens in Durant's second chance at a Grey Cup as a starter tomorrow, it's worth keeping in mind how valuable that advantage should be for many years to come.