Sunday, April 04, 2010

Sunday Morning 'Rider Blogging - Retreads

In most cases, it's a bit simplistic to try to sum up the philosophy of a team's general manager in a move or two. But sometimes, the fit is just too good to ignore: take for example Dayton Moore's trade of a talented pitching prospect for the worst player in baseball. Or Darryl Sutter's decision to send away two of the three most talented offensive players off an already scoring-challenged team due to insufficient Sutterness, with the returns consisting mostly of yet more low-firepower grit and depth.

Now, I have to hope that Brendan Taman's first player personnel move as the Saskatchewan Roughriders' GM won't similarly prove emblematic of his tenure. But I have to wonder whether we've seen the start of a pattern which may significantly limit the 'Riders' long-term prospects.

After all, having presumably had the opportunity to do nearly anything to make his mark as the 'Riders' GM, Taman's first player pickup was...Kelly Bates. Yes, the same veteran lineman who was given away by B.C. before the 2009 season, then benched by a mediocre Winnipeg team for lacking mobility - and who presumably hasn't added much speed as he turns 35 this season.

Which isn't to say that it's necessarily a bad idea to look for some talent which may have been cut a year too soon. And if Bates was the only offseason pickup fitting the mold, I wouldn't consider it a problem. But as a rule of thumb, it doesn't figure to be a great bet that Taman will be able to spot upside in well-established CFL players that their previous teams have missed, or get a bargain deal on players who have provided years worth of game film for every team in the CFL to review.

Granted, Bates, Dan Goodspeed, Barrin Simpson and Dominique Dorsey all have plenty of success on their CFL resumes. But all are also past the best-before age for their respective positions - and it'll be a surprise if a single one of them has anywhere near as much success yet to come as he's achieved in years gone by. Which combined with the large number of 'Rider re-signed free-agents stands to make this year's team into one of the oldest and lowest-upside units in the CFL.

Of course, it's worth asking what the 'Riders' alternatives were - as veteran stopgaps might be a viable strategy for a team with some glaring holes that needed closing. But Taman actually cut two veterans on the offensive line who are younger than the players brought in from outside, and had loads of internal options at linebacker who will now end up stuck behind Simpson on the depth chart. Which means that there wasn't any particular reason to thumb at random through a 2007 or 2008 CFL guide in search of big names to add to the team.

What's more, it doesn't much look like the few younger players brought in by Taman will add much to the 'Riders' long-term potential either: in fact, their ranks look to be no less slanted toward pickups off the current CFL scrap heap. LaDarius Key couldn't beat out Denatay Heard for a 'Rider job in 2009, but will take over a spot in camp vacated by Heard's release this offseason. Aaron Fairooz washed out with Winnipeg; Lavarus Giles managed the trick with both Winnipeg and Calgary. But all three will also take roster spots which could otherwise have been used to try out new talent.

Mind you, there's one glaring exception which proves the rule. At nearly every position in the CFL, it's possible to plug in a talented newcomer and get at least reasonable results - which is why paying a premium for an import tackle or linebacker is usually a waste of a team's limited money under the salary cap. But at quarterback, it's virtually unheard of for players to succeed without at least some CFL experience: by my reckoning, only two current or recent CFL quarterbacks (Ricky Ray and Kerry Joseph) managed to perform even passably in their first season on a CFL active roster. For reasons unknown, though, Taman seems to have chosen the one position where experience is a must as the one where he's willing to throw untested rookies into the fire.

For now, it's not too late for Taman to fix the QB depth before camp. And it may be that the 'Riders will be able to either find their share of talent among their limited amount of youth in camp, or wring one last strong season out of Taman's group of veteran acquisitions.

But it's worth keeping an eye on whether Taman's focus on veterans over untapped potential ends up depleting the 'Riders' depth - particularly as the roster and negotiation list left behind by Eric Tillman erode with time. And while I certainly don't hope to be right, I'd think there's reason for concern that Rider Nation will end up looking back on Bates' signing as the first step in the wrong direction after the team's recent success.

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