The Chris Jones era in Regina is going to be a very different one. The Saskatchewan Roughriders' new head coach and general manager already brought some drastic change on the coaching side, cleaning house and importing almost his entire staff from Edmonton, and now he's making sweeping changes on the personnel side, releasing long-time Rider stars Weston Dressler and John Chick Thursday. Unsurprisingly, this hasn't gone over well with a lot of Saskatchewan fans:
Dressler and Chick are notable cuts, as both played with Saskatchewan for a long time, left for the NFL, and then chose to return to Riderville rather than elsewhere in the CFL. (There are some similarities here to Bobby Jurasin, who one of those tweets mentions: Jurasin was a star defensive lineman for the Riders from 1986-1997 and was named a league all-star in his final year with them, but then was exiled to Toronto for his final CFL season.) Dressler signed with Saskatchewan as a street free agent in 2008 following a strong college career at North Dakota, and he made an instant CFL impact, recording 1,123 receiving yards and 2,219 combined yards en route to claiming the league's Most Outstanding Rookie Award. He was a key part of their back-to-back Grey Cup appearances in 2009 and 2010 and their Grey Cup victory in 2013, and although he left for the NFL's Kansas City Chiefs in 2014, he returned to Regina that fall after being cut and was an important piece for them both that year and in 2015. This past season, he had a team-high 70 receptions for 941 yards, the second-highest total on the team behind only Ryan Smith. Dressler also has ben effective as a punt returner, and he's just 30. It seems likely he'll get another CFL deal from someone, and probably a well-paying one.
Chick came to Saskatchewan in 2007 following a good college career at Utah State and an unsuccessful NFL stint with Houston, and he was a massive part of the Riders' pass rush from 2007 to 2009. His 11-sack, three-forced-fumble showing in 2009 earned him the league's most outstanding defensive player award and caught the NFL's attention, and he returned south of the border to play for Indianapolis in 2010 and 2011 and Jacksonville in 2011 and 2012. Chick then came back to the Roughriders in 2013 and was an important part of their Grey Cup win, even though he only had eight sacks on the year. He's been even better since, recording 15 in 2014 and 11 this past year (tied for fourth in the league). Chick is 33, so it's unclear how long he'll be able to keep playing at a high level, but his outright release at this point is still surprising. It's notable that both he and Dressler were under contract for next season, so this isn't just early free agency.
Jones' logic here is likely to try and get cheaper and younger, and that's not an uncommon approach. Saskatchewan is probably in for a bit of a rebuilding season, unless Jones is able to find a lot of unknown talent; the Riders were just 3-15 in 2015 even with solid production from Dressler and Chick, so it's not likely that the team was Grey Cup-bound even with them, and moving on from experienced players to try and develop young talent and win down the road isn't inherently a bad idea. The release of frequent all-star safety Tyron Brackenridge (who was 31) in December also fits this mould. However, if it's about going young and cheap, it's very curious that the Riders traded for 30-year-old receiver Maurice Price earlier this week, as he has a massive contract and less recent production than Dressler. We'll see how this one pans out, but it's notable that Jones has gone from being heralded as the Roughriders' saviour to having calls for his head in less than a month. If they win, many will get over the cuts of Chick and Dressler, but if they don't, it may not be all roses in Regina.