September 07, 2011
Five days after being waived by the Chicago Bears, star receiver Andy Fantuz has officially rejoined the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Fantuz tweeted Wednesday morning he would be at Roughriders' practice, then officially reported to the team and participated in practice, which reactivated his Saskatchewan contract and waived his NFL chances for this year.
Fantuz's return could immediately give the Riders a significant boost, and he's coming back at a great time. The team had their most impressive victory of the year Sunday over 7-1 Winnipeg, and looked very good in the process under new head coach Ken Miller. However, they do still have significant questions, and they're facing the sure-to-be-motivated Bombers again this week on the road in the Banjo Bowl. That's not going to be an easy game, so the addition of Fantuz (seen at right participating in the Riders' practice Wednesday) could certainly help; he led all CFL players with 1,303 receiving yards last season, has some of the best hands in the league and has a great ability to fit into this Saskatchewan offence and a terrific chemistry with quarterback Darian Durant.
The Riders certainly don't look as shorthanded at receiver at the moment as they did earlier this year, as players like Efrem Hill and (108-year-old) Dallas Baker have stepped up. However, Fantuz should still be an important addition for them. He's very familiar with the offence Miller likes to run, and has apparently been working with the first-team offensive unit already. Don't be surprised if he plays a significant role in Sunday's Banjo Bowl. Here's video of Fantuz in practice Wednesday, courtesy of Murray McCormick of The Regina Leader Post.
It's important not to overstate Fantuz's potential contributions either, though. Yes, there's been a ton of focus on him. Even after Fantuz returned to practice, a few tweets from media types that he'd left the field spurred a flurry of questions about if he was injured (which Riders' communications coordinator Sheri Trapp said isn't the case). However, it's worth keeping in mind that he's still just one of 12 offensive players, one of 24 starters and one of 46 players on the active roster. Fantuz is an upgrade at receiver and will certainly help the Riders, and his Canadian passport will give them more roster flexibility. Whether they're able to maintain their momentum from last week's win or will fall back towards the form they displayed in their slow start is going to depend on much more than just his performance, though.
Football's a team sport, and although Fantuz is a very talented guy, he can't win games by himself. Just in order to make a single catch, he needs the right play to be called, the linemen to execute their blocks, the other receivers to run their routes well and Durant to deliver the ball to the right spot. It certainly helps if you've got a star receiver on the end of passes, but a lot has to go right before the receiver even gets involved.
It's interesting that Fantuz was willing to come back to the Roughriders so soon, as he still had five further days to sign with another NFL team before his CFL contract kicked back in. Perhaps he wasn't getting offers and didn't expect that to change. Still, you never know what's going to happen with the always-in-flux state of NFL rosters, and moving to the NFL this year made tons of sense for Fantuz given the higher salaries and bigger stage.
Even despite this decision, though, his NFL dream may not be dead. Fantuz's existing CFL contract ends this year, and he could opt to try his luck south of the border again this offseason. Moving this coming offseason would be a significantly better situation for him, as he'd have the benefit of a full year of organized team activities (OTAs) and full training camps. The NFL's lockout made things particularly difficult for CFLers heading south this offseason, and that may be especially true in Fantuz's case. Unlike most CFL players trying their luck south of the border, Fantuz played his college ball in Canada (at the University of Western Ontario), so he's never had significant experience playing 11-a-side football on the smaller American fields. With a full year to adapt, he might have a better chance to catch on south of the border.
The question is if Fantuz will try the NFL again. This year's experience was obviously discouraging for him, and he knows he's certainly capable of shining in the CFL, so he could just opt to stay north of the border and sign a long-term deal. However, the NFL does still have quite the lure, and if he doesn't take the chance now, it's probably not going to come again. He's apparently still considering his options on that front. In the end, it will be his decision to make, and one that should be interesting to watch this offseason. For now, though, Riders' fans should just be grateful to have him back for the rest of this season.