Friday the 13th, always a day where the unusual is expected to go down.
In his first official trade as general manager of the Montreal Alouettes, Kavis Reed decided to make as big a splash as possible. He swung a deal with the Saskatchewan Roughriders and sent a fourth round 2017 draft pick plus a conditional second round 2018 draft pick out to the prairies.
In exchange, the Alouettes received the negotiation rights to free agent CFL All-Star and two-time Grey Cup champion quarterback Darian Durant. There are conflicting reports that he may or may not have already signed the extension that will prevent him from testing the free agency waters. Durant is currently traveling in the USA and will address the media next week.
The move this morning set off a ripple effect throughout the league. With the move, the Alouettes went from being a laughingstock to a legitimate contender in the Eastern division in the eyes of a lot of people. Alouettes fans were excited at the idea of having an established quarterback in the fold while Roughriders fans were awash in anger and sadness at losing their decade-long quarterback.
Roughriders Head Coach/GM Chris Jones has drawn a lot of ire from long-time Riders fans, who feel like the coach was never on board with Durant as his signal-caller and only made minimal efforts to negotiate a contract to put on a good look for Rider nation. In their eyes, Jones stuck a knife in their hearts by ensuring that “Doubles” would NOT be retiring in green and white.
With this move and the release of other beloved Riders stars Weston Dressler and John Chick last season, Chris Jones is pulling no punches and not allowing personal emotion dictate his personnel decisions. If that means letting a massive fan favourite walk out the door, then so be it. This is his Riders team and he’ll put out the squad that he best feels will be a winner for years to come.
For the Alouettes, this is a serious step forward in trying to establish something that they have not had since the legendary Anthony Calvillo was forced to retire due to a head injury; a bonafide starting quarterback. They’ve tried former NFL stars, flash in the pan rookies and even established but middling at best CFLers at the quarterback position. Nothing has worked to any great degree.
Having Durant in the lineup would give the Alouettes a true starting quarterback that is a proven winner. Until recently, Durant has proven his worth time and again. He can air it out and lead your team to the promised land. Alouettes fans know Durant well, having watched him lead the Riders to a pair of Grey Cups matches versus the Als only to come up short both times.
He hasn’t been perfect and has also missed some considerable time due to injury, most notably missing the bulk of the 2015 season due to an Achilles tear during the Riders’ home opener. He returned and played through 2016, but struggled to turn Saskatchewan around with a myriad of rookies and a new coaching staff.
Darian also had a bit of a tumultuous relationship with Riders fans, who expect their team to contend for the Grey Cup every season. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen Rider fans on social media become angry with Durant and would have been happy to see him gone. But those fans seemed few and far between compared to the rest of Rider Nation.
My sole trip to Regina did see a lot of #4 jerseys in the stands and when the Roughriders played their final game at Taylor Field a couple of months ago, it was Durant who received the loudest and longest ovation during the closing ceremonies as he raised the Grey Cup one last time. Just like he did in 2013 when he led the Roughriders to their fourth Grey Cup championship in that very same barn and in front of those same raucous fans.
While it would have been a romantic notion to see Doubles spend his entire career in the prairies, that’s simply not the reality of sports today. Today marks as an era ends and begins for both Riders and Alouettes fans alike.
My thoughts? I have always stated on numerous occasions that had the Alouettes swung a deal back in 2013 to acquire Durant when Calvillo went down to injury, they would not have been in the quagmire they’ve found themselves in. Today’s move is one that comes with risks, as Durant has suffered some injuries and has not looked quite the same as he did when he won the Grey Cup in 2013.
Where Durant provides the most value is with his leadership and experience, which the Alouettes have been sorely lacking behind centre for quite some time. But much like with the acquisition of Kevin Glenn in late 2015, Durant cannot be considered a long-term solution. While AC and Henry Burris have proven that quarterbacks can sometimes age very well like wine, that’s not always a sure thing. I don’t see Darian Durant getting better with age.
But I do see him showing the two young quarterbacks currently with the Alouettes how to be a true leader and if he can be that true bridge to either Vernon Adams or Rakeem Cato, then this will be a move that will pay long-term dividends. The idea of handing the keys to the kingdom to these youngsters is clearly not one this new administration is in favour of. Hence why this deal was done.
This move doesn’t make Montreal a true contender right off the bat. But it does give the Alouettes a chance to re-establish themselves quickly and shed the circus label that has befallen this team in recent years. If Kavis Reed can get Durant under contract and not blow his brains out financially in the process, it also helps establish this rookie GM that many people have doubts in succeeding at this lofty position.
Adding Durant would also help compliment the receiving corps, which will include a hopefully healthy S.J. Green, a rising star in B.J. Cunningham and the re-signed Nik Lewis. Doubles will surely enjoy having such talented receivers to sling the ball to and is no doubt relishing the idea of lighting it up at the stadium located on Mont-Royal.
Shoring up the offensive line will be crucial to protecting whomever the QB is in Montreal and no doubt Reed will be exploring those options when free agency hits on February 14th. While the youngsters will get better with experience, adding one or two more proven vets will help tighten up this troublesome area for the Alouettes.
Can this move work? Can the answer to the malaise in Montreal come via another team’s legendary quarterback? I sincerely hope so. If you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse. Adding a Darian Durant does make you a better football team instantly on paper. While I would have liked this move done a couple of years ago, better late than never seems to be the theme.
Here’s hoping this calculated risk is one that will pay off for the Birds of Prey.