CFL Pass

West final loss still stings for O'Day

Moving on from a 20-13 loss to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the CFL’s West Division final hasn’t been easy for Jeremy O’Day.

“It’s not something that goes away quickly,” the Riders’ vice-president of football operations and general manager said Wednesday while meeting with the media for the first time since losing to the Blue Bombers on Nov. 17. “The sting is still there when you’re so close to it.”

The Blue Bombers advanced to Sunday’s Grey Cup game in Calgary, where they beat the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 33-12.

However, the focus now shifts from the regular season and playoffs to the league’s busy business season.

With that in mind, here’s an edited version of O’Day’s session with the media.

Q On Jan. 18, you were named the Riders’ vice-president of football operations and general manager, replacing Chris Jones. How important will these extra months be for you this off-season?

A It will be a good thing for us to have a little bit more time, but it’s not as if we weren’t working when Chris was here for those months. It was business as usual looking through our free agents and preparing for the next season. It won’t be much different than that.

Q You have 30-plus pending free agents heading into the off-season. Is it overwhelming having to deal with a list that long?

A It’s not overwhelming. If it was, I wouldn’t be the right person for the job. It’s very similar to other teams and I don’t think we have any more or less than other CFL teams. Most people understand that with the one-year contracts you’re going to be dealing with that on a regular basis. There are pros and cons to those one-year contracts. You have guys that you will have to renegotiate with in the off-season. You also have the flexibility to upgrade your roster if you have to.

Q Have you created lists of players that you want to bring back and who you don’t want to bring back in 2020?

A That’s what we have been doing for the last week. We’ll continue to do that and start working on some free agents as soon as possible. You evaluate your team and set the priorities on who you want back. It’s a process because you can’t sign them all at one time. You attack them one by one. We’re going to do the best we can to bring back all of the guys that we want back. That’s the beauty of pro football and no team is ever the same. We felt that we had a very good team, but we came up short. We had the opportunity to make a run at it. Once the Grey Cup is played, you have to move forward and that’s what we’re doing.

Q What do you think of former Rider Zach Collaros quarterbacking the Blue Bombers to their win over the Tiger-Cats in Sunday’s Grey Cup game?

A You’re happy for him, given how it went for him, getting injured early, getting traded to a team and traded again and then having an opportunity to play in the Grey Cup. It’s a great story for him and I’m happy for a player getting an opportunity to win a Grey Cup.

Q Riders quarterback Cody Fajardo played with two torn oblique muscles in the loss to the Blue Bombers. What sort of rehab will he have to go through during the off-season to be prepared for 2020?

A It’s not something that will require any sort of surgery. It’s a matter of rest and letting his body heal. An injury like that just needs time to recover.

Q How do you assess Craig Dickenson’s first season as the Riders’ head coach?

A He did a really good job and any questions that I had in my mind about whether Craig could be a head coach were answered very early on. He does a tremendous job of getting the players prepared and he exceeded my expectations for him as a head coach.

Q Did Cody Fajardo exceed your expectations?

A When you sign a quarterback to compete for the No. 2 position and he ends up winning the West Division’s most outstanding player award, that’s exceeding your expectations. Still, I don’t have a crystal ball for predicting guys. I know that I will be evaluated on how I bring players here and it’s a big part of it. Sometimes it works out in your favour and sometimes it doesn’t.

Q There is talk of the CFL having two quarterbacks on the active roster instead of the three each team now has. What do you think of that possible change to the roster?

A We’ve done a lot of research on how many third quarterbacks actually get to play and it’s a very small amount. Still, you definitely have to be prepared for it. Everyone has different opinions whether you think the process for quarterbacks holding a clipboard on game day is part of their development. The real development happens in practice and pre-season games.

Q Regina-born punter Jon Ryan is among the Riders’ pending free agents. Have you talked to him regarding his plans for 2020?

A Right now, Jon will take some time and enjoy the off-season. He was everything we expected him to be and the question coming into camp was if he had some pop in his leg. He did with what he averaged with his kicks (a Riders record of 48.8 yards per punt). He had a lot of fun and he was one of the guys that I was super excited to see win a Grey Cup in his hometown after the great career that he had (in the NFL). We’re continuing to have conversations with Jon about trying to come back.