Does age and guile beat youth and a bad haircut?

One of the few good reasons for living in Regina became apparent on Monday when word first got out that free agent defensive end Ricky Foley was going to join the Riders.

The word actually came out of Winnipeg from one of their reporters, and from the moment that information was posted, fans in Regina were posting news from the airport, first sighting Rider assistant GM Jeremy O’Day was waiting for someone to come off the 1 p.m. flight from Toronto, then news that Foley himself had arrived and was happy to do so.

The free agency signing of Dwight Anderson at cornerback last week was somewhat of a surprise considering the Riders youth and depth at the defensive back position. Rider fans were confused because the biggest problem on the defense was the defensive line and lack of pressure on the opposing quarterback. It made sense for many that the Riders should be focusing their attention on defensive line players who could rush the quarterback and while the Anderson signing was welcomed, many felt the Riders were not addressing the real problem with the defense.

The Foley signing was unexpected because he played with Toronto last season, winning a Grey Cup, and he is from the Toronto area. However, Foley was caught in a defensive scheme that saw defensive linemen go out into coverage and for a guy who prides himself on going forward and attacking the quarterback, dropping back was something he wasn’t totally comfortable with and even though he was the outstanding Canadian in the Grey Cup last year, Foley was looking to see what else was out there.

On reaching free agency, Foley tried one last time for an NFL try out, but his age probably worked against him. Foley will be 31 this season, and the likely NFL teams that might have taken him up on his offer are likely going to the NFL draft with eyes of feasting on what should be a good year for defensive players out of the NCAA.

The Riders pursued Foley for the reason that as a Canadian, he provides a lot of ratio flexibility for the team to dress an American in another position. Having a starting Canadian defensive end means having a back-up who is capable, especially if the Riders are looking to rotate their defensive ends, but te Riders do have Zach Evans, who was with the team last year, and signed defensive end Paul Wellman who has a wing span to knock down passes that a whooping crane would envy. The Riders also have the fourth pick in the CFL draft and I think they may look at Stefan Charles, an defensive lineman with the University of Regina Rams as their pick, providing more depth and possibilities on the defensive line.

So while Foley’s stats may have been down last season that is certainly due to the type of system he was asked to play in Toronto. Others have said Foley lacks the ability to stop the run effectively and gets faked out more than most, but Rider Head Coach Cory Chamblin wants to use Foley to fully exploit his strengths which means a rotational system with him being in on passing downs.

I wasn’t expecting such a signing and the price at about $85,000 is definitely appealing. Foley is a better upgrade than Odell Willis because he is a Canadian and starting Canadian defensive ends are tough to find. If he can also mentor whoever backs him up and provides the leadership the defense sorely needs, then as long we are playing in the Grey Cup in November and winning it, I’m all for that.

Foley gave a pretty good interview on his official signing and introduction to the Regina media. Geroy Simon got Foley interested in the Riders and Foley admitted that Simon and himself both have chips on their shoulders because their former teams felt they could no longer play at the level that made them star players in the CFL. Foley was impressed with the football excitement in Regina and how it already seemed like Grey Cup week, but in February.

The signing of Foley takes some heat off of Rider GM Brendan Taman in getting some defensive linemen into the lineup, but clearly the Riders will need to continue to either recruit or draft defensive linemen to give the coaches a competitive training camp and the best possible team.

The other theme of this signing is the Riders determination to do everything they can to field a competitive team that is not only capable of making the playoffs, but is capable of winning the Grey Cup. This is the third Grey Cup Saskatchewan has hosted and while in 1995 the team was too cheap to field a competitive team and in 2003 was simply not mature enough, the Riders are looking at blending their youth with veteran leadership at key positions to ensure they realize the dream of every Rider fan, to play in and win the Grey Cup on their home turf.

To do that will mean juggling the salaries and also ensuring the best possible blend of players to get the team over the hump. I’m not sure who else the Riders may be looking at free-agent wise, but I would expect the next moves by the Riders to be a number of cuts to help bring the numbers down, both in terms of number of players and salaries.

The next step for Rider fans will be looking at the NFL draft to see which Canadian players get picked and which don’t. With more Canadian players getting onto NFL rosters, teams cannot afford to blow high draft choices on players who may never show up in Canada.

Those players not making it in the NFL draft will have to be looked at closely before the Riders go into the Canadian draft. There are a wide range of possibilities for the Riders to consider when making their picks, and while guys like Charles would be my first inclination on CFL draft day, Charles is a good enough player that he may well be drafted by an NFL team or sign as a free agent. If that happens, the Riders will have to keep their options open.

But all in all, not a bad move by the Riders that will make the team better and helps to address a pressing current need. It makes you wonder what they will do for an encore.
 

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