I watched parts of the Argos Riders game yesterday and for most of the game, the Riders were terrible. Which got me thinking about why the Riders are so terrible this year after a series of good years and the same quarterback. Darian Durant isn't some old quarterback whose skills are in terminal decline so why the difference year to year.
The most obvious difference this year is the absence of non-import receiver Andy Fantuz. Fantuz led the CFL last year in receiving yards, with 87 catches for 1,380 yards and six TDs. The Riders also had non-import receivers Chris Getzlaf (who had a good game last night, but couldn't come up with the winning TD) and Rob Bagg (who has been injured all this year). The Riders also had serviceable non-import receiver Jason Clairmont and an excellent import receiver in Weston Dressler.
The benefits last year of the Riders having three starting non-import receivers (although I'm not sure if Getzlaf and Bagg started almost every down, I'm pretty sure they didn't) meant they had a ton of flexibility with the import ratio. Between the receivers and their offensive line, the Riders likely had their seven required Canadian starters for every game and could have easily had an all American defence if they chose.
Fantuz' value individually is interesting, because he was both a non-import and arguably the best receiver in the league. Quarterbacks in the CFL are obviously considered the most important player and typically command by far the highest salaries, often between $400,000 and $500,000 in a low salary cap environment. Receivers can be paid well, but I've never heard a salary quoted as over $200,000. Fantuz drew significant defensive coverage yet was still able to produce, making his fellow receivers and running backs better. The evidence is the difference in performance between the Riders this year and last. Great last year and totally sucky this year, with a 1 and 7 record, but the same quarterback.
Fantuz went to try out for the NFL this year, where obviously orders of magnitude more money is available, with risk of not making the team. Considering how valuable Fantuz was to the Riders, the Riders should have offered significantly more money to Fantuz to induce him to stay, taking money from Durant if necessary. The Riders are likely paying Durant a big salary this year for a terrible team and now it seems, it isn't warranted.