Chris Jones wasn’t taking the bait.
Following Saskatchewan’s season-ending 41-18 loss to the B.C. Lions on Sunday, veteran quarterback Darian Durant told reporters his contract talks with the Roughriders were “pretty much at a standstill.” Durant, 34, the club’s starter since ’09, is scheduled to become a free agent in February and admitted adopting the mindset that negotiations will last until February.
Durant runs in overtime winner, Roughriders beat Eskimos to snap losing skid
READ MORE: Veteran QB Darian Durant says contract talks with Saskatchewan Roughriders stalled
On Monday, Jones, the Riders’ head coach/GM, reiterated Durant remains the club’s starter. Saskatchewan (5-13) finished last in the West Division standings in Jones’ first season with the franchise.
“Darian’s been with this organization a long time,” Jones said. “He’s won a Grey Cup and so he’s the guy we feel like is our starting quarterback.”
“That’s why we initiated the talks prior to the season being over (in September). Darian’s certainly earned the respect that he can say what he wants. But at the same time … I’m the kind of guy that likes to keep things in-house. But that’s Darian’s option to do what he needs to do.”
Jones cautioned reporters “not to make this a me-versus-Darian Durant thing,” noting talks with starting quarterbacks involve numbers where two sides try to reach the middle ground.
When asked about Saskatchewan’s quarterback depth, Jones said the B.C. loss was a good chance to evaluate the team’s younger passers. Mitchell Gale, G.J. Kinne and Brandon Bridge all logged significant playing time, with Bridge, a native of Mississauga, Ont., finding the most success.
“We feel very confident we can win with one of those four,” Jones said.
READ MORE: Lions down Riders 41-18 to clinch home field in CFL’s West Division semifinal
Jake Waters seemed poised to also be in the quarterback mix prior to suffering a shoulder injury against the Lions on Oct. 29.
Jones gave the Riders a failing grade this season for good reason.
“You win five football games, that’s not very good,” he said. “You’ve got 18 opportunities to win.”
Jones expects to keep his coaching staff intact for next season and plans to see far less turnover on his roster. Jones said there are six or seven key free agents he’d like to re-sign but wouldn’t divulge who.
But Jones will do that soon to give those players he’s no longer interested in as much time as possible to find jobs with new teams.
Rebuilding an offensive line that allowed 57 sacks — second only to Montreal (64) is a priority.
“We’ve got to protect he quarterback,” Jones said. “That’s the one area we may address in free agency.”
“We’ve got to look at every option there. And certainly we’ve got to look at the option of changing the ratio and leaving an American at guard.”
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The linebacking corps also poses some unique choices for Jones and position coach Phillip Lolley. Jeff Knox Jr., Greg Jones, Otha Foster III, Henoc Muamba and a healthy Samuel Eguavoen can all vie for starting spots, Jones admitted.
One alternative is keeping all five players and rotating them in and out of different schemes, Jones said. But that will depend on Knox and Foster both wanting to try to crack NFL rosters.
On the immediate horizon, Jones will visit seven player-evaluation camps before Christmas, all in the United States.
“We’ve targeted where all the NFL players have come from and we have a map of the United States that shows (target areas) — Texas, Florida, California, the Atlanta area, Ohio, Detroit,” he said. “If we find one guy out of those seven workouts, then that’s successful.”