Hey there, time traveller! This article was published 11/5/2018 (646 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Darian Durant’s announcement Friday that he's retiring from the CFL came as a bolt from the blue — and has some wondering if the move wasn’t a premeditated take-the-money-and-run tactic.
When the Winnipeg Blue Bombers signed the veteran quarterback as their backup last winter — with a $70,000 signing bonus Durant intends to keep — the one-year deal appeared mutually beneficial.
Despite an off-season that included acquiring a number of notable free agents on both sides of the ball, Winnipeg spoke quietly on how thrilled they were about the kind of depth Durant gives them at the most important spot on the field. In Durant, the Bombers were getting a reliable Plan B for starter Matt Nichols, who, despite posting some of the best numbers at his position over the past two seasons, showed if he wasn’t 100 per cent healthy or, even worse, unable to play, the Bombers were not close to being the same team.
For Durant, 35, it was a chance to join an organization considered to be among the top contenders to win the Grey Cup. Perhaps more importantly, there was the potential to rebound from a dismal 2017 campaign with Montreal, where Durant led the Alouettes to a 3-15 record — last in the league — and showed serious signs of being a player no longer capable of being a frontman. He was released by Montreal months later, just one year into a three-year deal that paid nearly $450,000 per year.
During a phone conference with media shortly after signing with the Bombers in January, Durant showed no signs of being irked about taking a substantial pay cut and playing a backup role for the first time since the early stages of his 12-year CFL career. He even appeared excited by the change of scenery. According to sources (some of them Bombers players) expressing doubt Durant would be willing to play a backup role, the team was convinced he wanted to continue his career and was willing to park his ego.
"I just want to come in and help out Matt as much as I can and have a role with the team — whether it’s in meetings, whether it’s short yardage. Whatever the case may be, just come in and bring my veteran presence and try to bring a Grey Cup to Winnipeg," Durant said at the time, adding he never considered retirement.
A little less than four months later, the relationship is over.
Durant, through a message on his website, announced his retirement. In it, he made no mention of his commitment to Winnipeg and instead focused his attention on the Saskatchewan Roughriders, where he spent his entire career before joining Montreal.
Durant thanked Riders fans and said he has "some opportunities away from the field." He also mentioned that by walking away from the game, he’s now able to watch his daughter, who was born earlier this year, grow up.
"If you cut me open, I am sure that I would bleed green," Durant wrote. "Saskatchewan and Regina will always be home."
The note seemed to come as a delight to Saskatchewan fans, many of whom took to Twitter — where Durant first posted his message — to share their joy that, in his final moment in the spotlight, Durant found a way to screw over the Bombers, Saskatchewan’s most-heated rival, one final time.
For the Bombers, however, the news sent an angry ripple that could be felt from the front office all the way to the locker room. Besides pulling out just days before the start of training camp, Durant took with him the $70,000 bonus — nearly half of his $150,000 salary — that, under the current CBA, will still come off the team’s salary cap for 2018. His departure also leaves the Bombers scrambling to bolster their crop of quarterbacks. As it stands, Winnipeg will go with Alex Ross, a veteran of just a few CFL games, and newcomer Chris Streveler, out of South Dakota, who the Bombers are high on, but is still unpolished at the professional level, particularly with the Canadian game.
What the Bombers struggled to come to grips with was that Durant didn’t even provide a heads-up that he was announcing his retirement Friday. And the announcement followed a month of little communication between the two parties (Durant did not reply to text messages seeking comment for this story).
"We were informed prior to the start of our mini-camp that Darian Durant, along with his family, was reconsidering continuing his career. Given the magnitude of this decision, we asked him to take the time to thoroughly consider his options an inform us of his decision," Bombers general manager Kyle Walters said in a carefully scripted release.
"While we respect the decision, we of course are extremely disappointed. Until recently, Darian had given us every indication that he was accepting of his role as a backup and prepared to help our offence in any capacity possible."
According to multiple sources close to the Bombers, Winnipeg first became suspicious when multiple attempts to reach Durant in the weeks leading up to mini-camp went unanswered. It wasn’t until days before the late-April camp that Durant finally got back to the Bombers, informing them that he needed time to think about his future and that he wouldn’t be attending the three-day event. He did mention the possibility of retirement.
The Bombers agreed to cover for his absence at mini-camp, citing a "family issue," hoping the time would help him decide to continue playing. Durant appeared thankful for the Bombers’ patience, saying he would get back to them in a few days. A month later, the Bombers still hadn’t heard from Durant, including all day Friday following the announcement of his retirement.
Earlier this week, with training camp just around the corner, the Bombers were on edge with Durant and the quarterback situation. In search of some clarity, Winnipeg reached out via text to receiver Weston Dressler, a longtime teammate of Durant’s in Saskatchewan, who replied that the situation did not look good.
Walters then received a note from Durant’s agent, Dan Vertlieb, Thursday night, notifying him that Durant was leaning towards retirement. Walters responded via text that he wanted to talk to Durant on Friday morning to "hear him say he was retiring and keeping the money." Vertlieb confirmed that he had shared the message with Durant, who then ignored a request from Walters, also via text, to speak just before his retirement was made public.
Durant’s situation is not unique — other players have received bonuses only to announce their retirement shortly after — and every year players are released before earning a hefty bonus, often with little warning from the team.
For those who question why the Bombers would give Durant such money up front, it’s because that’s how business is done when dealing with veterans — there is a certain trust involved. For example, Kevin Glenn, according to sources, received a $76,000 signing bonus from the Edmonton Eskimos to play backup to Mike Reilly.
Very rarely, however, do these situations, where the player simply up and leaves a contract, involve the kind of money Durant was given. Given those facts, it’s easy to wonder whether Durant ever intended on playing in Winnipeg.
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Perhaps the Bombers should have been aware that something like this might happen, given that in the past there have been moments where Durant seemed to come across like he was bigger than the game. Before his return to Saskatchewan, while nearing the end of his horrible season in Montreal, he was asked if he thought he would get a warm embrace from Riders fans.
"I hope Rider Nation appreciates my time here and appreciates what I’ve done for this franchise," he told the Regina Leader-Post. "I really hope everyone stands and gives me a warm ovation, because I think I deserve it."
According to multiple accounts from people close to the Roughriders organization, this isn’t the first time Durant has quit on a team. A source, with first-hand knowledge of the situation, said Durant refused to play in the final game of his final season with the Roughriders in 2016.
With the Riders officially eliminated from the playoffs, and despite being cleared by the medical staff and with head coach Chris Jones adamant that he wanted him to play against a B.C. Lions team still fighting for playoff position, Durant refused.
According to sources, he said he was too hurt to play, but the overwhelming feeling was Durant chose himself over the team. The Riders cut ties with him, and months later he signed with Montreal. With the Alouettes, he finished the 2017 season with more interceptions (16) than touchdowns (15).
After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.
Bombers ink first pick in CFL Draft to three-year deal
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers have signed wide receiver Rashaun Simonise, the 12th overall pick in the 2018 CFL Draft, to a three-year deal Friday.
Simonise was the Bombers first selection in the draft after they traded away their first-round pick to the B.C. Lions. The 23-year-old has a controversial past but is expected to fight for playing time this season, especially with the Bombers looking to start two Canadians at receiver.
Winnipeg also inked a Canadian quarterback, Zack Mahoney, to the roster. Mahoney, who turned 23 on Thursday, spent the last three seasons with Syracuse, with the last two as the primary backup. In total, he played in 25 career games, starting nine, and threw for 1,949 yards and 18 touchdowns.