New faces, labour uncertainty and the end of an era. It certainly was a busy first day at Rider training camp in Saskatoon.
The CFL's all time receiving leader, Geroy Simon, called it quits. He retires from football on the ultimate high, winning a Grey Cup championship.
Rider fans in attendance at Griffiths Stadium on the University of Saskatchewan campus were confused when rookie Chaz Schilens walked onto the field wearing an 81 jersey — a number normally reserved for Simon.
Roughrider General Manager Brendan Taman confirmed Simon's retirement after practice.
'We've talked for the last couple of months. We agreed at some point last week that he wouldn't be back with us.'- Riders' general manager Brendan Taman
"We've talked for the last couple of months. We agreed at some point last week that he wouldn't be back with us. We're working through some things on how we're going to transition him outside of football. We haven't finalized that yet, but his career is finished."
Taman said Simon's leadership on and off the field will be hard to replace but that Simon's Grey Cup victory played into the receiver's decision.
"I think catching two touchdowns in the Grey Cup is pretty good. I think that played onto his decision a little bit to go out on top and to go out with a team that gave him his last chance to play."
Taman said the organization is working to find Simon an official position with the team.
Players Ready To Play
Fans were disappointed to hear the news on Simon, but they were excited that training camp did start on time.
For weeks, CFL owners and players have been negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement.
The current deal expired on Thursday night. There is still a chance the players could walk-out on strike during camp, but for now, it's business as usual.
"Things like this are going to get resolved no matter what. It's just a matter of time," said veteran Rider receiver Chris Getzlaf, "Our job is to play football. The coaches' job is to coach."
Brendon LaBatte is the Riders' Canadian Football League Players' Association (CFLPA) representative. He's been busy studying his playbook and answering questions from teammates on where labour negotiations stand.
"It's just trying to get everybody educated so that we're all united and all know what the facts are. We'll make our move, if we have to, when the time comes."
LaBatte is confident players would support a strike vote if negotiations continue to stall with the league.
New Faces Looking To Make An Impression
Lost in the news of Simon's retirement and labour concerns were all the new players wearing green and white on day one of training camp.
Fans made good use of the free programs handed out at Griffiths Stadium. With star players Weston Dressler, Kory Sheets, Craig Butler and Alex Hall gone to other homes, the 2014 roster will feature some unfamiliar names.
Replacing Sheets will be crucial for the Riders offence. Running backs from across the United States are hoping to fill Sheets' Grey Cup MVP shoes.
Jermaine Thomas was a star running back at Florida State.
"Just getting used to the guys," said Thomas. "The motion before the ball. Just the different rules with the CFL versus the States. But I'm getting the hang of it."
For the latest on Roughrider training camp, tune into CBC Radio every morning for updates from The Morning Edition's Eric Anderson live in Saskatoon.
Replay the Saskatoon Morning live chat below, or if you'd like to weigh in, leave your thoughts in the comment section.
Saskatchewan Roughrider veteran Ricky Foley won two Grey Cups with Geroy Simon. One in 2006 with the BC Lions and last year with the Riders. They also spend time together in the off-season in Vancouver. Foley said he will miss Simon's presence on and off the field.
"That's my guy. He's going to be successful in anything he does. He's been smart with it. He's been planning things for his post-football. He'll be ok and we'll see him around here a lot. What can you say? Greatest receiver of all-time in the CFL. I guess he'll be able to walk away from the game pretty easy I think, but I know he'll miss the guys."