Saskatchewan·Analysis

Jon Ryan and the Riders, a perfect fit

There has never been such reaction or attention paid to the signing of a punter.

Veteran NFL punter signs with his hometown CFL team

Former NFL punter Jon Ryan was all smiles after signing with his home-town team, the Saskatchewan Roughriders. (Glenn Reid/CBC)

There has never been such reaction or attention paid to the signing of a punter.

After all, seeing your team's punter on the field is never a welcome sight for fans.

A kicker, at least, is called on to cap off drives and win games. But a punter represents failure by the offense. The Riders used their punter a lot in 2018. More than most.

Yet Saskatchewan's Twitter universe blew up Monday night after Jon Ryan tweeted a YouTube video of Diddy — Dirty Money's Coming Home, accompanied by a green heart and a Canadian flag.

That was enough for Rider nation to take the hint.

"You know, I think growing up in Regina as a seven-year-old I wasn't dreaming about playing in the NFL or going to the Super Bowl, I was dreaming about playing for the Riders," Ryan said to the assembled Riders media on Tuesday morning.

Clearly he blew his personal dreams out of the water, as his path to Mosaic Stadium took a twelve-year NFL detour through Green Bay and Seattle.

Jon Ryan played 12 years in the NFL, two with the Green Bay Packers and ten with the Seattle Seahawks. He is the Seahawks' all-time leader in three punting categories. (Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images/File)

"The way [Seahawks' fans] treated me, a pale-skinned, freckled-faced, red-headed kid from Canada with a speech impediment, they made me feel like a superhero," he said.

Imagine how Ryan — a freckled-faced kid who cut his football teeth in Regina playing touch-football, high school football and university football, all on the old Taylor Field turf — will be treated at Mosaic when he makes his Riders' debut.

It wasn't like the signing came out of left field. The Riders worked out the now-37-year-old free agent punter more than a month ago in Vero Beach, Florida.

Even though Ryan held similar auditions with other CFL clubs, Ryan and the Riders is a perfect fit. The process just took some time to complete.

"I was talking to Ray Elgaard the other day, he said 'If it's not about the money,' — I said no it's not about the money — 'then why don't you sign?' Well it's a little bit about the money then."

The Riders have reportedly made Ryan the highest paid punter in the CFL, with a one year salary of $100,000 plus incentives.

"It's not a one-and-done situation." said Ryan. "I'm not here for a year, hopefully many years and many Grey Cups."

Popular Aussie Josh Bartel paid the price. Bartel was released shortly after Ryan's signature hit the dotted line.

Bartel had by far the worst punting average distance in the CFL in 2018 (40.9 yards), but to be fair the Riders favour directional-style punting. That means they don't want to boot the ball as far as possible but rather place the ball to a certain spot on the field.

The Riders at least placed in the top half of yardage surrendered on punt returns in 2018 (9.2).

With not even a training camp competition for Bartel to have an opportunity to protect his job, the Riders are handing the ball to Jon Ryan.

Jon Ryan dropped the puck for a ceremonial faceoff in Seattle during the WHL Championship between the Regina Pats and Seattle Thunderbirds in 2017.

Ryan's legs are reaching senior citizen status in the professional sports world.

There's a lot of mileage: 191 NFL games, 914 punts, 40,985 yards, 1 Super Bowl ring.

And don't forget the two seasons he spent in Winnipeg with the Bombers, the CFL team that drafted him.

Clearly the Riders liked what they saw in Vero Beach enough to convince them that Ryan's legs have some life left.

He thinks so too.

Ryan says he stills punts three days a week and is in the weight room five days a week.

"I've gone Hollywood now so I spin with my wife on Saturdays," he said.

The Ryan signing will add a colourful new storyline to training camp, which hopefully kicks off Sunday in Saskatoon in lieu of job action.

Here's also hoping that Jon Ryan is not the most exciting part of the Riders' offense in 2019.

About the Author

Glenn Reid

Video Journalist

Glenn Reid first moved into the anchor chair at CBC Saskatchewan in 1986 and has been bringing sports to the people of Saskatchewan since then. Born and raised in Winnipeg, Glenn began his broadcast career in radio at Portage La Prairie, Manitoba before moving to Yorkton, and then to Regina.

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