The departure of Gene Makowsky and Andy Fantuz from the Saskatchewan Roughriders was predictable, but that doesn't make Friday's news easier for Rider fans to accept.
Makowsky's retirement was likely inevitable even before he was elected to the Saskatchewan Legislature in November. There's no doubt that he will go down as one of the finest players in Riders history, and he's unquestionably the top offensive lineman the team has had since the days of Roger Aldag.
He's a five-time CFL all-star and a two-time winner of the CFL's top offensive lineman award. He was born in Saskatchewan, he dreamed of playing for the Riders, and he brought so much pride and honour to the organization. When the Riders had several questionable characters a decade ago, Makowsky was one of the guys who could be counted on to represent the team admirably on and off the field.
He's a shoo-in for the CFL's Hall-of-Fame.
But you could tell in 2010 and 2011 that the days of the dominant Makowsky were over. He was no longer a nearly impenetrable barrier to get to the Riders' quarterback. He wasn't the guy who dominated the league's best defensive lineman.
Everybody suspected that Makowsky was finished as a football player when he was elected to the Saskatchewan Legislature in November. They were right. He might not prove to be as good of a politician as he was a football player, but if he brings the tenacity, intensity, work ethic and honour to the Legislature that he did to the field, Saskatchewan's people will be well served by Makowsky.
When the great Aldag retired in 1992, Rider fans thought it would be a long time before we saw another lineman like him. Makowsky came along three years later. Now Rider fans have to ask when they'll see a player like Makowsky.
Fantuz's departure as a free agent to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats is difficult for many fans to accept, but it was inevitable after the Riders signed all-star offensive linemen Dominic Picard and Brendon Labatte. And Fantuz's most ardent supporters might not want to hear it, but the Riders are a better team now than they were when the CFL's free agent frenzy began.
Give me the choice between an all-star receiver, and two all-star offensive linemen, and I'll take the two offensive linemen. Offensive line was the Riders' biggest weakness last year. It was the top reason they finished 5-13.
It doesn't matter if you have a great quarterback and great receivers. If you don't have a strong offensive line, the presence of a great quarterback and the great receivers is moot.
Labatte (who was a CFL all-star at guard last year, and is a Saskatchewan native to boot) and Picard (an East Division all-star at centre last year) will make Darian Durant's life a lot easier, and they'll make him much better, too.
You win and lose games on the line. That's why the B.C. Lions are the defending Grey Cup champions. The Riders might not be as good as the Lions on the offensive and defensive lines, but the interior of the offensive line isn't a glaring weakness anymore.
It's tough to see Fantuz go. There isn't a player like him in the CFL: a big, strong, Canadian-born receiver with great hands, toughness and above-average mobility. In a league in which many players in the defensive secondary are under six feet, a guy like Fantuz, with his size and speed, can be nearly unstoppable.
But top-notch receivers are in greater supply than top-notch offensive linemen. That's why the Riders are better with the addition of Labatte and Picard, and the departure of Fantuz.