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Roughriders GM Brendan Taman not surprised that Ben Heenan heading to NFL

02/03/2015 05:31 EST | Updated 04/05/2015 05:59 EDT
For Brendan Taman, it was a best-case scenario.

The Saskatchewan Roughriders GM wasn't surprised to lose starting right guard Ben Heenan to the NFL. Heenan was scheduled to become a CFL free agent Feb. 10, but Taman released the Regina native Monday so he could pursue interests south of the border.

The departure of the six-foot-four 310-pound Heenan, who signed with the Indianapolis Colts on Tuesday, leaves a huge hole in Saskatchewan's offensive line. But Taman finds solace in not losing Heenan to a rival CFL club or being forced to overpay on the open market to keep him and having to make roster changes to fit the contract within the Riders' $5.05-million salary cap.

"The safe way out for us is to lose him to the NFL rather than another team in our league," Taman said Tuesday. "Saying that, I was determined not to let that (Heenan signing with another CFL club) happen, which would've created a big ripple affect on our team with our structure.

"At the end of the day, that probably is the best-case scenario if we weren't going to keep him."

Heenan wasn't on the open market long, getting snatched up by an Indianapolis club with several ties to the CFL. Linebacker Henoc Muamba of Mississauga, Ont., played with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and was a CFL all-star in 2013. Jerrell Freeman was an all-star linebacker with the Saskatchewan Roughriders in 2011.

Colts general manager Ryan Grigson knows the CFL as well, playing on the offensive line of the Toronto Argonauts in 1997 before becoming a scout with Saskatchewan in 1998.

It is the second time in two days the Colts have signed a player from the CFL. They added 6-foot-5 receiver Duron Carter on Monday.

Taman doesn't take Heenan's departure personally.

"That's the nature of the business," Taman said. "Our job is to get the best available guys we can get and when we drafted Ben we felt he was a very safe pick, not because he was from Saskatchewan but because he was very good.

"The reality of our business is if we have good players playing in our league, if they're that good, the NFL is now going to come in and make plays on them. It's a credit to our league we have these kids playing here."

Tempering the loss of Heenan was Taman's ability to re-sign safety Tyron Brackenridge and receiver Weston Dressler. Both are also key starters who were slated to become free agents later this month.

Saskatchewan selected Heenan first overall in 2012 and he rewarded that faith by becoming a starter as a rookie. He was also a versatile performer, playing both guard and tackle, and helped Saskatchewan win the '13 Grey Cup.

Heenan, who turns 25 on Thursday, attracted plenty of NFL interest this off-season, reportedly receiving five different offers.

"I was holding out hope but in reality there wasn't a lot there to have," Taman said. "When you're an offensive lineman who's very young and good, well, it wasn't going to work out in our favour."

Not with the NFL's rookie minimum scheduled to be US$435,000 in 2015. Then again, as a blue-chip CFL free agent Heenan would've commanded an annual salary approaching $250,000, a figure that would've made him one of the league's highest paid non-quarterbacks.

While it seems Taman won't have to dig deep to keep Heenan, he faces the task of having to replace him. Saskatchewan played four Canadians on its offensive line last year, including centre Dom Picard, who was released this off-season before signing with Winnipeg.

Corey Watman, Saskatchewan's '13 first-round pick, will get a shot at replacing Picard during training camp. But third-year guard Dan Clark is also scheduled to become a free agent next week, prompting questions regarding where the Riders will play their Canadian starters in 2015.

"When you lose a young, good national player, no matter the position, it's a challenge so we have to recoup that at another position with a Canadian starter somewhere," Taman said. "We have to figure that out in the next five months.

"We're not going to have that answer tomorrow, that's for sure."

But Taman said things change quickly in pro football. Saskatchewan acquired linebacker Shea Emry from Toronto for defensive end Ricky Foley on Jan. 24, a deal Taman says came out of the blue and took roughly 45 minutes to consummate.

Saskatchewan made two moves Tuesday, signing defensive back Woodny Turenne to a contract extension and adding free-agent kicker Hugh O'Neill. Turenne was scheduled to become a free agent next week but will return for a fifth season with the Riders.

O'Neill, also entering his fifth CFL campaign, made 20-of-26 field goals (76.9 per cent) last season with Edmonton and also had a 44.4-yard punting average.

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