Ricky Ray spent the better part of Monday fishing in his favourite spot in northern California, but he had already landed a big one before then.
The Edmonton Eskimos quarterback has extended his contract, which is intended to see him in Green and Gold through the 2013 CFL season.
“We have Ricky Ray now for the next three years, we hope,” said Kavis Reed, who took over as head coach of the Edmonton Eskimos in December.
But Ray was Reed’s No. 1 guy even before the head coach signed his own deal with the Eskimos last month.
“Even in the interviewing process I spoke to (general manager) Eric (Tillman) and told him Ricky Ray is still a championship quarterback and this will expedite our path back to the championship,” Reed said. “For us, it was to edify and make certain that we have the foundation to build a championship team.”
That foundation pours forth from the quarterback position on out.
“The way we analyzed it is that Ricky Ray’s by far a top-three quarterback in this league,” Reed said. “You have to have a solid quarterback in order to compete for a championship year-in, year-out. Ricky’s in the prime of his career, his numbers haven’t changed that much and we feel that in order to expedite our progress back to the championship, Ricky Ray had to be a part of it.”
The 31-year-old quarterback had a less-than memorable 2010 season, which saw his lowest offensive productivity since his rookie season in 2002, while his interceptions outweighed his touchdowns for the first time in his career (11-16).
“His completion percentage was down (64.4), his quarterback rating was down (a career-low 82.3). I think statistically it was his third-worst (season) in his eight-year tenure here,” said Reed. “But that being said, there were a lot of extenuating circumstances, not Ricky Ray’s fault, why things didn’t go well for him statistically.
“We looked at the complete package of it and decided that this guy still has it, he’s still capable of winning games, he’s still one of the best out there. It is incumbent upon us to put the pieces around him.”
That starts with protection up front.
“First and foremost, no quarterback is successful on his back,” said Reed, who has work to do both schematically and personnel-wise in that department. “Other than that, we have to put weapons around him so that he can get the ball off.
“We need the Ed Herveys, we need the Jason Tuckers, we need the Terry Vaughns, so we need to find the calibre of guys he’s used to when he’s celebrating his best numbers.”
While the re-signing confirms Ray as the Eskimos starting quarterback, it leaves questions for veteran backup Jason Maas as well as Jared Zabransky, who moved into the No. 2 position in the stable last season.
“We’re going to still continue the process of developing the next guy behind Ricky, but Ricky Ray’s our starting quarterback. I’m quite sure that (Zabransky) will understand the process,” said Reed. “What we don’t want to do with a guy that is going to be (Ray’s) heir-apparent is we don’t want to push or rush that person. Developing a quarterback is a very tenuous thing.”
As for Maas, who will turn 36 next season, the answer isn’t as clear.
“Jason Maas is something we’ll visit later on,” said Reed. “That’s going to be just as much Jason Maas’s decision as it is ours. We have to collaboratively speak about what his future is.”