Blue will face music if 'rock star' returns

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 8:47 AM ET

You could see this one coming for weeks, but that doesn't lessen the impact.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers' trading of quarterback Khari Jones ends an incredible story, one usually associated with rock stars.

I can't recall the last time a player's star burned so brightly across the CFL sky, only to flame out as suddenly as it ignited.

You'd be tempted to call it a rags-to-riches, back-to-rags story, if it weren't for Jones' three-year, million-dollar contract. But put the money aside for a moment.

If there's one thing the Jones saga reminds us of, it's how fleeting fame can be.

The prospect of the Blue Bombers trading their quarterback anywhere would have been preposterous just a few months ago, never mind back in 2000.

Remember 2000, when the laid-back, unassuming, California native came out of nowhere to light a fire under this town's football fans? After languishing on the bench in various cities and various leagues for six years, Jones got his chance, and ran with it.

The next season, his first as a year-long starter, he took his team to the Grey Cup, helping set records on the field (a 12-game winning streak) and off it (attendance reached an all-time high).

The CFL's most outstanding player was easily the biggest star in the 'Peg -- you know you're big when the birth of your child is headline news.

Proving it wasn't all a fluke, Jones tossed a mind-boggling 46 touchdown passes in '02, the third-best total in league history.

Fast forward to '04, where Jones took the brunt of the public's blame for a start that threatens to keep the Bombers out of the playoffs for the first time since '99.

And now he's packing his bags for Calgary, the CFL's wasteland.

What happened is simple, a matter of performance vs. paycheque.

Why and how it happened would stump even Einstein.

We do know you don't pay a guy $350,000 per season to hold a clipboard or signal in plays from the sidelines.

And if you don't think a good portion of this is about money, you haven't been paying attention.

Down thousands of spectators per game this season due to the killer combination of bad weather and bad football, the Bombers will bleed red ink for the first time since the 2000 season. That is, unless league revenues take an even bigger jump than expected.

Jones' contract calls for two more years and another $700,000-plus. Kevin Glenn earns around $85,000 per season. Enough said.

The tail-off in Jones' performance, though, doesn't add up.

At 33, have his skills eroded that quickly? Stamps boss Matt Dunigan obviously doesn't think so.

Of course, Dunigan's judgment as a CFL exec hasn't exactly been flawless.

In the end, all that matters is the Bomber brass, the same people who thought Jones was worth investing $1 million in just three months ago, now believe they're better off without him.

GM Brendan Taman and president Lyle Bauer have to know they're taking a risk, though.

No. 1, we have no idea how durable, or how good, long-term, Kevin Glenn is. Yes, he's 25, and 3-1 as the starter since Jones' shoulder gave out, but that's only an opening argument. There's plenty more evidence to come before the jury even gets its final instructions.

IMMEDIATE RISK

Of course, there's Tee Martin in the back row of the picture, too, making the trade an endorsement of sorts of his potential.

There's a more immediate risk, though.

The Bombers are in a life-and-death struggle for a playoff spot, a tussle that could very well come down to the final week of the regular season -- when they host Calgary.

In other words, the play of Khari Jones could still wind up putting the Bombers out of the playoffs.

After all, what burned-out rock star doesn't eventually make a comeback?


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