REGINA — The Saskatchewan Roughriders will be without veteran offensive lineman Brendon LaBatte for the 2021 CFL season.
Riders general manager Jeremy O'Day said LaBatte has opted out for the year but is not retiring.
“We’re dealing with a unique set of circumstances and it’s not a normal year with all the regulations that we’re going to have to do," the GM said on a video call Monday.
“(LaBatte's) definitely not planning on retiring. He just, with all the rules and regulations and the stuff that he has going on in his own personal life, he’s decided that he’s not going to play under the current circumstances that we’re facing.”
O'Day said he spoke with LaBatte over the weekend and discussed the possibility of him returning to the Riders this year if the CFL loosens restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19.
“He did leave the door open if things begin to relax and it gets back to a little bit closer to normal that he would consider (playing) at that time," O'Day said. "Again, he’s not decided to never play football again. He’s just decided that under the circumstances, he needs to do what’s best for him and his family.”
LaBatte, 34, played just six games for Saskatchewan in 2019 after returning from injury. The CFL cancelled the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The six-foot-four, 320-pound native of Weyburn, Sask., was originally picked sixth overall by Winnipeg in the 2008 draft and played four seasons with the Blue Bombers before signing with the Riders in 2012.
LaBatte is a six-time CFL all-star and was named the league's most outstanding offensive lineman in 2013, the same season he won a Grey Cup with the Roughriders.
In December, he signed a new deal that would see him play with Saskatchewan through 2022.
“Obviously, it’s not super easy to replace a guy of (LaBatte's) status, but every time a door closes, another door opens and it’s an opportunity for one of our other guys," O'Day said.
Saskatchewan's starting quarterback Cody Fajardo said Monday that LaBatte will be missed on only on the field, but in the locker room.
“To have an all-star guard and a guy with a lot of experience, especially for a first-time starting quarterback, it’s huge. So that will be sorely missed," said Fajardo, who threw for 4,302 yards and 18 touchdowns with the Riders in 2019.
Several CFL players have stepped away from the game in recent weeks, including Ottawa Redblacks receiver Brad Sinopoli, who announced his retirement last week.
Saskatchewan's all-star linebacker Solomon Elimimian called it a career in February and quarterback James Franklin announced his retirement in April after signing a one-year deal with the Roughriders.
Meanwhile, the Roughriders have signed quarterback Paxton Lynch, a first-round pick (26th overall) of the NFL's Denver Broncos in 2016.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 28, 2021.
The Canadian Press