The Winnipeg Blue Bombers have released former all-star defensive back Jonathan Hefney.
The Bombers issued a press release late Saturday afternoon announcing they had cut Hefney after four seasons in Winnipeg.
"We would like to thank Jonathan for his contributions to the Winnipeg Football Club over the past several seasons," General Manager Joe Mack said in a statement. "Jonathan always played the game with heart and we wish him well in his future endeavors as we look to the emergence of our young talented crop of defensive backs that we have in camp."
The Bombers said they would have no further comment on Hefney until head coach Tim Burke holds his regular media availability on Sunday afternoon.
Hefney could not be reached for comment Saturday night and a club spokesman refused to make him available to the media.
Sources insisted the club was dissatisfied with what they felt was a decline in Hefney’s play last year and during this year’s training camp. While some off-field issues involving Hefney were also unwelcome — it was revealed just last Monday that Hefney was charged with posession of a small amount of marijuana in South Carolina late last month — sources indicate it was his on-field play, not off-field antics, that led to Saturday’s decision to release him.
Still, the Bombers did re-sign Hefney in January and reportedly gave him a signing bonus at the time, barely a month before he was set to become a free agent.
Last Tuesday, Bombers GM Joe Mack offered a spirited defence of Hefney, telling a news conference that the club believed his protestations of innocence in the marijuana matter and that the club was willing to allow the court process to play itself out.
"We’re going to let due process take its course and wait and see what happens," said Mack. "According to Jonathan it is a misunderstanding that will be resolved. It’s my understanding (the charge) could just go away.
"Jonathan says that he is completely innocent of this and we’re going to take him at his word because he is one of our teammates. That in itself, this particular incident, won’t affect his status at all. It’s going to be how he plays."
Curiously then, the Bombers have cut Hefney after what appeared to be a strong performance in a 24-6 pre-season loss to the Toronto Argonauts last Wednesday. Burke did say after the game, however, that he wasn't happy with how his veteran DBs played.
Hefney did suffer a toe injury in the game. But after initial fears that the injury could keep Hefney off the practice field for as much as a week, Hefney returned on Friday and never in the end missed any practice.
It’s not immediately clear who the Bombers will slide into Hefney’s defensive back spot, although Burke has been talking up rookie DB Marty Markett this spring and he’s also known to like the way DB Demond Washington plays.
It’s widely expected Hefney will receive multiple offers from other CFL teams for his services and could be in another CFL training camp within days, although that could be complicated by a court date this Wednesday in South Carolina on the pot charge.
Hefney was a three-time East Division all-star since signing in Winnipeg in 2009. He leaves the team having recorded 241 tackles, two sacks, 13 interceptions and six fumble recoveries, despite having missed most of the 2010 season after signing with the Detroit Lions.
The Bombers had refused all week to make Hefney available to the media, saying he would not be allowed to speak publicly until after his court date.
The club turned down media requests for an interview with Hefney as recently as Saturday afternoon, when the veteran defender was practicing with the club as usual at Investors Group Field.