Of the dozens of pending free agents on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, the feeling among the team was Jackson Jeffcoat might end up being the one that got away.
Jeffcoat has spent four years in Winnipeg and is coming off his best season. In 2021, he registered nine sacks and four forced fumbles — both career highs — in 12 games, en route to earning his first CFL all-star nod.
The 31-year-old defensive end — who is the son of Jim Jeffcoat, a two-time Super Bowl champion with the Dallas Cowboy — noted last month, shortly after helping the Bombers win a second consecutive Grey Cup, that he was mulling over the idea of testing free agency come Feb. 8. And while the Bombers were able to convince him to return to the Blue and Gold, inking him to a one-year contract extension on Friday, Jeffcoat remained open about his intentions to test the open market.
"I thought about it hard. I thought I actually was going to go to free agency," Jeffcoat told reporters in a conference call from his home in Austin, Texas. "I felt like Winnipeg really showed that they cared about me and wanted me to be in Winnipeg. I think that’s more important than any amount of money that I could get if I went to free agency and went to another team." It took about a week to finalize negotiations, Jeffcoat said, with the result being a price tag of $175,000. That’s a considerable chunk of change by CFL standards, and while Jeffcoat maybe could have gotten more with another club, he realized that decision would mean losing out on what he’s built and enjoys here in Winnipeg.
Part of the process, too, included talking things over with his father. Jim Jeffcoat had faced a similar situation late in his 15-year NFL career. After 12 seasons with Dallas, the Cowboys weren’t willing to bring him back, resulting in him signing with the Buffalo Bills.
That year, the Cowboys went on to win another Super Bowl, defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers 27-17. That seemed to stick with Jeffcoat, especially with Winnipeg willing to open up the purse strings to get him to return in 2022.
"A big thing he was saying was ‘Whatever decision you make, you’ve got to live with it. You’ve got to accept your decision and go with it,’" Jeffcoat said.
"Initially, I came in with the goal of (returning to the) NFL and then I fell in love with the CFL and really enjoyed it. I realized this is a great league, great career, great place to live, and I want to be here. I stopped looking at ‘Oh, I can go to the NFL maybe next year’ and started thinking, ‘I want to be great in the CFL.’"
With the help of Darren Cameron, the Bombers director of public and player relations, who played a significant role in orchestrating the contracts of Jackson and fellow all-star defensive end Willie Jefferson, Jackson was delivered the Grey Cup in Austin. It was next to him when he signed his deal, and afterwards he took it to his alma mater, the University of Texas, before celebrating at a restaurant with family and friends.
"It’s a special experience because I haven’t seen anybody bring the Grey Cup down to the States. I know it has been here, maybe less than a handful of times, but it’s special to take my Winnipeg life, my life in Canada, and share it with Texas, share it with the University of Texas, share it with Austin," Jeffcoat said. "It’s hard to put into words how great of a place Winnipeg is. It’s just special — from the fans, from the organization, just how people are willing to help, the culture with the team, the guys working hard for each other, always holding each other accountable, trying to be better. I feel like I’ve become a better player every year that I’ve been in Winnipeg. It’s another home away from home, just like Austin became for me."
After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.