Its been a busy week for the defending Grey Cup champions.
Fresh off winning the second of back-to-back CFL titles last month, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers have wasted little time trying to put the pieces back together for a chance at a third straight Grey Cup. That would make them the first team to achieve such a feat since Edmonton won five consecutive championships between 1978 and 1982.
The Bombers have focused mainly on the offensive and defensive lines so far as you often hear, games are won and lost in the trenches and no one mucks it up more than these two position groups.
Winnipeg brought back arguably two of the leagues best defensive ends in Willie Jefferson and Jackson Jeffcoat, while also re-signing Canadian defensive tackle and the teams longest-tenured player – Jake Thomas. Thomas will suit up for his 10th season with the Blue and Gold in 2022.
Then there were the signings of right tackle Jermarcus Hardrick and guard Patrick Neufeld, two key pieces of a Bombers O-line that has been the envy of the CFL for years. Neufeld and Hardrick were also named CFL all-stars in 2022, each for the first time in their careers.
But that wasnt all that took place in the CFL over the past week. There are eight other clubs making roster moves, mixed in with the usual craziness that has come to define the three-down loop.
So, without further ado, lets get into it in the recent edition of CFL Rundown.
1) Sticking with the Bombers, I wasnt surprised to see Jefferson sign, but my feeling was Jeffcoat might be the one that got away. I figured after years of making a name for himself, with 2021 being his best season yet, the intrigue of testing free agency and the chance for a major pay day would just be too appealing. What proved even more enticing to Jeffcoat, however, is the culture Winnipeg has built. And not even the likelihood of a cashing in seemed worth giving that up.
2) Jeffcoat inked a deal worth $175,000, which is $45,000 more than he made in 2021. Jefferson, who made $205,000 last season, has a new deal that pays him around $220,000. Both would have got more had they tested free agency.
3) Rumour has it the Edmonton Elks were willing to pay Jefferson $250,000. Some thought Jefferson might want to reunite with Chris Jones, who was recently hired in Edmonton as the general manager and head coach. Jones coached Jefferson when he was a CFL rookie in Edmonton, in 2014, and then again when they both went to Saskatchewan in 2016 after winning the Grey Cup with Edmonton the year before. Now, Jefferson plans to put down roots in Winnipeg, moving his family here sometime in late February or early March.
4) With Hardrick and Neufeld locked up, the Bombers still have three starters on the O-line that are pending free agents. Expect perennial CFL all-star Stanley Bryant to sign an extension, while Michael Couture also seems like a good bet to return for another season. Drew Desjarlais, however, might be off to the NFL. Hes worked out for several teams, most recently with the Seattle Seahawks. If Desjarlais is out, Winnipeg native Geoff Gray looks to be in line to earn the starting role at guard, with recently signed Chris Kolankowski as a depth option.
5) Speaking of the NFL, Bombers defensive back DeAundre Alford has signed with the Atlanta Falcons. What a run for the 24-year-old, who rose from a Div. II star out of Tusculum University, into a CFL all-star and is now with his hometown Falcons.
6) Another player who drew significant NFL interest is Saskatchewan receiver Brayden Lenius. Lenius, who was born in Regina but played college in the U.S., received multiple offers before signing with Atlanta.
7) Theres no doubt in my mind that Bombers QB Zach Collaros wants to be back in Winnipeg, but he also wants what hes worth. Just consider that despite winning back-to-back Grey Cups and boasting a 17-2 record as a starter, Collaros, who was also named the leagues most outstanding player and Grey Cup MVP in 2021, was paid less than Calgarys Bo Levi Mitchell, B.C.s Michael Reilly and Trevor Harris, who split time between Edmonton and then Montreal. Time to show Collaros the love.
8) Ditto for middle linebacker Adam Bighill, who you must think has been calling Bombers general manager Kyle Walters hoping theres enough money left to go around. Bighill took a $145,000 pay cut to remain in Winnipeg in 2021, and then was named the leagues most outstanding defensive player. Hes probably not going to get Jeffcoat or Jefferson money but hes more than deserving of a boost in salary.
9) I mentioned last week the signing of QB Jake Maier in Calgary and how it seemed to cast doubt on the future of Mitchell in Cowtown. Due a $100,000 signing bonus this week, Mitchell agreed to restructure his deal, which will now pay him $40,000 less than what he was expected to make in 2022. The QB market is slowly correcting itself after overpaying the top throwers in recent years.
10) After being suspended for a majority of the 2021 campaign for lying about being vaccinated, OL Jacob Ruby has found a new home, inking a two-year deal with the Ottawa Redblacks. It was a perfect match; Ruby, who is now fully vaccinated, said hes sorry for his lack in judgment and the Redblacks had the worst O-line in the CFL last year.
11) What a flex by Lions receiver Lucky Whitehead. Despite playing in B.C. last year, he was seen attending the Bombers West final win over the Roughriders, where he donned Winnipegs colours and celebrated the victory in the stands with several adoring fans. I thought that meant an exit from B.C. and possibly a return to the Bombers. Instead, Whitehead signed a two-year deal with the Lions that makes him the highest paid receiver in the CFL, earning $200,000 in 2022 and $205,000 in 2023.
13) Hall of Fame QB Anthony Calvillo is back in the CFL, hired as the new quarterbacks coach with the Montreal Alouettes. Calvillo was Montreals receivers, quarterbacks and offensive co-ordinator between 2015 and 2017, before joining the University of Montreal as an assistant coach and offensive co-ordinator in 2019. He should be a strong mentor for Vernon Adams Jr., who is coming off an inconsistent and injury-riddled 2021.
14) When Jeff Reinbold turned down a one-year extension to stay on as the Hamilton Tiger-Cats special teams co-ordinator, I figured that marked the end of his long run in the CFL. Not quite. Reinbold has now agreed to the join the Alouettes in 2022, marking what will be his 18th season coaching in the CFL.
15) Theres been a resolution to the years-long court case that ultimately ended former CFL running back Jerome Messams pro career. Messam pleaded guilty this week to voyeurism after videotaping a consensual sexual encounter without permission. The incident occurred back on Nov. 11, 2016, while Messam was a member of the Stampeders. A complaint to the police and CFL was launched in April 2018, while Messam was with Saskatchewan, and his contract was eventually terminated after he was charged in July 2019. A sentence hearing has been set for Mar. 11.
16) CFL great Don Sutherin died on Tuesday at the age of 85. Sutherin played 12 seasons in the CFL as a defensive back and place kicker, split between Hamilton, Ottawa and Toronto. He recorded 714 career points, leading the CFL in that category in 1961, 1964, 1965 and 1968, and reeled in 58 interceptions. He won seven Grey Cups, three of which came as a player and four as a coach. He was named to the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1992.
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.