Jermarcus Hardrick could have easily chased a big pay day, the kind of reward that any professional athlete strives for over their career.
Hardrick, the Bombers reliable right tackle who was named a CFL all-star for the first time in 2021, would have had interest from around the CFL had he decided to test free agency on Feb. 8. He did have a number in mind, and though he didn’t disclose what it was it’s clear he got what he wanted.
The 31-year-old has inked a one-year extension, bringing him back for the 2022 season with the chance to defend the Bombers back-to-back Grey Cup championships.
"I had no doubt where I wanted to be," Hardrick told reporters over a conference call Friday. "I never thought about free agency, so I didn’t know what free agency was gonna be like or anything like that. I’m just happy to be able to get it done. We got to a certain number, and we got the job done."
Hardrick was an integral part of a Bombers offensive line that helped Winnipeg finish first in the West Division with an 11-3 record and defeat the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 33-25 in the 108th Grey Cup. He’s been with the team for four seasons, and has missed just eight games over that stretch — though a few of those were healthy scratches after the Bombers had already locked up a playoff spot.
He said he spoke to his wife about what he felt he deserved for a contract. He made around $120,000 in 2021 and, according to sources, received a raise of around $30,000 this season.
"It was the whole body of work over my career. I wasn’t trying to base things totally off this season," Hardrick said. "I had a good year because of the guys around me and cause of the coaching staff and the organization. The number, just over the years and things, stuff that I left on the table."
He added: "It’s nothing Winnipeg has done to me or anything, it’s just something me and my wife talked about in the off-season, and I want to make my wife happy."
The Bombers are no doubt thrilled to have Hardrick back in the mix. He’s the first of the team’s five starting O-linemen to put pen to paper, with left tackle Stanley Bryant, guards Drew Desjarlais and Patrick Neufeld and centre Michael Couture still needing new deals.
It’s likely the Bombers bring back most, if not all of them, though Desjarlais is still garnering interest from the NFL. Bombers general manager Kyle Walters will also need to be savvy with his money, as Bryant, who was named the league’s top O-lineman for a third time in 2021, Neufeld and Desjarlais were all named all-stars and will likely warrant a pay raise.
"It’s important to get anybody back on this team but those guys I’m in that room with, everyone in that group are family and brothers," Hardrick said. "We walk in that room and spend all those hours together; we know each other like the back of our hands. It’ll be very important to get those guys back and hopefully we can get those guys back. I’ve been in contact with a couple guys, but things will fall where they fall."
It’s clear Hardrick has a deep respect for the Bombers, and he credits the organization for his rise in the CFL. Before joining Winnipeg, he spent time with the B.C. Lions and Saskatchewan Roughriders, with neither club really giving him a shot.
When he signed with the Bombers in 2015, he said his agent told him it was his final chance at making a career in the CFL. And like he always does, he went to work.
"I say I was 350 to 360 pounds my first couple years in the CFL and when Winnipeg called me, they put a weight clause in my contract and that automatically made me lose 30, 40, 50 pounds," he said. "And ever since then I think that was one of the biggest reasons that my game took off. Those first couple of years I came in at guard and I got moved to right tackle in the middle of that year.
"They just kept working with me and I started watching everything Stanley (Bryant) does and I recorded everything that he does and you start becoming a better lineman being around Stanley and being around (head coach Mike) O’Shea and I started understanding the game and O-line a lot better and here we are."
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.