The Redblacks announced Tuesday they’ve agreed to a contract extension with Chris Williams, who was eligible to become a free agent next month. The speedy receiver had 88 catches for 1,214 yards – both team highs – last season, his first in Ottawa after two years in the NFL with New Orleans and Chicago.
“They have a great rapport, on and off the field,” Ottawa GM Marcel Desjardins said of Burris and Williams. “I think it’s important for each of them to have the other there.
“He (Williams) is a difference-maker, he’s dynamic. Our offence is going to be the same offence so we wanted to certainly have an impact player like him come back.”
The five-foot-nine 155-pound Williams was one of four 1,000-yard receivers with Ottawa last season in first-year offensive co-ordinator Jason Maas’s system. Burris, 40, took full advantage, posting a career-best 70.9 completion percentage and league-high 5,703 passing yards in capturing the CFL’s outstanding player award.
Burris and Williams helped Ottawa go 12-6 and finish atop the East Division after winning just twice in its inaugural season. But the Redblacks’ dream campaign ended with a 26-20 Grey Cup loss to the Edmonton Eskimos.
Desjardins believes Williams has the potential for more in 2016 under new offensive co-ordinator Jaime Elizondo, who was hired after Maas was named Edmonton’s head coach last month.
“Last year for (Williams) was a good year, not a great year and I think he knows and we expect him to be even that much better,” Desjardins said. “As much as his numbers were good this past year, he didn’t have a lot of those big plays.
“Not that that’s entirely on him, it’s a bigger picture thing too but that’s where our expectation is and I think his expectation as well.”
Williams made his CFL debut with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 2011 and immediately emerged as big-play threat on offence and special teams. He was the league’s top rookie in ’11 before being named its outstanding special-teams performer the following season.
Williams also saw action on special teams with Ottawa, returning 57 punts for 338 yards and five kickoffs for 82 yards. But Desjardins wasn’t sure if Williams would assume a more prominent role on special teams in 2016 under new co-ordinator Bob Dyce.
“To have him fresh as a receiver as opposed to getting banged up on special teams, there are advantages too,” Desjardins said. “We’ll see how that all plays out.”
Dan Vertlieb, Williams’ agent, wasn’t immediately available for comment.
Williams signed a one-year deal with Ottawa in 2015 after his time with the Saints and Bears. Desjardins said Williams wanted the opportunity to re-examine his NFL options after the Grey Cup with the understanding that if he returned to Canada it would be with the Redblacks.
“The NFL thing just didn’t really materialize that was concrete enough for him to pursue,” Desjardins said.
With Williams’ future settled, Desjardins can return his attention to Ottawa’s other 17 pending free agents. That list includes veteran receiver Marcus Henry, Canadian defensive linemen Justin Capicciotti and Keith Shologan, defensive back Jovon Johnson and linebacker Domaso Munoz.
But Desjardins said the harsh reality is Ottawa won’t re-sign all of its pending free agents. And he doesn’t expect to be as active in free agency as he was last year when the Redblacks added receivers Brad Sinopoli, Earnest Jackson and Greg Ellingson (who all had over 1,000 yards in ’15) as well as offensive lineman SirVincent Rogers (CFL’s top lineman winner).
“There’s a premium, obviously, for the Canadians but if everybody’s wanting to be paid through the nose … it’s not a reality of where we’re at,” Desjardins said. “I think we had the luxury our first year or two of being (in) a little better place cap-wise.
“Now we’re kind of where everybody else is. Now we’re still in a good place, don’t get me wrong, but we’re certainly not going to have an off-season like we did last year.”
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers re-signed quarterback Matt Nichols on Tuesday.
The seven-year veteran was scheduled to become a free agent next month.
Winnipeg acquired Nichols from the Edmonton Eskimos in September and he started seven games for the Bombers.
Nichols completed 149 of 248 passes for 1,757 yards with 10 touchdowns after throwing for 1,488 yards and eight TDs with Edmonton.
“Getting this deal done was a very important component to our roster heading into 2016,” Winnipeg GM Kyle Walters said in a statement. “Matt is an extremely valuable asset to our organization, and provides stability and depth at a very key position.”