Different situations played out for Shawn Lemon and Justin Capicciotti, but the destination became the same.
Each player helped Ottawa complete a remarkable 2015 season, which saw the Redblacks make it all the way to the Grey Cup. Then the two high-calibre defensive linemen left the nation’s capital for the prairies.
Lemon, the 27-year-old import, signed with Ottawa midway through the 2015 season once he was unable to make the rosters of the Pittsburgh Steelers and San Francisco 49ers. He registered six sacks and three forced fumbles in nine regular season games with the Redblacks.
That led to more NFL interest and Ottawa general manager Marcel Desjardins released Lemon so he could explore those opportunities.
“None of the NFL teams were willing to give me a signing bonus up front,” Lemon says. “I felt like at 27 years old I can’t do that for a maybe.
When the decision to focus on finding a new CFL deal was made, Lemon chose between two final teams: the Tiger-Cats and Roughriders.
“I know Coach [Orlondo] Steinauer is going to be a head coach next year, so I didn’t know who was going to be the defensive coordinator the year after that,” the American pass rusher says.
Lemon viewed Hamilton linebacker Simon Lawrence as the face of the defence and that’s what he wanted to become on a team.
“For me to take that next step in my career, as far being a guy that’s been around the league for a while, won a Grey Cup, lost a Grey Cup – knows what it takes to win. I wanted to go somewhere and be a Juwan Simpson-type that could help younger guys reach that success,” Lemon says.
The Riders offered that chance, a familiar defensive-minded coach in Chris Jones and $85,000 up front.
“That whole coaching staff believed in Coach Jones enough to leave Edmonton – where they just when a Grey Cup – to go with Coach Jones,” Lemon says. “I know the type of product he demands on the field.”
Lemon inked a two-year deal with a $170,000 salary in 2016. Various reports came out about who was pursuing Lemon after he put pen to paper with Saskatchewan, prompting a Twitter exchange with Redblacks GM Marcel Desjardins.
“Your image is everything in a small league. I could’ve handled things a lot better with Ottawa on my end as far as the aftermath. I went about it the wrong way,” Lemon says. “I’m going to reach out to him, but I just want to give it enough time to die down.”
Once Lemon officially became a Rider he took on a recruiting role. Be it through social media or cellphone he was encouraging players to come join him in Riderville. Lemon’s first target: Capicciotti.
Ottawa didn’t want to negotiate a new contract with the Canadian defensive end. That surprised Capicciotti considering after being selected in the 2013 Expansion Draft, he racked up 23 sacks in two seasons in Redblacks colours, and earned 2015 East Division All-Star honours.
“They said at your position you’re [already] making what we want to pay you – they had me slotted,” the 26-year-old says, “If I’ve given you two great years and I can’t benefit from it, then why should I stay?”
The B.C. Lions were interested in Capicciotti, but Lemon had been calling about joining him in Saskatchewan. The two pass rushers discussed what they could build with the Riders and how fast the fortunes of the team could be turned around.
“To talk to Shawn and have him think the exact same thing, it helped me confirm what I already believed,” Capicciotti says.
The ratio-breaking Canuck agreed to a matching two-year deal with a $75,000 signing bonus, which is part of his $145,000 salary for 2016.
Just like that Lemon and Capicciotti were back on the same squad and Saskatchewan landed bookend defensive ends in the prime years of their careers.