Willie Jefferson chose to re-sign in Saskatchewan over chasing an NFL roster spot.
“I really wasn’t looking forward to going into the whole NFL tour trying to look for a team. I felt like the way the season ended last year I just wanted to come back and try to see if we can finish it off a little bit better,” Jefferson said.
The Riders lost a one-score game in the Eastern Final 25-21 as the green and white came up just short of a Grey Cup berth. Jefferson had an all-star season as a key factor on defence in a turnaround campaign for Saskatchewan as the Riders doubled their win total from 5 to 10 in 2017.
The 27-year-old recorded 45 tackles and a team-high eight sacks to go with one defensive touchdown while starting all 18 games. The six-foot-six, 245-pounder led the league in quarterback pressures with 34 – nine more than the next closest defender. He added three tackles, one sack and one interception in two playoff games.
“I didn’t want to go back to the NFL on a hope that I could make a team. I had a great season last year and I probably could have made an NFL team, but the next time I go to the NFL I want a team to want me. After they see my film and me workout, knowing what I can do and bring to the team sign me and tell me this is what I’m going to be doing and have the off-season to get ready with OTAs and stuff like that and be me,” Jefferson said.
“I don’t want to have to fight for a spot, even though I don’t mind fighting for a spot I already did that. I played a couple years, showed the team what I have to bring to the table. And if they don’t like it there are teams in the CFL that like it.”
Jefferson signed as an undrafted free agent in 2013 with the Houston Texans where he played in six games making two tackles. Buffalo had Jefferson in for a brief stint, but after the Bills released him, the Edmonton Eskimos brought the terrorizing defender north of the border. Chrs Jones was the head coach at the time. After winning a Grey Cup with the Eskimos and Jones in 2015, Jefferson earned another NFL chance with Washington but he was among Redskins’ final cuts and he rejoined Jones in Saskatchewan.
“Coach Jones told me if I wanted to get an NFL shot he would let me, but I told him that I like the way that I felt playing for the whole season last year and the way that I led the team. And with the way we ended the season with a loss, I wanted to come back and get another shot at the Grey Cup and this off-season the moves that Coach Jones made it all came full circle for me,” Jefferson said.
Fellow 2017 CFL all-star Charleston Hughes was acquired by the Riders via trade to form a dynamic tandem with Jefferson. Hughes has notched double-digit sacks in five out of the last six seasons, including 11 last year, and has been a league all-star four times.
“Playing next to Willie, he’s just as excited as I am. I’ve never played with another defensive end as talented as he is. It’s going to be fun to really get into game time play and actually see what he can do,” Hughes said.
“I can’t wait for us to line up on opposite sides and see how things go. I know he can get off the ball, I know I can get off the ball. I know he can make plays, I know I can make plays. At this point, it’s about who is going to make the most plays on the team,” Jefferson said.
Hughes was emphatic about being the best thing that happened on defence in Calgary since 2008. Jefferson believes the Riders have the best pair of defensive ends in the league.
“Nobody else has put up the numbers we have together,” Jefferson said. “I’m sure the league can’t wait to see what we do together on the same team.”
That combo could make Jefferson’s blueprint for 2018 a reality.
“That’s the plan for this year: have a great season with Saskatchewan, win the Grey Cup,” Jefferson said, “and after that, I can get me an NFL shot.”