Willie Jefferson wasn’t seeing the type of green he wanted to from the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
Chris Jones leaving the Riders led to Jefferson testing the open market, especially after the green and white offered him less than $175,000. Jefferson negotiated his own free agent contract and felt the offer was below market value.
The Toronto Argonauts were in the mix, but Jefferson wanted $235,000 to sign in the six. He chose what he felt was the best opportunity to win a Grey Cup in 2019. Jefferson inked a one-year contract worth $210,000 with Winnipeg that included the following: a $100,000 signing bonus; $90,000 base salary; $15,000 housing; and $5,000 travel.
Jones had been able to keep Jefferson in Saskatchewan in 2018 at a rate of $155,000 plus incentives. Being named a CFL all-star for a second-straight year under Jones netted some extra cash. If Jones, who left for a job with the Cleveland Browns, was still in Saskatchewan it’s near certain that Jefferson would have remained in Rider green.
Jefferson had spent all five seasons in Canada in Jones’ defence — two in Edmonton and three Saskatchewan. During those years, Jefferson played 58 CFL games and recorded 127 tackles, 31 sacks, six forced fumbles, two interceptions, and three touchdowns.
The terrorizing defender raised his level in 2018, posting a career-high ten sacks and two pick-sixes. The 28-year-old is an elite defender in the CFL.
With Jones leaving Saskatchewan, Jefferson joined an improved Bombers’ defence and a unit that features stud linebacker Adam Bighill who was named the Most Outstanding Defensive Player last season.
The Beaumont, Texas native was holding out for an NFL contract but there was little to no interest, perhaps because Jefferson had shots with three NFL teams in the past. He signed as an undrafted NFL 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 the Bills soon released him. Washington brought Jefferson to training camp in 2016, but released the six-foot-six, 245-pound defender among the final cuts.
The Bombers are beneficiaries of the NFL’s oversight. Jefferson has notched eight sacks, forced a career-high five fumbles, and recorded an interception while Winnipeg’s defence has become one of the most difficult units to score against in the CFL.
It’s clear the Bombers made a proper investment when they signed Willie Jefferson.