Star running back James Wilder Jr. did not enjoy playing for Toronto Argonauts head coach Corey Chamblin or offensive coordinator Jacques Chapdelaine one bit.
“No, I didn’t. I don’t know too much about their outside lives, I’m sure they’re great men. But as a football player to football coach it was pretty tough. Usually, I’ve been playing for coaches you have that connection, you’ll be able to talk with coaches, make adjustments and they’ll adjust off you or off the team to help the team where everybody is really comfortable out there on the field,” Wilder Jr. said on The Rod Pedersen Show.
“It’s been a few times where I’ve reached out to try to — not for selfish reasons — but just our team was losing and I was just looking out to try to have player meetings, team meetings, player-coach meetings. I called for a few of those just to try to better the team, but we were just so disconnected with the coaches and the players. Most of our team is still contracted, but 90 percent of our locker room will tell you that.”
The Argos were a dismal 4-14 in 2019, the second-worst record in the CFL. Wilder Jr. requested and received his release from Toronto in late November. He played in 14 games for the double blue during the final year of his contract. The 27-year-old would have been a free agent in February anyways.
“I got put on the injured list, I felt that I could play still. I told them it’s a rib that pretty much that I broke the last two years. It was just a light break, a clean break and it’s something that I thought I could play through,” Wilder Jr. said.
“They felt like I couldn’t play through it. It was pretty frustrating I was coming off two 100-yard games, I felt like I was starting to get my roll going, they decided to bench me, I was a little frustrated with it, but I understood.”
Wilder Jr. started the first five games of the season at running back for Toronto producing 161 rushing yards on 38 carries and hauling in 26 passes for 260 yards and two touchdowns. He didn’t return to action until Week 11 against the Montreal Alouettes, which included being a healthy scratch in Week 10 versus the Edmonton Eskimos.
“Once the time started to come, three or four weeks later I’m like ‘yo, what’s going on?’ I’m just sitting, I’m healthy. And the Argos were just like you can come back, but you can come back on special teams. You can come back and play the special teams role, not the running back role,” Wilder Jr. said.
“I was like well I don’t know if that’s the wisest thing to do coming off broken ribs to be playing special teams. I can come back off of broken ribs to play a little bit of running back and mix me in as I thought it would be like, but they told me they wanted to come back and play kick-off wedge bust and all this other stuff. I didn’t think it was a wise thing to do.”
The six-foot-three, 232-pounder ran for 872 yards (7.2-yard average) and five touchdowns in 17 games while adding 51 catches for 533 yards bursting on the scene during the 2017 season. He started six regular season games for Toronto in which the Argos went 5-1 and the double blue went 2-0 in the playoffs, including the Grey Cup victory while being named the CFL’s Most Outstanding Rookie.
“Toronto, it started off very great. We won a Grey Cup. Second year we had an injury to our quarterback [Ricky Ray], so we were a little shaken up, battled a lot of injuries, the season didn’t go as well. Individually, probably not up to my standard, but still elite in the CFL. Third year not at all to my standard, not to the team’s standard, not for the standard of the city,” Wilder Jr. said.
“It was a little frustrating, mentally that took a little toll on me throughout the season. But I’m a free agent now, so hopefully be able to bring that love back and get back to those 2017-type years.”
During three seasons in Toronto, Wilder Jr. played 44 games rushing 361 times for 2,027 yards, nine touchdowns while grabbing 154 passes for 1,487 yards and five majors. Wilder Jr. can be a dynamic offensive playmaker in an offence which maximizes his talents.
“We’re waiting for the [NFL] phone calls right now. There were talks, nothing formally planned when I was under contract getting the release that there would be interest for workouts with a few teams,” Wilder Jr. said.
“Right now, I’m just weighing out all the options. I’m going to try to snap out a few NFL workouts and if that doesn’t go as planned I’ll have a jump start at [CFL] free agency.”