Stalwart linebacker Larry Dean made the ‘best business decision’ signing with the Riders

Photo courtesy: Bob Butrym

Saskatchewan Roughriders’ linebacker Larry Dean knows all about the business of football from experiences on both sides of the border.

Dean earned nearly $2.5 million playing in the NFL, but came to Canada after being cut by three teams. Playing careers are short and Dean realizes the importance of maximizing earning potential.

“It is a business, we have to handle the business and we stand on that, and just made the best decision,” Dean said in a videoconference.

The 32-year-old Dean signed a one-year contract with the Riders for the 2021 season worth $120,000 in hard money. It includes an $81,000 base salary, a $20,000 signing bonus, $12,000 in housing payments, a $5,000 active roster first time bonus, and $2,000 travel allowance.

He secured a raise from his 2020 agreement with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, which would have paid $110,000.

“It was the best business decision for myself and my family. The opportunity presented itself, there’s been a lot of things going on with the whole COVID-19 situation, openings, spots for players, it’s all been shuffled around,” Dean said.

“Saskatchewan was a place that I had on the radar. All the pieces matched and we were able to come to a deal and get it done. From a team standpoint, just the reception, speaking with the coach, Jeremy [O’Day] the GM, I felt good about it.”

The Riders liked what they saw on film from Dean in 2019 when he started 17 games at middle linebacker for the Edmonton Football Team, registering 86 defensive tackles, eight tackles for loss, three special teams tackles, one quarterback sack and four pass knockdowns. For his efforts, Dean was named a West Division all-star and Edmonton’s Most Outstanding Defensive Player.

“My mantra is ‘Champ Juice’ — one of my nicknames is ‘Champ’ and a lot of the players that I’ve played with ask if I’m going to bring that juice, which is energy. It stuck together,” Dean said.

“That ‘Champ Juice’ because I’m energetic, I’m flying around, sideline-to-sideline. I like playing the linebacker position because you get the best of both worlds, you get to mix it up with the big down in the trenches, and you get to drop back with the DBs and hang out sometimes.”

Even though Dean felt it wasn’t a coincidence the Green and White signed him and three-down legend Solomon Elimimian retired, the six-foot, 225-pound defender wants to focus on his own playing style instead of thinking about replacing a future Canadian Football Hall of Famer. Elimimian played one season at middle linebacker for Saskatchewan prior to announcing his retirement.

“I do know Solomon — he’s a great guy and a heckuva player. We’ve crossed paths throughout our careers, dating back to when he came to the NFL in Minnesota. We played together through the pre-season. Unfortunately, he was released, but fortunately for him he came back and he’s a living legend around the CFL world,” Dean said.

“I’m brought in to do my job. All I can do is be the player that I know how to be, which is Larry Dean. I’m really a self-driven, motivated guy. They brought me in for what I do, not what Solomon has done. It’s all about what Larry does at the MAC position.”

West Division rival Edmonton had interest in Dean along with Montreal and Ottawa, however the small-town feel in Riderville was familiar and drew him in. The Tifton, Georgia native — population less than 20,000 — compared the Saskatchewan capital to his hometown.

“I know it’s a great football atmosphere. I’m from a small city myself where on a Friday night we shut the town down for a football game, so I’m excited about that,” Dean said.

“It’s going to be electric, not only for me but the whole team. Everyone is going to be biting at the bit to get back out there and play the game we love to play. The fans are going to be super ecstatic.”

The three-time divisional all-star and 2018 East Division Most Outstanding Defensive Player has been studying the history of the Roughriders franchise since putting pen to paper. Dean knows it’s a “storied organization with a lot of rich history” and respects the 13th man.

“You definitely want an opportunity to win at the end of the year, that’s the common goal, you want to be hoisting up that Grey Cup,” Dean said.

“We have more than enough to be in that position, but we have to go out and put the work in, we can’t just pay lip service.”

Justin Dunk is a football insider, sports reporter and anchor.