‘Business’ decision made by GM Jeremy O’Day behind Riders release of Charleston Hughes

Photo courtesy: Hannah Souster

The Saskatchewan Roughriders weren’t going to show Charleston Hughes enough upfront money and it led to the release of the star sack artist.

General manager Jeremy O’Day declined to go into the specifics of the contract discussions with Hughes, but it’s clear the financial aspect resulted in Hughes leaving Riderville.

“It just came down to the business side. We don’t really talk about negotiations and the contractual terms of everything, but we definitely offered Charleston contracts to come back,” O’Day said in a videoconference.

“For whatever reason, it’s a negotiation, and for an agreement to happen it has to be mutual from both sides. I don’t think there is anyone to blame for this, it was a situation where we just weren’t able to come to an agreement.”

According to league sources, the key disagreement was over the signing bonus amount. The Toronto Argonauts paid Hughes $50,000 for putting pen to paper, which was at least $10,000 more than the amount Saskatchewan had offered. If the Riders had upped the initial cash payment, Hughes would still be wearing green and white.

“Charleston and I were in conversations for a number of weeks. From our standpoint it got to a point where we really needed to know whether Charleston was going to come back. We felt like it wasn’t fair for both parties to continue the conversations if we didn’t feel like a deal would get done,” O’Day said.

“We had another couple conversations and at that time we decided that it was best to release Charleston — gives him the ability to go and get out in front of the free agent market. And also gives us the ability to know what we’re working with going into free agency.”

That led to Saskatchewan setting Hughes free and the reigning CFL sack champion inked a two-year contract with Toronto. It includes a base salary of $73,000 with the hard money totalling $155,000. He can earn $1,000 for leading the Argos in sacks, $2,000 for leading the league in sacks and $2,500 for being named the CFL’s Most Outstanding Defensive Player.

“We didn’t want it to be a situation where we went too far down the road and then we didn’t get Charleston back, and then we were sitting there after free agency without a plan, so we decided to move forward earlier in the process than we anticipated,” O’Day said.

“I presented to Charleston and I thought that it would be best for both of us that we try to come to a conclusion sooner than later, and then at that point we agreed and I told him that we would release him to look at other opportunities.”

O’Day said Hughes’ age — he’s 37 — wasn’t a factor in his ultimate decision. After all, Hughes led the CFL with 16 sacks in 17 games during the 2019 season when the league last played football. Hughes was scheduled to earn $157,500 in 2020, however, he only received $10,000 due to the season being cancelled.

Due to the uncertainty created by COVID-19, Hughes wanted to maximize the guaranteed portion of his contract, but the Riders wouldn’t budge. That caused the impasse and eventually sent Hughes to The Six.

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