Selling an item online to a stranger usually creates a lack of trust until the transaction is ultimately completed.
Even though star CFL sack man Charleston Hughes had been in Saskatchewan for three years, that’s the way he felt when discussing a potential new deal with Roughriders general manager Jeremy O’Day.
“It felt like I’m negotiating on Kijiji over a cellphone,” Hughes said.
For the better part of January, Hughes and O’Day were going back and forth regarding terms on a contract extension. The 37-year-old led the league with 16 sacks in 17 games during the 2019 season, but Hughes wasn’t even asking to be paid as much as reigning Most Outstanding Defensive Player Willie Jefferson.
“It came down to me not being valued enough to the team. My value wasn’t there and he went in a totally different direction. The finance is the finance and that’s way above my head,” Hughes said.
“When it comes to my ability on the field, my ability is top dollar ability. I’m negotiating my contracts based on what I think my value is to the team and what I think my value is in the rest of the league.”
Jefferson was originally scheduled to be the highest paid non-quarterback in the league at $260,000 for the 2021 season, but that was prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. He agreed to a restructured pact for $205,000 if football is played this year. Compare Jefferson to Hughes who was slated to earn $157,500 in 2020.
“All those guys took pay cuts, but based on where I am financially to the team, should I take a pay cut? Probably not. But was I willing to take a pay cut? Yes, I was,” Hughes said.
“The simple fact it came down to was I wasn’t able to take a pay cut in the way I wanted it to be structured. If I’m going to take a pay cut and sacrifice for the team, which I’ve been sacrificing already, I have to be able to do it in a manner where I still feel comfortable to do it.”
The key part of the structure Hughes was referring to was signing bonus money. The Riders wouldn’t pay out the upfront cash that the surefire Hall of Fame pass rusher wanted and it led to Saskatchewan releasing him. Hughes promptly inked a two-year contract in Toronto.
“What it really boils down to is being somewhere you’re wanted and valued. It was complicated from his end, it was complicated from my end — that’s hard negotiations,” Hughes said.
“It was two people looking at the contract going, ‘Ah, I can’t do it.’ And he’s looking at me the same way. No ill will, it’s their loss — they lost me. I’m stepping outside my comfort zone to be a part of what I deem to be a better team.”
Argos vice president of player personnel, John Murphy has a longstanding relationship with Hughes. He scouted Hughes while at Northwood University and recruited him to come north of the border. Murphy saw his first CFL sack live while with the Calgary Stampeders, and orchestrated a trade to bring Hughes to Saskatchewan while working for the Riders. He was surprised Hughes hit the open market.
“Thank you. Thank you. I can’t explain it. I have enough trouble trying to organize one roster than to examine or critique what somebody else is doing. I welcomed it with open arms,” Murphy said.
“It was very easy to understand where he was coming from and what he needed to hear in order to make it work. Jumping right in and trying to make sure that we could get it done as fast as possible, it was a key element.”
For 12 seasons Hughes played in Western Canada. The Saginaw, Michigan native will play close to his hometown for the first time in his career. It’s approximately a four-hour and 30-minute drive over the border, but even though Toronto is a major city, Hughes wasn’t aware of it growing up.
“I really didn’t know the rest of Canada existed, to be honest. All I knew was Windsor and everything else outside of Windsor was igloos,” Hughes said.
“I was stuck in a bubble because I was from a small city, we really didn’t see much outside of that city, Detroit, Windsor and that region. I didn’t even know CFL football existed until I came to Canada.”