Why the departure of Cameron Judge hurts the Riders more than Charleston Hughes

Photos courtesy: Hannah Souster. Edit: 3DownNation.

There’s no denying that COVID-19 can take some of the blame for tearing star Canadian linebacker Cameron Judge away from Rider fans.

The true impacts of how many players’ careers will be ended by the coronavirus is still a ways away from being known for sure.

Choosing between the risk of signing with a CFL team unlikely to pay you this season and an NFL team also unlikely to pay you this season is a no-win conundrum free agents are facing. It’s a challenge never seen before in professional football.

Admittedly, toying with the NFL has always had its risks for CFL athletes.

Pro football players who leave Canada to try their hand at a bigger payday down south usually end up back in the country by Labour Day. If they’re not injured, they often end up struggling to find their niche again with a CFL squad.

More and more CFL players are trying the NFL in this era of COVID-19 uncertainty. The reason is simple: the NFL is playing through this pandemic, while the CFL is not — yet.

Signing bonuses are key, which might explain why Charleston Hughes recently chose the Toronto Argonauts instead of the Saskatchewan Roughriders for not a lot of extra salary, but rather a bigger signing bonus.

Hughes will pay much more in housing costs to live in Toronto than he would have in Regina. And that doesn’t include his endorsement opportunities that will be much less in southern Ontario than they were on the prairies.

Judge chose not to sign with the Riders. ‘Trying his hand at the NFL’ has been the official line from Judge and his agent. But how many 26-year-old rookie Canadian linebackers actually make it in the NFL? Very few. And giving up a six-figure payday to stay in Regina couldn’t have been easy, either.

So instead, Judge will twist in the wind hoping his recent workout with the Las Vegas Raiders will help him catch lightning in a bottle. Whether the CFL plays this year or not, that choice is unlikely to pan out for Judge who no longer has the same option available in Regina that he did prior to the opening of free agency in Canada.

Rider Nation is mourning the loss of Hughes and many of those same fans view his departure as the worst casualty from this ugly mess.

Although, given that we know Hughes’ greatest years are behind him and Judge’s best years could still be in front of him, this one stings even worse.

Brendan McGuire has covered the CFL since 2006 in radio and print. Based in Regina, he has a front-row view of Rider Nation.