Super Bowl XLVI champion Will Blackmon just wanted to keep playing football.
That’s why he came north of the border to play for the Saskatchewan Roughriders in 2018. At the time, Blackmon had been a free agent for an entire NFL season after playing 12 years in the pros.
“Talking to Chris Jones, going back and forth with him for weeks, we had really good conversations, and he’s like, ‘Basically, I want you to come here, and you’re going to start,” Blackmon said on The Rod Pedersen Show.
“I’m like, ‘Well if I’m starting, I’ll play.’ He had a total game plan for me. So I go up there, we meet privately, we go over the game plan. He gets me up to speed.”
Once in Riderville, Blackmon saw how the team was being run firsthand. He quickly found out the coaching staff held mandatory post-practice one-on-one sessions, defensive backs covering receivers, for players who weren’t on the active roster. It was helpful for Blackmon at the beginning because he wanted to become comfortable tracking pass catchers who were using the waggle.
“When I did make the active roster, I was in better shape, I was up to speed, I still stayed after practice and did one-on-ones anyway and coach is like, ‘dude, go inside you don’t need to do one-on-ones, but I wanted to because this high motion is brand new and you have to play it differently,” Blackmon said.
“The rule is once you make the active roster you do not have to do one-on-ones anymore, it’s a choice. I’m starting, he’s like you gotta lock down number one, end up playing pretty good, I had four tackles, a forced fumble, and we ended up winning the game. Now I’m like, ‘OK, I’m the guy.’
Except that wasn’t the case. Even though Blackmon helped the Riders beat the Winnipeg Blue Bombers 31-23 during his CFL debut in the Labour Day Classic, he found out the starting spot at field cornerback wasn’t his for the Banjo Bowl. Instead, veteran cover man Jovon Johnson was slated to start, but no one told Blackmon.
“We’re going over the game plan, and again we don’t know who is starting. There’s a rotation here that I don’t know about. In one meeting I raised my hand and said: ‘Who is starting?’ And one of the coaches said: ‘Well, if no one talked to you, then you know what it is, you’re not starting,'” Blackmon recalled.
“I’m trying to figure out what’s going on here, it was so confusing. I just felt a little bit of weird energy, especially me helping guys out, some coaches had a problem with that. I’m the ultimate team player. How do you play 12 years in the NFL? You don’t play 12 years by being a jerk, you play 12 years by being the ultimate team player.”
The six-foot, 210-pound cover man “loved” all of his teammates in Saskatchewan. He made sure when he joined the team to do it with no ego despite his veteran status and earning over $7.5 million while playing in the NFL for the Green Bay Packers, New York Giants, Jacksonville Jaguars, Seattle Seahawks, and Washington Football Team.
“Everyone knows I played 12 years, I don’t need to say anything. Everyone knows I have a Super Bowl, I don’t need to say anything,” Blackmon said.
His fellow players respected him, but the coaching staff wanted Blackmon to follow orders. Jones had made cold tubs mandatory for players to use in order to take care of their bodies. Three years into his NFL career, Blackmon stopped using the cold tub because he didn’t like it and found alternative ways to help the body recover.
“They were like, ‘You need to get in there because we said so.’ I’m like, ‘OK guys, let’s put our egos down and let’s be on the same page because I’m here to help you guys out.’ There was a lot of things that happened,” Blackmon said.
On the field, the Riders won the Banjo Bowl 32-27 while Blackmon watched from in Regina. The Ottawa Redblacks were scheduled to visit Mosaic Stadium in Week 14 and Blackmon was pegged to be in the starting lineup once again. That should have meant no extra one-on-ones for Blackmon, but his name came out of Jones’ mouth as he read the list, which also included Johnson and Crezdon Butler.
“I already had a problem because these guys were doing all kinds of weird things behind the scenes to me. When my name was on the list that I had to do mandatory one-on-ones after practice, I was like, ‘No way. One, my body is sore because I’m practicing everyday and I’m on the active roster,'” Blackmon said.
“Well, you have to do it because we said so. I’m like, ‘Why are you guys being like this?’ I never cuss anybody out, I never did any of that stuff. I went in the locker room. I was like,’ Guys, I’m not doing one-on-ones today.'”
According to Blackmon, Jason Shivers, who was the defensive backs coach at the time, followed him to the locker room. He said: ‘You’re not going to do one-on-ones today?’ I was like, ‘Bro, I’m so sore, I did everything you guys asked, can I just get a break today? I’m not doing one-on-ones.’ He’s like, ‘alright, fine.’
Blackmon proceeded to go upstairs to sign a form which was supposed to state he wouldn’t be playing that week. That paperwork was actually his release paperwork. Assistant general manager Jeremy O’Day delivered the unexpected news to Blackmon.
“I went upstairs thinking that I’m going to sign a form saying that I’m going to not be active this week and then JO’s like, ‘Jonesy is going to release you.’ I just started laughing. He said: ‘It’s a numbers thing,'” Blackmon explained.
“I said: ‘You guys are so full of it — a numbers thing?’ He’s like, ‘Yeah.’ I was like, ‘No, you guys are upset because I didn’t want to do one-on-ones so you want to prove a point like I don’t care who you are, I know you came from the NFL, we’re going to release you anyway to prove a point.”
That was Thursday, September 13, 2018. Less than two months after Blackmon officially signed his contract with the Riders, he was released. That’s how his professional career ended, shortly after the series of events in Saskatchewan, Blackmon retired from football.
“I honestly came out there with no ego. I loved the CFL, it’s incredible football, there’s amazing players there. For them to do that it was ridiculous. I’m not upset or bitter towards anybody, I’m just stating the facts,” Blackmon said.
“I have no animosity towards Chris Jones. He had different plans, it is what it is. Is it because you wanted to prove a point? Then that’s your business decision. If you make a decision because you don’t like me as person, again that’s your problem.”