The Toronto Argonauts have signed a number of big-name NFL players this winter, including first-round pick Kendall Wright, receiver Martavis Bryant, first-round pick Shane Ray, five-year veteran Eli Harold, and second-round pick Kony Ealy.
I’ve compiled a list of ten players who achieved notoriety in the NFL before coming to Canada. Though there’s a first time for everything, CFL fans should probably temper their expectations for what Toronto’s recent acquisitions could achieve in 2021.
Please note that this list only includes players who were big names in the NFL before they came to the CFL. Individuals who played in Canada before reaching NFL stardom — Cameron Wake, Warren Moon, Jeff Garcia — are not listed.
Players are listed in alphabetical order by last name.
REC Fred Biletnikoff
The Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee was named the MVP of Super Bowl XI, which was the highlight of his fourteen-year career with the Oakland Raiders (1965-78). He played one season with the Montreal Alouettes in 1980 and made 38 catches for 470 yards and four touchdowns at the age of 37.
K Steve Christie
The Hamilton native played fifteen seasons in the NFL with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Buffalo Bills, San Diego Chargers, and New York Giants. He joined the Toronto Argonauts in 2007 as a favour to college teammate Michael ‘Pinball’ Clemons and dressed for one game, making two-of-four field goal attempts.
DL Marc Gastineau
A second-round pick in 1979, Gastineau recorded 74 sacks and nine fumble recoveries over ten NFL seasons with the New York Jets. The five-time Pro Bowl selection signed with the B.C. Lions in 1990 but recorded just six tackles in four games before being released.
REC Chad Johnson
The future Hall of Fame inductee recorded 766 receptions for 11,059 yards and 67 touchdowns as a member of the Cincinnati Bengals (2001-10) and New England Patriots (2011). Johnson signed with the Montreal Alouettes in April 2014 and appeared in five games, catching seven passes for 151 yards and one score.
DL Dexter Manley
The two-time Super Bowl champion recorded 97.5 sacks with Washington (1981-89), Arizona (1990), and Tampa Bay (1991). He appeared in five games with the Ottawa Rough Riders (1992-93), making one tackle and one fumble recovery.
QB Johnny Manziel
The Heisman Trophy winner was a first-round pick of the Cleveland Browns in 2014 but was released in March 2016. Manziel signed with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats the following year before being traded to the Montreal Alouettes with whom he threw for 1,290 yards, five touchdowns, and seven interceptions prior to his release.
RB Trent Richardson
The No. 3 overall selection in the 2012 NFL Draft failed to live up to the hype with the Cleveland Browns, averaging 3.5 yards per carry prior to a trade in 2015. Signed by the Saskatchewan Roughriders two years later, Richardson rushed for 259 yards and four touchdowns in four games.
REC Andre Rison
The five-time Pro Bowl selection played his final NFL season with the Oakland Raiders in 2000, recording 743 career receptions for 10,205 yards and 84 touchdowns. He signed with the Toronto Argonauts in 2004 and appeared in seven games over two seasons, making 15 catches for 178 yards and one score.
RB Ricky Williams
The No. 5 overall selection in the 1999 NFL Draft had four 1,000-yard performances before being suspended for the entire 2006 NFL season due to a drug violation. Signed by the Toronto Argonauts, Williams rushed for 526 yards and two touchdowns on 109 carries in the CFL. He returned to the NFL in 2007 and rushed for another 2,912 yards as a member of the Miami Dolphins and Baltimore Ravens.
QB Vince Young
The No. 3 overall pick of the 2006 NFL Draft was a two-time Pro Bowl selection with the Tennessee Titans but was out of the league by 2014 following a series of off-season stints with Buffalo, Green Bay, and Cleveland. He signed with the Saskatchewan Roughriders in 2017 but was cut during training camp after suffering a hamstring injury.