Paxton Lynch wants to use CFL as rebound into ‘long, successful career in the NFL’

Photo courtesy: Saskatchewan Roughriders

Paxton Lynch was quickly run out of the NFL — especially for a first-round pick — and wants to use the CFL to earn another shot south of the border.

It’s a familiar refrain for Canadian Football League followers. Many Americans have come to Canada and viewed it as a short pitstop to refill confidence and interest from NFL teams. At the very least, Lynch has respect for the CFL, which is different than Johnny Manziel and others who have overstated their impact before even setting foot on a three-down field.

The 27-year-old Lynch reached out to former University of Memphis teammates Joe Craig Jr. and Tevin Jones who both had stints in the NFL prior to signing with the Riders to learn anything he could about the Canadian league. Those conversations brought about a genuine appreciation for the talent level in Canada after his first on-field session with the Roughriders.

“This is where I’m at in this season of my life, I’ve been called to come out here to play for Saskatchewan in the CFL. I’m going to take this opportunity very serious, work very hard and try to make the most of it,” Lynch said.

The Riders originally reached out to Lynch last October, after putting him on the team’s exclusive negotiation list in September, while he was moving to Denver. He had just bought a house in the Mile High City with his wife Gabrielle.

Photo courtesy: Instagram @PaxtonLynch

Lynch was waiting for another NFL chance, but after the 2020 season ended and the off-season neared towards training camp, no opportunities were presented. That led to Lynch signing with the Riders in June. Since inking his contract, the six-foot-seven, 244-pound quarterback has been learning Jason Maas’ playbook and nuances of the CFL game.

“When I first started meeting with Coach Maas he was telling me about the 12 players on the field and I never knew that was even a thing. 12 players on defence and 12 players on offence — that was new to me,” Lynch said.

It’s a style of football Lynch never expected to be partaking in after being selected by the Denver Broncos in the first round, 26th overall during the 2016 NFL Draft. After just four starts, general manager John Elway gave up on Lynch and released him following two seasons in the Colorado capital city.

“It didn’t go the way I had wanted it to, I wanted to have a long successful career in the NFL and I’m not going to say that my NFL career — in my mind — my dreams of playing a long career in the NFL is over,” Lynch said.

“It’s not unusual for a player that’s been in the NFL to want to get back. That’s a pretty good life and a lot of nice things are done down there for you and they pay you a lot of money, so I don’t blame him,” Riders’ head coach Craig Dickenson said.

Lynch had a 1-3 win-loss record in the NFL while completing 61.7 percent of his passes for 792 yards with four touchdowns and four interceptions. He hasn’t played in a pro game since the 2017 season. Seattle and Pittsburgh released him among the final training camp cuts in 2019 and 2020, respectively.

“He’s gotta have success up here for him to get a look down there. In order for the NFL to give a player a shot, they gotta dominate up here and they gotta show on film that they are as good as they need to be to make the NFL,” Dickenson said.

Dickenson has been impressed from the initial impressions made by Lynch in Regina, particularly his arm strength. And even though Lynch earned north of $8.8 million in the NFL, Dickenson believes he’s still hungry to prepare like a pro and play football at a high level.

“I feel like I have something to prove to myself and really the people who have had my back since I started the entire process of playing football as a kid, not necessarily to anybody else,” Lynch said.

“You don’t want a guy that comes up here thinking he’s going to dominate and gets a dose of reality, but that’s not Paxton,” Dickenson asserted. “He knows he’s going to have to work, prepare and play well to compete against these guys.”

Never in the storied years of either league has a former first-round pick been shuffled out of NFL, dominated in Canada and earned another shot. There is a long list of former NFL quarterbacks who have come north and disappointed, but that doesn’t faze Lynch who wants to make CFL and NFL history.

“I’m in the CFL and I’m focused on that and I’m not worried about anything else,” Lynch said.

“I’ve been blessed in so many ways to even just get the opportunity to play in the NFL and I would like to continue to play in the NFL.”

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