Adam Bighill fine with not ‘maximizing value’ in exchange for another year on Winnipeg’s ‘dark side’ defence

Photo courtesy: CFL

There is little doubt that a massive pay day awaited Adam Bighill on the open market.

Though he’s closer to the end of his career than the start of it at 33 years old, the future hall of fame linebacker needed only to flash his third career Most Outstanding Defensive Player award to prove he was still the best in the CFL. After taking a $120,000 pay cut last off-season to chase a second straight Grey Cup with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, nobody would have begrudged Bighill for seeking a short-term windfall somewhere else.

But come February 8, Bighill won’t be trying free agency, just one more in a long list of Bombers’ stars re-upping in the Manitoba capital. His one-year extension came with a pay raise, he’ll make $165,000 in hard money, but still fell well short of what he could have pocketed elsewhere.

In an industry where careers are short and brutal, players often want to maximize their financial earnings while they still can. Asked if he achieved that in Winnipeg, Bighill was frank.

“No, I don’t think I maximized my value. I think the only way you can do that is by going to free agency and for me, it’s not always about maximizing my value on the open market. There’s a lot more that goes in to it for me,” he told reporters.

“One of the reasons why I chose to come back is I do like being in Winnipeg. I love the fan base, I love the community, I love being a big part of this franchise. In terms of maximizing value, I put a lot of value into those items, I guess is what I’m saying, as opposed to contract dollars. In some respect, no, I didn’t maximize my value, but I didn’t feel the need that I wanted to.”

That story has been echoed by a growing number of the Bombers’ veteran leaders as they ink sub-market value pacts to chase a third championship. For Bighill, it came down to four factors: the quality of the organization, the relationships in the locker room, security for his family, and the advancement of his own career — both on and off the field.

The linebacker has a growing business as an investment advisor with clients across the country, but he’s based it all out of Winnipeg. It’s a place that his family has fallen in love with and all the other factors in play, there was no reason to press his luck.

“There’s always a feeling of comfort knowing what to expect. I mentioned all the great things, but there’s also comfort in knowing how green your grass is as opposed to looking elsewhere,” Bighill admitted. “There’s a sense of comfort knowing that you don’t have to adapt and adjust and go through a different process of acclimating somewhere else.”

There is no place where Bighill has felt more comfortable than in the middle of the Bombers’ defence the last three seasons, racking up 236 tackles, 10 sacks and six interceptions since his return from the NFL.

With the Central Washington University product as it’s beating heart, Winnipeg has been on a near record pace defensively. They’ve produced the last three Most Outstanding Defensive Player winners as well — twice Bighill himself, Willie Jefferson the other — but those numbers aren’t nearly as satisfying as what it does to opponents.

“You can see the frustration on opposing offences. You can hear it, you can hear ’em talking and you can see the struggle in the face of the quarterback after. He’s not getting what he wants and we’re affecting him, we’re sacking him, we’re hitting him. If he’s getting the ball off, he’s still getting hit,” Bighill explained.

“You can see that there was frustration and a look of hope that wasn’t there at that point. We consistently put that up on offences, which was fun. That’s what the dark side is all about, it’s about making the other side’s life a living hell and we did a great job of executing that.”

He’ll get to do that again for at least one more year, but Bighill thinks he has plenty left in the tank. After a decade of success in pro football, he’s found the perfect situation to maximize his abilities.

“I know there’s a lot more things that I can still do and the defence here in Winnipeg allows me to be dynamic and a player that can make plays all over the field,” he said. “I really like that. I really enjoy that. [Defensive coordinator Richie Hall] does a great job of allowing me to be a playmaker and find ways to be creative in general for the whole team.”

In the big scheme of things, losing that simply wasn’t worth a few extra thousand dollars to Bighill.

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.