The Winnipeg Blue Bombers have been notorious for retaining core pieces on sweetheart deals since their run of Grey Cup dominance began, but that sales pitch didn’t work on Kenny Lawler.
The CFL’s leading receiver a year ago took the money and ran to Edmonton, making himself the league’s highest-paid non-quarterback with a contract worth $300,000. As he gets set to face his former team Friday night, Lawler doesn’t regret it in the slightest.
“There was a small offer on the table but I felt like the time that I am in my career, with my age and my youth, I gotta maximize as much as I can,” he told the media following Elks’ walk-through on Thursday. “I believe I accomplished that this offseason while getting that dollar amount sign.”
Lawler earned two Grey Cup rings with the Bombers and broke out with 64 receptions for 1,014 yards and six touchdowns last season, providing the explosive element to Winnipeg’s potent offence.
Despite his obvious importance to the team, there was a mutual understanding that the back-to-back defending champs would not have the money to compete for his services on the open market, leading to an amicable departure.
“It’s a business. They had to do what they had to do for their business to grow and keep doing what they do and I had to do what I had to do. I could have took 175K but instead, I took 300K,” Lawler acknowledged.
“I let my agent deal with that side of it. Just based off my play on this football field, some guys that had a lot of money were able to see that I was worth a certain value and it was there.”
The receiver bet on himself, taking a monster deal from Chris Jones in Edmonton that included no signing bonus upfront. The results thus far have merited it — despite catching passes from four different quarterbacks, Lawler sits eighth in the CFL with 384 yards and three majors through six games.
“There’s definitely pressure on my shoulders. I have to come in and perform each week, that’s what they pay me to do. That’s what I gotta give,” he noted. “I’ve just had to try to take that pressure and make diamonds with it, man. That’s what I’ve been trying to do here this whole time, just bring a championship culture into this organization.”
That winning attitude was forged during his time in Winnipeg and while he harbours no hard feelings against his old club, Lawler couldn’t contain his excitement about playing against his former teammates.
“I’m gonna go out there and talk to the guys, try to hit ’em, finally get to hit ’em, get to make plays on the defence,” he grinned. “It’s gonna be fun. This has definitely been the highlighted game for me that I’ve highlighted this season and I just can’t wait to get out there.”