Brandon Zylstra recently revealed how he first came to the CFL in 2016 and the story depicted his former team in a less-than-positive light.
The six-foot-two, 215-pound receiver moved to Phoenix, Ariz. after graduating from college where his former quarterback, Griffin Neal, was training following a stint with the Hildesheim Invaders in Germany. He attended four open CFL tryouts and garnered three contract offers, the third of which came from the Edmonton Football Team.
“After I got my third one, I was like, ‘OK, Brandon, you’ve got three contract offers. Let’s try to see if I can negotiate myself, try and get some extra money or something like that, try to bid these people out,'” Zylstra told The Colin Thompson Show.
“The first team I called up was Edmonton because they were the last contract to offer me. I was just like, ‘Yo, I already have two other contract offers, can we talk a little bit?’ He goes, ‘Oh, you do? Alright, I’ll call you back in five minutes.’ So he hung up and he called me back in five and he’s like, ‘We just put you on our neg list.'”
CFL teams are able to claim the exclusive rights to up to 45 players by placing them on their negotiation list. Any American player who has not previously been under contract with a CFL team can be added to the list at any time.
“When they told me that, they were just like, ‘If any other team tries to contact you, let us know.’ And so I had to call the other two teams back and I was like, ‘Just to let you guys know, Edmonton put me on the neg list’ and they were like, ‘Oh, are you serious? Well, you know, best of luck. If anything ever doesn’t work out in the future, just let us know,'” said Zylstra.
The receiver told Edmonton that his primary goal was still to make the NFL, even if that was a long shot coming out of Concordia College, a small NCAA Division III school in his home state of Minnesota. The team suggested that Zylstra sign the contract they’d sent him so they could “have it in storage” for the time being, promising they wouldn’t date it or register it with the CFL until the appropriate time.
Zylstra agreed after having his college coaches read over the contract as he didn’t have an agent at the time. He went unselected in the 2016 NFL Draft as expected but was contacted by the Minnesota Vikings shortly after and offered a spot in the team’s rookie minicamp.
“I’m ecstatic, I’m playing for the hometown team,” said Zylstra. “I understand it’s a minicamp tryout, but it’s more than anything else I had. And so I’m super excited and all my family and friends are calling me because it’s getting pushed out on social media and whatnot. And then it was the next day and the Vikings called and they said, ‘Brandon, you’re under contract with another team.'”
Edmonton had dated and registered Zylstra’s contract without his knowledge, making him ineligible to attend the tryout with the Vikings. Zylstra claims he called and left several messages with Edmonton’s general manager at the time, Ed Hervey, as well as a team scout to voice his concerns.
“I’m so confused slash super hot at this time,” said Zylstra. “The scout finally got back to me and he’s just like, ‘Ah no, we had a misunderstanding. We had an agreement that if you got drafted you were able to go but if not you were going to come with us.’ I was like, ‘That is not what we said.'”
The receiver poured through his email correspondence with the team looking for a way to get the contract voided. He contacted lawyers as well as the CFL’s league office for help but was ultimately unable to get out of his deal with Edmonton. He was left with only one choice: to report to the team that had spoiled his chance to attend rookie minicamp with his hometown NFL team.
“They took my NFL opportunity away and I was super hot for the next day or two and I just kept thinking, ‘Well, it’s either I never play football again or I go take this two-year deal I just signed with the CFL,'” said Zylstra. “I never really spoke about it again, never really told anybody about it. I told a few of my friends from Edmonton I became really close with about the situation.”
Zylstra made a strong impression as a CFL rookie in 2016 despite dressing for only six games, making 34 receptions for 508 yards and three touchdowns. He improved on those numbers the following year as he led the entire league in receiving with 100 catches for 1,687 yards and five touchdowns en route to being named an all-star.
He had an exit meeting with head coach Jason Maas following the completion of the 2017 season, which ended in a 32-28 loss to the Calgary Stampeders in the West Final. Zylstra had hired an agent for the first time in his career and was receiving interest from close to 25 NFL teams. Knowing he was departing the team, he asked Maas if he was aware of the circumstances that first brought him to Edmonton.
“I ended up telling him that story and he was in shock,” said Zylstra. “He was like, ‘Bro, I had no idea about any of that. I can’t believe that. Good for you to make it through that and I’m so sorry you had to go through that.'”
Zylstra signed with the Vikings in January 2018 after completing workouts with a number of NFL teams, though he also gave serious consideration to the New York Jets. He has dressed for 53 career games since as a member of the Vikings and Carolina Panthers, recording 30 receptions for 414 yards and one touchdown.
3DownNation has contacted the Edmonton Elks for comment and will update this story if one is provided.