CFL is ‘the only league that I take seriously’: Lions’ DE Shawn Lemon dismissed advances from XFL, USFL

Photo: Bob Butrym/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

It took almost two weeks for Shawn Lemon to find a new team in free agency but the reigning West Division Most Outstanding Defensive Player never thought about returning south of the border.

The B.C. Lions’ newest pass rusher joined The Rod Pedersen Show this week to discuss his decision to sign on the west coast. When asked if he considered options in the USFL or XFL, the 34-year-old quickly dismissed the possibility.

“No, not at all. I like to say I’m working on my Hall of Fame career in the CFL. I love playing in this league. This is the league for me,” Lemon insisted. “A few other leagues reached out for me to come there but that wasn’t even a thought in my mind. I love Canada. I love playing in Canada. That’s the only league that I take seriously.”

A number of CFL players opted to try their luck in alternative spring leagues this free agency cycle, including several notable names. League-leading tackler Darnell Sankey and all-star coverage linebacker Kameron Kelly both departed for the XFL, while Canadian receiver Hergy Mayala and Grey Cup-winning quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson chose to sign in the USFL.

Lemon’s 11-year professional career has been defined by its nomadic nature, as he has spent time with two NFL teams, three arena football teams, and seven CFL franchises — several of them multiple times. Despite his tendency for moving around, the veteran no longer sees spring football as aligning with his life goals.

“It’s good for opportunities for a lot of young guys coming out of college who are uncertain about what they want in their career,” he admitted. “If you’re looking for more of a farm-league type of developmental [system] — USFL, XFL. But if you’re looking to make a career out of a league where it’s not gonna go anywhere, it’s only gonna get better year to year, it’s Canada. So it’s all about what you want perspective-wise.”

Lemon has appeared in 135 regular-season CFL contests, winning two Grey Cups. He has registered 221 defensive tackles, 29 forced fumbles, one interception and 92 sacks in his career — trailing only Charleston Hughes amongst active players last season. The Akron product remains effective in the twilight of his career, recording a personal-best 29 defensive tackles and 14 quarterback sacks to go along with five forced fumbles for the Calgary Stampeders in 2022.

The wisdom of age has given him perspective when it comes to the merits of alternative football leagues, though he avoided critiquing the quality of play. Were he a younger man, Lemon acknowledges that he might have naively tried his hand at the short-term stepping stones offered by the XFL and USFL, but is grateful for how his circumstance played out.

“I would say if I was 23 years old, coming out of college, the thing that’s pounded in your mind is I want to make an NFL, I want to make to the NFL. You don’t know what that opportunity brings in Canada,” he said.

“I was a kid that came up to Canada at 23 and I fell in love with the Canadian Football League. It’s just perspective and what you want out of life as a player and person. I love playing football in Canada so there was no there’s no reason for me to entertain anything else.”

A talent drain caused by the two nascent spring leagues remains a concern for the CFL, but Lemon’s experience proves that the league will always have a selling feature that competitors lack.