Former CFL quarterback Dakota Prukop signed with the New Jersey Generals of the USFL earlier this week and explained his decision in a lengthy telephone interview with 3DownNation.
The 29-year-old was the third-string quarterback with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers this past season but saw the field regularly in a short-yardage role. He threw for 181 yards and two touchdowns and carried the ball 53 times for 209 yards and six touchdowns.
After five seasons in the CFL in a depth role, Prukop is hoping the USFL is a route to spending more time on the field in 2023.
“I’m at a point in my career where I want to play. I want to be at the helm of an offence and I want to get a lot of playing time. Playing last year for (offensive coordinator) Buck (Pierce) and the Blue Bombers really increased that burn inside me. I love being on the field and I love contributing,” said Prukop.
“When it came down to it, I want to play football. I love being a part of the offence, I love helping game plan and scheme but I’ve got plenty of years ahead to coach. If there’s an opportunity to play and take snaps and lead an offence, that’s really exciting and it’s a really hard opportunity to pass up.”
There is also a financial aspect to Prukop’s decision. He and his wife, Blaire, are expecting their first child next month, which has increased his desire to maximize his earnings. The USFL has raised player compensation to $5,350 per week for the 2023 season plus housing costs, raising player salaries to just under $60,000 for a 10-week season.
The CFL’s minimum salary is equal to approximately $51,000 USD with the current exchange rate. The USFL season is also only half the length of the CFL season, which will allow Prukop to earn his salary in a much shorter timeframe. He recognizes the risk of signing with a relatively unestablished league but believes it’s worth rolling the dice for a chance to start collecting paycheques earlier than he has in past years.
“The added pressure of bringing a child into the family with the state of the economy and the exchange rate, I had a goal that I wanted to make some more money. Talking to my agent, we settled on essentially what we thought was a number that we could get a couple different places (in the CFL) but really when it came down to it, I didn’t want to leave Winnipeg,” said Prukop.
“When this opportunity came about, it made it feel like a middle ground. I know I can guarantee myself to go make a lot more money than if I go re-sign in Winnipeg and take a fair amount for what they could pay. And then worst case scenario, if this deal doesn’t really work out, the CFL is a tenured league and it’s obviously not going anywhere.”
Prukop’s head coach in New Jersey is Mike Riley, who has strong CFL ties. The 69-year-old won a Grey Cup as an assistant coach with the Blue Bombers in 1984 and later returned as the team’s head coach, leading Winnipeg to championships in 1988 and 1990. He left the team following the 1990 season to become the head coach of the San Antonio Riders of the World League of American Football, which later became NFL Europe.
Prukop and Riley share another connection, though the quarterback was unaware of it before having his first telephone conversation with his new head coach. Riley was the offensive coordinator at the University of Southern California while Dakota’s father, Tim, was the linebackers coach in 1993, the year Dakota was born.
Prukop also briefly encountered Riley this past year near the end of the CFL season. Riley was in town as part of the 1990 team that was being inducted into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame and visited IG Field along with other members of the crew.
“He was down in the coach’s office and I remember me, Zach (Collaros), and Dru (Brown) walking back to Buck’s office passing a group of older gentlemen and I was wondering, ‘Who are these guys? We never have outsiders down here.’ And sure enough, that was them. We brushed shoulders. It was one coincidence after another, which also added some comfortability to the situation.”
The six-foot-one, 208-pounder passer had a three-year stint with the Toronto Argonauts before the COVID-19 pandemic prior to spending the 2021 season with the Edmonton Elks. He spoke glowingly about this past year in Winnipeg, praising Pierce, Collaros, and head coach Mike O’Shea.
“It was the most fun I’ve had, it was the best organization I’ve been a part of. I’m really grateful for that year and that experience to be under coach O’Shea and Buck Pierce,” said Prukop.
“I didn’t want to leave Winnipeg and go play for a different team. I had such a fun time there and my wife was extremely happy. I really enjoyed playing for Buck Pierce, he was a guy that really I felt stuck his neck out for me and put me in a position to be successful. I had a really fun time in that offence.”
The Generals finished the regular season with a 9-1 record last year but were upset by the Philadelphia Stars in the first round of the USFL playoffs. Luis Perez was the team’s starting quarterback but has since moved on to the Vegas Vipers of the XFL, leaving the role vacant. The other quarterbacks currently on New Jersey’s roster are De’Andre Johnson and Kyle Lauletta.
Prukop hasn’t been given any assurances by the club regarding his role or the amount of playing time he’ll get and he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I haven’t been guaranteed or promised anything and I wouldn’t expect it. It’s a red flag in my opinion if something like that is expected. … It’s obviously different when you’re in a situation where a team can come in and pay you a starter salary but in this league, that’s not how things are operated. Everyone’s kind of on the same peg, so I’m looking forward to going in and having an opportunity,” he said.
“I’ve competed against a lot of really good quarterbacks over the past couple seasons in the CFL. As a quarterback, you’ve gotta be confident in your own ability and be able to go somewhere and compete and there’s really a lot of fun in it.”
The final week of the upcoming USFL regular season will take place in mid-June, just one week after the CFL kicks off its 2023 campaign. Prukop hasn’t made any plans beyond his upcoming tenure with the Generals, though it appears a return north of the border remains very much in the cards.
“I’m definitely open to all possibilities. I have experienced the CFL, I know how great of a league it is and how great the fans are. It’s truly professional football. It’s truly something that when you’re playing and you’ve got a tie game and you’re playing at IG Field and the crowd’s going nuts. That’s why a guy like me plays football, for that experience,” said Prukop.
“The biggest thing is I’m trying to find a way to play and maximize my time and take snaps under centre and enjoy doing what I love. If that brings me back to the CFL, that’s something I’m definitely not going to be opposed to and I see that being very likely. But as for what is gonna happen for the rest of 2023, I have no idea. All I can focus on right now is walking into a quarterback competition with I’m sure some very good quarterbacks and getting ready to gear up for that.”