‘He’s a workhorse and it’s contagious’: Riders make A.J. Ouellette highest-paid American RB in CFL

Courtesy: Saskatchewan Roughriders

The Saskatchewan Roughriders made A.J. Ouellette the highest-paid American running back in the CFL.

The 28-year-old signed a two-year contract worth $160,500 in hard money for the 2024 season, including a $35,000 signing bonus. He can earn an additional $1,000 for being named a West Division all-star, $2,000 for a CFL all-star selection, and $2,000 for winning the league’s Most Oustanding Player award.

I don’t think we look at it and say that makes him the highest-paid. It’s a matter of what you’re willing to pay as an organization for a player. That’s the ultimate reason why you pay a guy more money, you pay him because you want him to come and play for your team, but it also has to be more than just that,” general manager Jeremy O’Day said.

“Aside from the money, they gotta want to be there and sometimes money can change people’s want factor. He let it be known that he wanted to come to Saskatchewan when we got into the process, it was just about working the contract out with his agent.”

O’Day noted head coach Corey Mace’s unique insight into Ouellette was a key reason why the Riders targeted the 1,000-yard runner. Mace spent two seasons with the two-time East Division all-star in Toronto and won a Grey Cup together in Regina in 2022, which allowed Mace to give O’Day behind-the-scenes intel on the five-foot-ten, 210-pound ball-carrier.

“There are tons of things that he does from a physicality standpoint and running the ball, but he’s top of the league in pass protection. Anybody who follows what A.J. has been able to do throughout his career, specifically last year, some of the intangibles of what we want our team to look like he naturally embodies,” Mace said.

“He’s a workhorse off the field and it’s contagious. Those are the type of players that you want around in the building as you’re putting together and settingculture. Truthfully, I don’t think there’s one person who would suggest that there’s a better place for that guy anyway.”

Ouellette had a breakout campaign in 2023, rushing 178 times for 1,009 yards with eight touchdowns, averaging 5.7 yards per carry. He also caught 16 passes for 163 yards and four majors while tying for the league lead with 10 runs of 20-plus yards. He was the only Argonauts free agent who followed Mace to Saskatchewan following a 16-2 season.

“The assumption was that but from an organizational standpoint, you want to find the right fits. There were a ton of guys from that roster who are great players and they found homes for themselves,” Mace said.

“It’s going to be how we see it, how we build and what this thing looks like going forward. I definitely think we got the right pieces coming in. There were a lot of pieces that fit that were already in-house who were either under contract or we re-signed. We attacked exactly the guys that we wanted, no doubt.”

Ouellette was one and the money proves it.

Justin Dunk is a football insider, sports reporter and anchor.