Willie Jefferson understands this is everyone’s reality and it hurts. Obviously, no one wants to be staring at a smaller number on their paycheque – or to be without one entirely.
But that’s what this COVID-19 pandemic has done to millions and millions all over the globe, including those that make their living in the Canadian Football League.
Still, as the CFL’s reigning Most Outstanding Defensive Player after a sensational 2019 campaign with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Jefferson certainly had earned the right to say no or balk at restructuring his contract.
Yet here is the veteran defensive end not only having agreed to play for less in ’21, but now also picking up the Bombers and CFL flags and fervently waving them in support.
“It was for the betterment of the team and for the betterment of the whole league,” said Jefferson from his offseason home in Austin, TX of the restructuring. “I know 2020 hit everybody hard, not just the Blue Bombers but the entire league. Football players had to take a whole year off from something that they have been doing yearly for their whole lives.”
“I’m ready to get back to playing football. I know everybody else is, too. So, whatever I can do to help this team make its way back to the field I’m going to do.”
Jefferson turns 30 at the end of this month and was already under contract for the 2021 season after signing a two-year extension last winter.
He got a call from GM Kyle Walters a while back informing him that the restructuring conversation would be coming, and after seeing quarterback Zach Collaros re-doing his deal and other players agreeing to re-sign rather than test free agency, Jefferson was willing to do his part, too.
“When the younger guys see players like me, Zach or Trevor Harris in Edmonton, Mike Reilly in B.C., or (Calgary’s) Bo Levi (Mitchell) it says I’m doing everything I can to get everybody back.
“Football is a business. That’s how it’s been, that’s how it’s always going to be. I deserve to get paid. Guys are taking care of their families and things like that. We all need it. But right now this is what we’re going through and everybody has to come together.
“I knew my time was going to come around and we were going to have to talk about a new number. I wasn’t that worried, because Kyle’s a good guy and he’ll take care of you. Then talking to Darren (Cameron, the Bombers Senior Director of Player and Public Relations) and seeing that a lot of other guys were signing their contracts, seeing how everybody was down to come back, ready to handle our business and play ball again… well, when it came to me it didn’t take long to go through the numbers and come to an agreement. I’m ready.”
Jefferson said it’s not so much a decision that represents leadership, but more about trying to ensure there will be harmony in the locker room when the team does get back to work.
“It’s showing that we want everybody to be happy,” Jefferson said. “At the end of the day it’s not all about me or what I want. It’s about the team and it’s about the league. I want to be there for the league. I want to be there for the fans. I’m down to do what it takes to get things right and to get things back rolling again and in good standing.
“I want 2021 to be a big year, not just for me, but for everybody. I know everybody was already making this amount and that they want and feel like they deserve a raise – we all do – but we all sat out a year. We’re all hurting. We all want to get on the field just like everybody else. So for this year, 2021, let’s bite that bullet, come out and play ball.
“We just need to be back, period, and then things can go from there.”
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