Manitoba

'It didn't seem right to leave': Willie Jefferson talks about re-signing with Bombers

Willie Jefferson launched into his love for Winnipeg, the Blue Bombers and his teammates as the all-star defensive end met media Thursday for the first time since signing a two-year extension.

'The deciding factor was the team and the organization and how much love Winnipeg showed me'

Willie Jefferson celebrates winning the 107th Grey Cup against the Hamilton Tiger Cats in Calgary on Nov. 24. The CFL's top defensive player last season opted to stay put Monday rather than test the open market. (Todd Korol/The Canadian Press)

It started with a simple question: "Why Winnipeg?"

And with that, Willie Jefferson launched into his love for the city, the Blue Bombers, his teammates, citing all the reasons the all-star defensive end decided to re-sign with the CFL team even though others were courting him with promises of bigger paycheques.

"I wanted to come back to where it all began, you know?" he said, referring to the start of a new chapter in Bombers history after he helped the team end a 29-year Grey Cup dry spell to claim the CFL championship in November.

"The drought is over, [now] we're trying to just keep that going."

The 29-year-old, who was born in Texas and started his football career in the NFL with the Houston Texans, joined the Bombers last season after being lured away from the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

He quickly made an impact and became an essential piece of the team's Grey Cup run, recording his best season yet in the CFL.

Willie Jefferson shows off the Grey Cup after the Bombers returned to Winnipeg with the hardware in November. (Angela Johnston/CBC)

His performance immediately drew attention from other teams, who courted him in the off-season. Jefferson peeked at the offers but ultimately signed a two-year extension with the Bombers earlier this week.

"I just wanted to make the right decision for me and my family and it felt right to just come back [to Winnipeg]," Jefferson said Thursday as he met reporters for the first time since his re-signing.

"This is a place where we plan to get comfortable. It didn't seem right to leave."

Jefferson said the Toronto Argonauts and Hamilton Tiger-Cats showed "a lot of love" to him and his family when they visited those cities to listen to the offers from both clubs.

He also had some NFL workouts, but that didn't result in any offers. Jefferson cites his age as the primary reason for that.

"They're looking for younger guys to come into the league — guys that they can mould into NFL players," Jefferson said.

"I'm not that guy. I'm already moulded."

Although he was offered more money — "not significantly, but it was more" — by Toronto and Hamilton, that wasn't the main consideration in deciding where to sign. 

He'd rather see a team spread its money out and assemble a strong group of players that can win a championship than pour too much into one person.

"Everybody can have a piece of the pie — I don't want the whole thing," he said. 

He then listed off a roster of players, as well as head coach Mike O'Shea, who re-signed in the off-season, as major reasons for his choice to wear blue and gold again.

"It made no sense for me to leave once I seen everybody else was coming back and we could do exactly what we did last year," Jefferson said.

"But the deciding factor was the team and the organization and how much love Winnipeg showed me … last year. Winnipeg made it kind of hard for me not to want to come back."

Jefferson said he's now at a point in his career where he doesn't want to "bounce around" anymore. In the six years he's played professional football, he's been on two NFL teams and three CFL teams.

"I'm trying to be in one spot for a while," he said. "Me signing my two-year contract here pretty much shows that I'm willing to stay and I'm willing to put in the work to help this organization grow bigger than what it already is."

In his first year with the Bombers, Jefferson posted a career-best 12 sacks, set a new CFL record for pass knockdowns by a defensive lineman (16), and was the league leader in forced fumbles.

He was later named the CFL's most outstanding defensive player, as well as a league and division all-star for the third consecutive season.

Jefferson was also named the Bombers' most outstanding player and most outstanding defensive player in 2019.

In the 107th Grey Cup game, Jefferson continued his dominance by sacking Tiger-Cats quarterback Dane Evans three times and forcing two fumbles as the Bombers won 33-12.

About the Author

Darren Bernhardt

Reporter/Editor

Darren Bernhardt spent the first dozen years of his journalism career in newspapers, first at the Regina Leader-Post then the Saskatoon StarPhoenix. He has been with CBC Manitoba since 2009 and specializes in offbeat and local history stories and features. Story idea? Email: darren.bernhardt@cbc.ca

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