WINNIPEG — Willie Jefferson was so happy to be rejoining the Blue Bombers that he’s moving his family permanently to Winnipeg.
After the team announced Friday the CFL all-star defensive lineman had signed a one-year extension, Jefferson told reporters on a conference call from Texas that he and his wife, Holly, and young daughter Kelley should be arriving in Winnipeg mid-February or early March.
“Me signing my contract was pretty much the first step to getting that done,” said Jefferson, who first talked about moving to Winnipeg last summer.
“Now it’s just time to get everything wrapped up here in the States, find somewhere else for us to be comfortable out there in Winnipeg and then just making our way back to Winnipeg.”
The exuberant, talented defensive end has become a fan favourite, especially after he yelled “Come on down to Winnipeg” to a TV camera during a game in his first season with the team in 2019. He was named the league’s outstanding defensive player that year.
Jefferson wasn’t the only 2021 CFL all-star whose new deal was announced Friday. The team’s other defensive anchor, fellow end Jackson Jeffcoat, also inked a one-year extension.
The pair both live in Austin, Texas, and were given time with the Grey Cup this week.
The Bombers (11-3) won the trophy for a second straight season last month after a 33-25 overtime victory over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Winnipeg also defeated the Ticats 33-12 in the 2019 Grey Cup. The 2020 season was called off due to the COVID-19 pandemic and last season was shortened to 14 games.
Jefferson, who turns 31 later this month, said he was on the way to his hometown of Beaumont, Texas, to show the trophy to family and friends during his day with the cup. Stops will include his high school and city hall to see the mayor.
“I call myself the mayor of Beaumont, and me and the actual mayor of Beaumont are really close. That’s one of my mom’s classmates,” Jefferson said of Mayor Robin Mouton.
“We’ve been in contact. I’m going to take the Grey Cup up to the city hall and let her see it, sign a copy of my contract on the mayor’s desk and things like that and get some pictures.”
Although the Bombers still have key players such as quarterback Zach Collaros and 2021 CFL outstanding defensive player Adam Bighill unsigned, the team was busy this week announcing other contracts.
CFL all-star offensive lineman Jermarcus Hardrick signed a one-year extension Thursday, starting Canadian defensive tackle Jake Thomas agreed to a one-year deal Wednesday and Canadian defensive back and special-teams player Nick Hallett signed a two-year extension Monday.
Hardrick, 31, told reporters Friday that he, Jefferson and Jeffcoat have been talking to each other, as well as pending Bomber free agents.
There’s more than salary to consider, Hardrick and Jefferson both said.
“We’re just like, ‘Hey, would you rather leave for ($10,000) or you stay here with your family and try to go on another winning (season)?’” Hardrick said from his Lincoln, Neb., home.
“That’s basically what it comes down to most times in Winnipeg. You don’t want to leave (head coach Mike) O’Shea or anything over there in Winnipeg, man.”
While nothing is guaranteed, Hardrick said players should also keep in mind the opportunity to earn bonus cash for making the playoffs and winning the Grey Cup.
“It’s not always about the money, but we do deserve a little bit more than what we did last year due to the pay cuts and the pandemic and things like that,” Jefferson said.
He wants the best for his teammates and said he hopes that means re-signing with Winnipeg to do something “special” again.
“But if not, the best to you. I hope you get what you want and a little bit, but if not, there’s always come on down to Winnipeg. We got what you want. We got what you need," Jefferson said.
The six-foot-seven, 252-pound Jefferson began his CFL career in 2014 with Edmonton, winning a Grey Cup with that club the following year. He played for Saskatchewan the next three seasons and then signed with Winnipeg.
He was named a CFL all-star for the fourth time in 2021 after recording seven quarterback sacks, 18 tackles, two interceptions – including one for a touchdown – and three forced fumbles on a elite defence that topped the league in numerous categories.
Hardrick has appeared in 98 regular-season games, including 78 with Winnipeg, 12 with the B.C. Lions in 2014 and eight with the Saskatchewan Roughriders in 2015.
The right tackle was part of an offensive line that helped the Bombers lead the CFL in scoring, surrender the fewest QB sacks and finish second in rushing. He was named a West Division all-star for a second time in 2021 (also in 2017) and then selected to the CFL all-star team for the first time in his career.
Jeffcoat, who’s talking to reporters Saturday, had posted photos on Twitter of himself and the Grey Cup at his old University of Texas.
The 6-3, 245-pound Dallas native put up a team-leading and career-best nine QB sacks last season. He also forced a league-best four fumbles and added 26 tackles to get his first CFL all-star nod in his fourth season with the Bombers.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 7, 2022.
Judy Owen, The Canadian Press