September 11, 2006

Jesse Palmer joins Alouettes

MONTREAL (CP) – Quarterback Jesse Palmer is looking to kick-start his pro football career back on native soil.

Palmer, 27, of Ottawa, signed a practice-roster contract with the Montreal Alouettes and worked out with his new team Monday, about two weeks after getting cut by the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers.

“I knew at some point I’d come back,” Palmer said. “The timing’s good.

“I’m just focused on learning. It’ll be a difficult transition. I’ve got a lot to learn. I can make all the throws. I have all the intangibles. I didn’t expect to show up the first day and play. It’s good to have so much space (on the field). It was great to get out and throw the ball with the white stripes, like when I was a kid.”

The Alouettes, who also signed receivers Ashlan Davis and Mark Simmons plus return specialist Javarus Dudley to practice-roster deals, now have 10 days to determine if and where Palmer fits into their roster.

On Monday, CFL teams were able to boost their boost their practice rosters from seven players to 12 for a 30-day period to evaluate players cut by NFL teams without affecting players presently on CFL rosters.

“I didn’t feel like I could wait and hope for an injury (in the NFL),” Palmer said. “I believe it’s productive to come to Canada and learn.

“I’m excited to start my career in Canada. I don’t feel like I had a real opportunity to play in the NFL. It happens. I certainly hope I play for the Als one day, but I have a lot of work ahead. I want to be the best player I can be and test myself.

“I haven’t closed the book on the NFL, but I’m also not looking that far ahead.”

Life on the practice roster is neither glamorous nor profitable. Practice-roster players never dress for games and earn about $500 a week. That’s a far cry from the $585,000 US Palmer would’ve earned in the NFL this year as a six-year veteran.

Als general manager Jim Popp said recently that Palmer would have to spend the 2006 season learning Montreal’s offence and would have “little chance to play right away” given the presence of veteran starter Anthony Calvillo.

The last Canadian quarterback to spend time on a CFL roster was Tom Denison, who began the 2004 season in training camp with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers before being released and catching on with the Calgary Stampeders. Denison was released by the Stampeders after then coach-GM Matt Dunigan was fired and a new ownership group took control.

The six-foot-one, 200-pound Denison enjoyed a banner college career, twice winning the Hec Crighton Trophy as Canadian university football’s top player. The native of Beamsville, Ont., became just the second person to win consecutive Hec Crighton awards. Saint Mary’s Huskies quarterback Chris Flynn won three straight from 1988 through 1990.

But Canadian-born quarterbacks in the CFL have been a rarity. The last one to start a game was Hamilton native Larry Jusdanis in 1995 with the Tiger-Cats although Giulio Carvatta, of Toronto, served as a kicker and backup quarterback with the B.C. Lions from 1991 to 1998.

The six-foot-two, 225-pound Palmer, a native of Nepean, Ont., spent the last five seasons in the NFL and became the first Canadian-trained quarterback to start a game there in 2003.

He was probably better known for his appearance on the reality TV show “The Bachelor.”

Palmer played in eight games with the New York Giants between 2001 and 2004 and after they cut him in 2005, he joined San Francisco. The 49ers re-signed Palmer in March but let him go again in camp.

It was then Palmer began musing about playing in the CFL, where the Alouettes held his rights after drafting him 15th overall in 2001.

“I remember my first (CFL) experience was in 1985, watching the (Ottawa) Rough Riders,” he said. “J.C. Watts was the quarterback.

“This is the brand of ball I watched and the style of game I fell in love with . . . the style I grew up with. It’s really good to be back.”

Palmer’s father, Bill, is part of one of three groups looking to bring a CFL expansion franchise back to Ottawa next season.

“At some point it would be nice to go back and play for Ottawa,” Palmer said. “My father (and his group) may not get a team.”