It undoubtedly felt all fresh and new, just as Willie Jefferson knew it would. And truthfully, maybe a bit awkward at first, too.
There was the Winnipeg Blue Bombers prized free agent acquisition striding into a media conference Friday afternoon at Investors Group Field all decked out in a black Bomber golf shirt featuring the iconic ‘W.’ He sat down behind a table covered in royal blue that featured a Bombers gold helmet glistening under the TV lights.
Remember, just 96 days ago Jefferson was wearing the green and white of the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the Canadian Football League’s Western Semi-Final, lining up against the very same team now signing his paycheques.
So, yeah… that’s a lot to unwrap at first.
“When the conversations did first start I was kind of hesitant to come this way,” Jefferson admitted Friday. “But it’s a business. It’s nothing personal. And once they looked at that side of things it really became clear which organization was really going after me the most, which organization was willing to take care of me and my family and the things I was looking for. And then there was the team aspect. That’s pretty much how I looked at it.”
Free agency in every league is about the dollars, and in that regard, the Bombers stepped up enough financially to make Jefferson consider moving east from Regina. But it’s also about fit, about opportunity, and about feeling welcome. And in that respect, the Bombers applied a full-court press on Jefferson to get him to trade Saskatchewan green for Winnipeg blue.
During the first few hours of free agency Jefferson heard from Stanley Bryant, Darvin Adams and Nic Demski. And quarterback Matt Nichols – a teammate of Jefferson during their days with the Edmonton Eskimos – was, according to Jefferson, ‘on my phone heavy.’
Their sales pitch, above and beyond the dollars on the contract offer, was the vibe in the locker room and the culture established by head coach Mike O’Shea over the last few years. And no one should underestimate the power those intangibles can hold.
“It’s the team, the organization and a couple of guys I know got in contact with me and told me they wanted me,” Jefferson said. “It was pretty much like the whole recruiting process in college again. It was getting phone calls like, ‘Yeah, man… it’s fun out here. Come out here and let’s try to do something we’ve been trying to do for the last couple of years.’ Just looking at the team and looking at the stuff you guys have been doing out here I feel comfortable coming out here.”
Since signing, he has also heard from Adam Bighill, Winston Rose and Jackson Jeffcoat. Jefferson lives in Houston in the offseason and hopes to get together with Jeffcoat, based in Texas, to work out and get to know each other over the next few weeks and months.
Another factor in the decision also became obvious from the outset, when Jefferson was first asked about his decision to leave Saskatchewan.
“I just felt like it was time for a new beginning,” he said. “Everybody knows Coach Jones (Chris Jones is now a senior defensive specialist with the Cleveland Browns) isn’t there anymore, so I really just wanted to start new and get somewhere where I can just be me.”
Jefferson, who does not have an agent and represented himself during the negotiations, said he heard from every CFL team, but considered Winnipeg, Saskatchewan, Montreal and Hamilton the front-runners.
He signed a one-year deal, choosing to leave his options open beyond the 2019 season.
“This is something I talked to my wife about a lot,” he said. “I really just wanted to come in, see how the organization was and see how things play out. Further down the line if I like it here and feel like I could be here for a longer time I’ll sign a longer contract. But first thing’s first, I just want to get here and get comfortable and see how things go and we can move forward from there.”
Jefferson is a defensive difference-maker, an NFL talent and a freakish athlete who can impact a game on almost every snap. He was the Riders Most Outstanding Player and Most Outstanding Defensive Player last year and a CFL All-Star in 2017 and 2018. Asked to provide a self-scouting report, he offered this:
“I describe myself as active, athletic, rangy and a go-getter. You tell me to do something I’m going to try my best to go do it. And if I feel I can do something above and beyond that, I’m going to try and do that.”
Bomber fans have been there, seen that. Jefferson’s next chapter – and the rejoicing can be heard all across this province – will now be written in blue and in gold.