O’Leary: Jefferson’s return keeps Bombers elite
Maybe he knew.
Maybe when Willie Jefferson stood on the field at McMahon Stadium in Calgary as a freshly-crowned Grey Cup champion, wearing a custom-made championship wrestling belt while an absurd amount of blue, white and yellow confetti fell in slow motion around him, he knew he had everything he needed in front of him.
That moment and the parade that followed a few days later in Winnipeg might have given Jefferson everything that he needed to know about what his future would look like.
“I wanted to come back to where it all began,” Jefferson said on Thursday morning at IG Field. He signed a two-year extension with the Bombers on Monday, after a weekend spent in southern Ontario, listening to offers from the Argos and the Ticats.
“Twenty-nine years. The drought is over, just (want) to keep that going,” Jefferson told Winnipeg reporters.
“I felt like we put a lot of effort into last year, the building process, things like that. It made no sense to leave. I see that everybody’s coming back and we can do exactly what we did last year.”
Making history, it turns out, can carry a lot of weight. Jefferson admitted in the press conference that in spurning the Argos and Ticats, he’d taken a little less money to return to Winnipeg. It’s been a common theme this winter. Many of the pieces of the Bombers’ championship-solving puzzle sacrificed bigger pay days in order to come back for the title defence.
“I just wanted to make the right decision for me and my family and it just felt right to come back,” he said.
Jefferson thought back to a year ago, when he was a free agent leaving Saskatchewan and how the Bombers took him in. The Argos took Jefferson and his family to a Raptors game and the Ticats had some graphics done up of Jefferson in black and yellow and showed him their facilities. But when you have an organizational breakthrough the way that Winnipeg did last year, it’s tough to come with something that can top that.
“The deciding factor was the team and the organization and how much love the Winnipeg organization showed me,” he said.
“When I first made the decision to do my own thing last year, it wasn’t really about the money situation. I felt like I was going to get paid what I deserved and Winnipeg made it hard for me not to want to come back.
“Bringing guys like Darvin (Adams), Stan (Stanely Bryant), Yosh (Jermarcus Hardrick). I still had Jackson (Jeffcoat) coming back and coach (Mike) O’Shea. It didn’t seem right to leave.”
The Bombers were a strong, very good defence in 2018 that became an excellent one when Jefferson joined them. Had they lost him they wouldn’t have fallen out of contention, but in his six-foot-seven, 248-pound frame, Jefferson brings game changing plays. The Bombers should remain elite defensively for at least the next two years.
“I’m to the point now where I’m not really trying to bounce around, I want to be in one spot for a while,” Jefferson said.
“Me signing my two-year contract here shows I’m willing to stay and put in the work to help this organization grow and be what it already is.”
If they need some drought motivation, how about this: The Bombers haven’t won back-to-back Grey Cups since the 1961 and 1962 teams did it. That’s a 58-year dry spell.
“We’re ready to go all the way,” Jefferson said.
“With Zach (Collaros) coming back, the offensive line, we’ve been one of the toughest offensive lines in the league, having those guys come back healthy and strong, it’s going to be hard to compete against them. Then me, Jackson (Jeffcoat) Biggs (Adam Bighill), J.J. (Josh Johnson) coming from Edmonton, all the pickups we tend to make, the things we do in the draft, training camp…I think we have a really good shot at going back.”
He weighed his options, but Jefferson spoke on Thursday like someone that knew what he wanted all along.