The Winnipeg Blue Bombers have had Greg Ellingson in their crosshairs before – on a couple of occasions, actually – but have now landed their coveted target.
The Blue Bombers added the veteran receiver as CFL free agency opened, signing Ellingson to a one-year contract on a day that was as much about his arrival as it was about change on Chancellor Matheson Road and across the other eight markets.
Having already secured 22 pending free agents heading into the market opening, the Bombers brought the five-time 1,000-yard receiver aboard while seeing veteran pass catchers Kenny Lawler (Edmonton) and Darvin Adams (Ottawa) exit, along with Andrew Harris (Toronto), defensive tackle Steven Richardson (BC), dime back Alden Darby (Ottawa), defensive lineman/linebacker Tobi Antigha (Edmonton) and defensive back Mike Jones (Montreal).
And while those exits will surely sting, Ellingson is exactly the proven commodity the offence needs while working through the personnel changes that will be coming this year. It’s why the club pursued him before, both when he left for Ottawa in free agency and then again for Edmonton.
“They did a great job reaching out to me, everybody there giving me a call and making sure that it was known that I was wanted there, and I was valued,” said Ellingson in a Zoom call from his off-season base in Tampa, FL.
“Aside from the other teams, that’s kind of the main thing you want as a player. Besides being an organization that’s well respected, as Winnipeg is, and I think everybody in the league has a lot of admiration for what the guys do over there and how they handle themselves and obviously, the success they’ve had the past couple of years. But aside from that, just being in that culture, it’s something that’s appealing to a player.
“So, them reaching out and letting me know that I was wanted and definitely the players that they have over there, including Zach (Collaros), who I spent time with in Hamilton and talking to him a little bit. That’s definitely what swayed me towards wanting to go there over other teams.”
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Ellingson and Collaros do have a pre-existing relationship, dating back to their early days with the Tiger-Cats. The two are already planning to get together next month, with the Collaros family planning a visit to Florida and the opportunity for the QB and receiver to begin building a chemistry. Ellingson has already chatted with offensive coordinator Buck Pierce, too.
“That’s definitely a deciding factor when it comes to making a decision, is do you know the quarterback?” Ellingson said. “Do you have any relationship with them? Do you guys have chemistry? And Zach checked all the boxes. So, that’s definitely one of the things that swayed me towards going there.
“I’ve had a few talks with (Pierce). I don’t know him that well personally, but I look forward to that relationship. We had a chat earlier about the offence a little bit and getting me caught up on the plays and getting me into the film room so I can start looking at how things are done there. I was talking with Zach a little bit, too, so I’m familiar with some of the plays they already run. He was sending me a couple of plays we ran back in the day and just telling me, ‘Over and over and over again we’re just going to run these. Let’s go!’ I was like, ‘All right. Let’s get excited. Let’s get it.’”
Ellingson had 52 receptions for 800 yards and six TDs in his first season with the Ticats and added 32 receptions for 429 yards in just nine games a year later. He signed as a free agent with Ottawa in 2015 and established himself as one of the league’s best receivers through the next five seasons, four with the REDBLACKS and one with Edmonton, by averaging 84 catches for 1,207 yards from 2015-2019 before last year’s shortened schedule.
Ellingson said he has been training with some players heading to the NFL combine this winter and, when asked about how long he wants to continue playing, the 33 year-old said: “They asked me that last year, too and I was like, ‘I don’t know,’” he said with a chuckle. “I work out with combine guys every year; I’m working out with combine guys right now. As long as I can keep beating these guys down and show them how it’s done, then it’s going to be quite a while before I hang it up.
“I tell them Jerry Rice… I’m going to go until I’m about 40. That seems like a good number to me.”
Ellingson said talks with Edmonton had gone sideways a couple of weeks ago and he had been weighing a possible return to Ottawa. Ultimately, the full-court press the Blue Bombers applied helped convince him of the move to Winnipeg.
“I’d be lying if I said it’s not stressful,” he said. “As a player you don’t really like switching around teams a lot. You kind of want to stick in one place and build a culture and a community of friends and family outside of just football and along with football with the connections you make as fans. It’s how you look at it, because it is stressful trying to make that decision, especially with Ottawa being in the picture and I have a great relationship with being there for four years. It’s tough when they’re in the running, too, and then Winnipeg comes in and they want me there as well.
“There are a lot of things that are deciding factors and one of those things, like I said earlier, is just the value that I felt coming from Winnipeg with O’Shea and Buck calling me and guys reaching out to me and giving me a shout. It makes a world of difference when they approach things that way to build a relationship with a player that they’re desiring, not just sending a number to their agent and saying, ‘We want you for this.’ They did their diligence making sure I knew I was valued. That means a lot, aside from anything else.
“Ultimately, that’s what made the decision easier and relieved some of the stress, just knowing a team wants you and they want you to come and compete with them and they want you to help lead and help that team win. So, giving that faith in me makes me want to work hard in the off-season and make sure I’m ready come in there and really show my value and help the team win the best I can.”
Ellingson described himself as a consistent battler, both in practice and in games, who doesn’t mind doing the gritty blocking work and isn’t afraid to attack the middle of the field. All of that surely makes him a good fit in a Bombers receiving corps that will be different without Lawler and Adams, but does return staters Nic Demski, Rasheed Bailey, Drew Wolitarsky, as well as Kelvin McKnight, who made five starts in 2021.
“Every team flips over, right?” said Ellingson. “But you’ve still got guys over there. They just signed Bailey, too. He looks like a younger guy that’s starting to pick up steam and really shown what he can do in the league, so that’s exciting. Demski, another guy that I’ve always respected over there. He’s a baller.
“You always want to go somewhere, aside from your own personal goals and ambitions and milestones you want to hit, you want to go somewhere you feel like you can have success. And if you can just add an ingredient to that pot and that mixture to help a team get wins, in whatever capacity it is, whether it’s just blocking and making sure I’m assignment-sound and give everybody else that ability to maybe take the top off the coverage so somebody else can hit something underneath and you can block down the field – whatever it takes to win has always been my mentality, whether it’s zero catches or 10 catches. Whatever arises that day.
“That’s all I’ve really ever wanted and look for, is going to battle and put a team in a best position to win, whether it has to run through me or the guys around me. Whatever it takes.”