Dalton Schoen can’t and won’t run away from the mixed emotions which have washed over him over the last few days and weeks. It’s not healthy, after all, to try and mask any of that.
The Canadian Football League’s Most Outstanding Rookie authored a simply sensational season for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 2022, leading the country with 1,441 receiving yards and tying for top spot with 16 touchdowns.
Those numbers, understandably, opened opportunities for the 26-year-old Overland Park, KS product, as the Las Vegas Raiders, Arizona Cardinals, Minnesota Vikings, Denver Broncos, Cincinnati Bengals and New York Giants all flew him in for off-season workouts over the last month-and-a-half.
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Yet on Tuesday, the window for him signing down south closed, meaning Schoen will return to the Blue Bombers for the second and final year of his rookie contract.
“It’s disappointing when you put in this much time, effort and work into something like travelling around to do all those workouts,” Schoen told bluebombers.com from his off-season base in Kansas City. “I did have to make sacrifices on my time and what I was able to do over the last couple of months to do that. That part is disappointing, when you do all that work, and nothing really comes from it on paper.”
“At the same time, I’m very, very excited knowing what 2023 is going to hold for me being with Winnipeg and being a part of a really talented team and what is hopefully going to be a really special offence. Everything the Bombers have going with that team and that culture, I’m definitely excited about being a part of that again.”
Schoen outlined how his various NFL workouts unfolded; he usually arrived in the city the day before and then was up early for physical testing and meetings with personnel and coaching staffs. He took three weeks off after the Blue Bombers loss in the Grey Cup to get his body right again for the process and then was all-in for a circuitous journey over the next month and a half from one NFL stop to another.
And here’s where it can get really frustrating: Schoen’s on-field evaluation would sometimes see him just run routes against air – no defenders – for about 10-15 minutes. Yet without the chance to run in a training camp environment against defensive backs, he had zero chance to showcase his skills, his ‘Street Dawg’ approach and maybe quash the suggestion his success in the CFL was predominantly because of the pre-snap motion – the ‘Waggle’ – that doesn’t exist in the NFL.
“You’re asking the same question my agent and plenty of people in my inner circle have been asking,” said Schoen. “It’s something we did struggle with – where do they put their weight in terms of the evaluation process? Is it what you were able to see me do on the field in a 10–15-minute workout after I flew to be there? Or do you look at the body of work I put together in the CFL over an 18-game regular season and two playoff games? Those are questions I’m not sure I got a great answer to in terms of how they evaluate people and what they were really looking for.”
“I’ve signed 90-man deals in the past (earning NFL training camp invites from the Chiefs, Chargers and Washington) and then I was fortunate to have the season I just did in the CFL and still wasn’t able to get a deal done that worked for us. That part was frustrating, although I do feel I was blessed to do all those workouts.”
What’s different know for Schoen is the stability he has heading into 2023. Those previous NFL looks always sent him home wondering from where his next opportunity would come. Now he’ll return to a team ready to take another run at a title and with his spot in the starting lineup cemented. That counts for something.
“I know where I’m going to be playing in the 2023 season and that’s exciting,” he said. “I look at where I was 12 months ago – I was coming up there as an unknown and had to fight and battle through training camp just to make the team. So, my starting point for this season is obviously a lot different than it was last year. If I put in the correct amount of work and have faith that everyone else is doing that and the coaches are putting together their awesome game plans like we always do, hopefully that can help me be even more of a help to the team.
“I saw it last year when I was there. Everyone in that organization, in the front office and the coaching staff, is doing everything to make that team better. Now we can build on that and go after that goal that we fell short of last year.”
Schoen returns to a receiving corps that currently also features returning starters Nic Demski and Drew Wolitarsky, as well as Kenny Lawler, who is back after a year in Edmonton. Lawler gushed about Schoen at his press conference on Tuesday and the feelings, it would seem, are mutual.
“Kenny’s on-field resumé speaks for itself and I’m very aware of the calibre of player he is on the field,” Schoen said. “And from everything I’ve heard from the guys, he’s that much more off the field, too, with his level of leadership and how he helped build that culture. To get him back in the building is awesome and I’m excited to get to know him as a person and develop a relationship with him.”
One more tidbit that helped Schoen get through the closing of the NFL window Tuesday with no deal – one of the first messages he got was from Zach Collaros.
“Zach texted me yesterday,” said Schoen. “He said, ‘I don’t know how you’re feeling right now, but we’re really excited to have you back and excited to get back to work together.’
“That’s another reason I’m excited to come back this year, to get to work with him. He’s a generational player and an even better person. Those are the kind of people you want to be around and work with day in and day out.”