The Edmonton Eskimos are expected to sign veteran Canadian receiver Chris Getzlaf in the next few days.
According to a member of the new Saskatchewan Roughriders football operations staff, the 33-year-old free agent was not extended an offer to return to their club where he spent the better part of his highly productive eight-year CFL career. Word is the veteran did not fit into new GM and head coach Chris Jones’s well-branded philosophy of younger and cheaper.
It’s a similar situation to the one Fred Stamps faced in Edmonton, the only CFL team he had played for before Jones & Co. showed up. After sitting on the bench for much of 2014, the beloved Eskimos vet was traded to the Montreal Alouettes last year in exchange for Kenny Stafford, nine years younger. Stafford quickly established himself, leading the team with nine touchdown receptions.
Ironically, Stafford has since rejoined the Alouettes in free agency. But a far more stinging loss for the Eskimos in free agency was the disappointing departure of talented young Canadian receiver Shamawd Chambers, who opted to follow Jones to rival Saskatchewan. One of two first-round draft picks by the Green and Gold in 2012, Chambers was starting to come into his own at age 26, as evidenced by his selection as the Most Outstanding Canadian in this past November’s Grey Cup.
Now, almost three months later, this is where the imminent Getzlaf signing comes in, because it’s Canadian for Canadian in a league where each club is required to start seven Canadians.
Born and raised in Regina alongside younger brother Ryan of the NHL’s Anaheim Ducks, Chris was a Round 5 draft pick (33rd overall) by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 2007.
After a couple of months in Hamilton, he was acquired by then Roughriders GM Eric Tillman (Jason Armstead swapped for Corey Holmes and Getzlaf), where he went on to amass 5,686 yards and 37 touchdowns on 367 catches. The hometown hero participated on two championship Riders teams, including the 2007 Grey Cup during the same year his brother hoisted the Stanley Cup as a member of the Ducks.
Success in Saskatchewan, though, proved to be a double-edged sword in the CFL’s salary-cap era. It brought a big price tag as the years progressed and placed Getzlaf among a group of veteran Roughriders making north of $200,000 a year.
After an ugly 3-15 season, the new Chris Jones era brought rapid change in Riderland. Productive but high-salaried veterans like John Chick and Weston Dressler were cut, and the club simply declined to offer Getzlaf, who has missed 13 games due to injuries the past two seasons, a new contract.
Having those three paycheques off the books — and restructuring the contract of the team’s biggest ticket, quarterback Darian Durant — allowed the Roughriders to create the cap space that allowed them to be among the most aggressive in CFL free agency, which included signing four former Eskimos: Chamber, Kendial Lawrence, Otha Foster and Andrew Jones.
In Saskatchewan, it’s about rebuilding, but in Edmonton, it’s about repeating. Coaching and player departures aside, the Eskimos are once again expected to be among the CFL’s elite clubs. If healthy, the anticipated signing of Getzlaf would certainly enhance those lofty expectations, but the move could not be confirmed as general manager Ed Hervey declined the request for an interview on this anticipated addition.
NOTE: The Eskimos confirmed the signing late Thursday afternoon