The Canadian Football League cancelled their 2020 season due to the Covid-19 pandemic but returned to action this weekend with several former Jets in action.
The CFL is essentially comprised of the same nine teams that have competed against one another since the mid-fifties, a few years before the CFL’s inaugural season in 1958. There have been a couple of name changes since then and a few of the teams temporarily dropped out of the league before returning but basically it’s been these nine for almost 70 seasons with any other additions to the league having been short-lived.
While the league is viewed by outsiders as an inferior cousin to the NFL, Canadians might push back against that as differences in the rules make for an expansive and exciting game and the league has a proud history.
However, there’s no denying the fact there’s way less money involved as minimum salaries are reportedly just $65,000 (and that’s presumably Canadian dollars, which means the actual amount is closer to $50,000 US dollars due to the exchange rate). The league’s highest paid player is on a four-year, $2.9 million contract. For comparison, undrafted rookies in the NFL would currently get $2.4 million over three years.
Naturally some former NFL players will be playing at this level in the hope that they could impress NFL teams enough to get another shot. There are restrictions on player movement but certainly a good 2021 season could lead to a futures deal for 2022.
Let’s recap the former Jets on each of the league’s nine teams:
The Lions have three ex-Jets on their roster, including defensive end Obum Gwacham, who played in five games for them in 2017. The 30-year old got off to a good start in his CFL debut with four tackles and a sack in the season opener.
Lucky Whitehead never played in a regular season game for the Jets but spent parts of the 2017 season on their practice squad, active roster and injured reserve. He had a monster game in the season opener with eight catches for 136 yards and a touchdown. Whitehead caught 52 passes for Winnipeg in 2019.
The other ex-Jet on their team is Anthony Cioffi, the former Rutgers defensive back who is returning to the CFL after failing to make the Jets’ roster last year. He started at linebacker in the season opener but did not record any stats.
Also: Keon Hatcher (injured reserve)
The freshly-renamed Elks had two ex-Jets contributing in their season opener as defensive lineman Jake Ceresna recorded one tackle and running back Terry Williams racked up 103 return yards.
Ceresna had eight sacks with Edmonton in 2018, his second season in the CFL, but then tried and failed to get back into the NFL with the Giants in 2019. Williams has been a productive back in the CFL since 2017, with five rushing touchdowns, but is better known as a return man. In his career, he has four touchdown returns, including three on punts in 2018 alone.
Also: JJ Jones (suspended list)
The Stamps are the only CFL team that doesn’t currently have an ex-Jet on their roster, but they do have two former Jets receivers on their practice squad: George Campbell and Dan Williams III.
2014 fourth round pick Shaq Evans has been a success story as a CFL wideout, as he was named as a CFL all-star last year. He caught 10 passes for 69 yards in the opener. Evans has been in the CFL since 2018.
Two other former Jets made contributions for the Riders in their opener as Nick Marshall had two tackles and an interception and Marcus Murphy contributed 96 all-purpose yards - mostly on returns.
Also: Freddie Bishop (injured reserve), Jeremy Langford (suspended list)
Winnipeg Blue Bombers
The Blue Bombers’ highest profile ex-Jet is wide receiver ArDarius Stewart, their 2017 third round pick. He’s currently on the injured list, though.
Offensive lineman Geoff Gray spent most of the 2017 season on the Jets’ practice squad only to be poached right near the end of the season. However, Gray - who went to high school and college in Canada - has been in the CFL since 2018. He did not start the opener.
Also: David Rivers (practice squad)
The Tiger-Cats have some familiar names on their roster with former draft pick Lorenzo Mauldin and undrafted free agents Julian Howsare and Jalin Marshall all having played multiple games with the Jets.
The defensive end Mauldin had three sacks for the Ti-Cats in 2019 and one tackle for loss in the opener. Howsare is back at defensive end after playing fullback with the Jets. He’s already played two CFL seasons, registering nine sacks including six in 2019. He had two tackles in the opener. The wide receiver Marshall caught two passes in the opener after having caught nine passes for 139 yards and rushing for a short touchdown in 2019.
Kicker Taylor Bertolet is playing his first season in Canada after almost winning the Jets’ job in 2019. He handled kickoff duties in the opener but didn’t get a chance to kick a field goal or extra point.
Also: DeVier Posey (injured reserve)
In 2017, defensive lineman Kony Ealy was starting and some fans were already talking about the prospect of signing him to a lucrative extension. Unfortunately, his season fizzled out and he has been out of the NFL since 2018. After playing in the XFL last year, the 29-year old is making a bid to reestablish himself in Canada. He had two tackles in his debut including one play where he lined up as a nose tackle and blew up a screen for a loss.
Also: Chandler Worthy (practice squad), Rashard Cliett (practice squad).
Frank Beltre spent training camp in 2017 with the Jets and then ended up on their practice squad but has since returned to Canada where he racked up an amazing 27 special teams tackles in 2019. Beltre, who was a linebacker as a Jet but is now listed as a defensive lineman, had one special teams tackle in the opener.
Linebacker Micah Awe signed a futures deal with the Jets in 2018 but was released before rookie camp. He’s since made a home in Canada and had four tackles and a sack in the opener.
Offensive lineman Brandon Hitner, who was on the Jets’ 2019 practice squad, is also on the team but did not play in the opener.
Finally, the Alouettes were the lone CFL team that didn’t play on opening weekend. They have wide receiver Mario Alford on their active roster. Alford spent three weeks on the Jets’ practice squad in 2016.
Also: Donald Hawkins (suspended list).