While we still have two months to wait until training camp, the Canadian Football League is about to return to action, as preseason gets underway this weekend.
Having cancelled the 2020 season due to the pandemic, the league returned last year and the Grey Cup was won, in overtime, by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
It’s a league that’s regarded in the US as inferior to the NFL, primarily because it contains a lot of players who weren’t good enough to make it at that level, and also because the players are paid a lot less. However, it’s a league with an exciting, expansive brand of football, a rich history and some passionate fanbases.
Anyone currently playing in the CFL could potentially join an NFL team at the end of their season, usually on a futures deal. The window for any CFL players who are under contract is, subject to some restrictions, open from December to February each year under the current rules.
The Jets will no doubt therefore have some scouts keeping an eye on any players at this level who could potentially contribute in the NFL. It’s also interesting to keep tabs on any players in this league who were once either on the Jets’ roster or practice squad.
All nine CFL teams have at least one former Jet on their roster as we enter preseason, with some of these being familiar names and some not so much:
The Lions have five ex-Jets, including a trio of wide receivers: ArDarius Stewart, Lucky Whitehead and Keon Hatcher. Whitehead had a big year in 2021, as he almost had a thousand-yard season and was in the top five in the CFL for yards and catches. Stewart was a former third round pick for the Jets.
On defense, the Lions also have pass rusher Obum Gwacham and linebacker Micah Awe. Awe was fourth in the league in tackles and forced two fumbles last season.
Kicker Sergio Castillo suited up for the Jets as recently as 2020, where he was cut after missing four kicks in a 37-point loss to Seattle. Edmonton also has Jalin Marshall, who previously made an early impact with the Jets as an undrafted rookie. Surprisingly, Marshall is still only 26.
The two other ex-Jets on the Elks roster - veteran receiver Emmanuel Arceneaux and defensive lineman Jake Ceresna - were only with the Jets briefly.
The Stamps didn’t have an ex-Jet on their team at the start of last season, but have since signed safety Natrell Jamerson, who was with the Jets briefly last season. In fact, Jamerson was the only one of about a dozen safeties to be with the Jets during the season without getting to play.
Former Jets fourth round pick Shaq Evans is a former CFL all-star at wide receiver and signed an extension last year despite his production being down. However, the ex-Jet who made the biggest contribution for them was probably Nick Marshall. Marshall is the former Auburn quarterback who converted to defensive back at the NFL level and he intercepted three passes last season.
The Roughriders also have running back Troymaine Pope and kicker/punter Kaare Vedvik who had also suited up for the Jets in recent years. Vedvik was 10th in the CFL in punting yardage in 2021, although there are only nine teams so that’s not all that impressive.
Another former Jets draft pick - safety Jeremy Clark - rounds out the group of ex-Jets on this team.
Winnipeg Blue Bombers
By far the most interesting ex-Jet added to the Blue Bombers this year was punter Tom Hackett, who was selected sixth overall in the CFL Global draft.
Hackett signed with the Jets as an undrafted free agent after putting up some amazing numbers in college, but didn’t make the roster. He wasn’t able to get another opportunity with teams reluctant to experiment with him due to his rugby-style techniques that perhaps don’t translate to the NFL due to rule differences in the college game. Since leaving the Jets six years ago, he hasn’t been with a team at any level and was working in sports radio.
Winnipeg has two other ex-Jets on their team; offensive lineman Geoff Gray and defensive back Nick Taylor.
Julian Howsare was the Jets’ starting fullback a few years ago, but he’s since moved back to the edge defender position where he’s been with the Ti-Cats for a few seasons.
Wide receiver Tim White has been a good success story. He was sixth in the CFL in receptions and receiving yards last season.
The only other ex-Jet on Hamilton’s team is defensive lineman Sterling Johnson, who was an undrafted free agent two seasons ago.
Two interesting names will be competing for time at defensive end as Kony Ealy was briefly a key rotational contributor a few seasons ago but Jachai Polite is trying to resurrect his career after being a third round bust with New York.
Chandler Worthy, who describes himself as the fastest player in the CFL with his sub-4.3 speed, is a key contributor at wide receiver and among the league’s leaders in return yards.
Linebacker Brady Shelton was also briefly with the Jets in 2020 and was active for one late-season game.
Ottawa only has one ex-Jet on their team but it’s an interesting one as former Jets third-rounder Lorenzo Mauldin prepares for his fourth year at the CFL level and his first with his new team.
Finally, the Alouettes have a couple of players who were only briefly with the Jets in wide receiver Mario Alford and linebacker Reshard Cliett.