Bighill, QB Collaros back with Big Blue

This was always the logical path for Adam Bighill. He wasn’t going to demand top dollar, nor was he going to sell himself short. He needed the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the team that has employed him since 2018 needed him just as much. 

In the end, the two sides found common ground, resulting in Bighill signing a one-year contract extension Thursday that will see him wearing blue and gold through the 2022 CFL season. 

“I just didn’t get a sense that it would make sense to go anywhere else. I was thinking about things and talking with the club and where they saw me and how the contract numbers could fit and work,” Bighill told reporters in a conference call just hours after the deal was announced. “I am happy with the deal we got done here. I would have liked to have got it done a little bit sooner, but at the end of the day I’m happy it got done and I’m back.” 

Quarterback Zach Collaros, easily the biggest piece of the Bombers’ winning puzzle, was still without a contract by the time of the signing but hours later found himself in the same boat as Bighill, inking a one-year deal. Collaros, who is the reigning CFL most outstanding player and Grey Cup MVP, will speak to media Friday morning at 11 a.m. 

Bighill listed all the reasons he wanted to return to Winnipeg, considerations that have been repeated over and over in recent weeks as several of Bighill’s teammates have also re-upped for this season. Bighill, who said he considered testing free agency, has enjoyed plenty of on-field success in Winnipeg, collectively and individually. 

The Bombers are fresh off winning back-to-back Grey Cups last month, with Bighill playing a prominent role on a defence that rivals any other over the last decade. For his part, he was named the league’s most outstanding defensive player, marking the third time he’s won the award over his nine-year CFL career and the second such honour while playing in Winnipeg.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ Adam Bighill (left) signed a one-year contract extension with the Bombers. (Todd Korol / The Canadian Press files)

Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ Adam Bighill (left) signed a one-year contract extension with the Bombers. (Todd Korol / The Canadian Press files)

Then there’s the life he’s made off the gridiron. Bighill has moved his family — wife Kristina, along with their three kids, AJ, 6, Leah, 4 and Beau, 2 — to Winnipeg, where he’s built a house and established a career as a financial advisor. He’s close with several of his teammates’ extended families and is one of the club’s most respected leaders in the locker room. 

“We love being in Winnipeg, we’ve loved it since we’ve been here,” Bighill said. “There’s a comfort in knowing how green your grass is as opposed to looking elsewhere. There’s that sense of comfort knowing you don’t have to adapt and adjust and go through a different process of acclimating somewhere else.” 

As for the timing, Bighill likely wondered how much money might be left over for him to return. After all, the Bombers had signed contracts with more than 10 players since the start of January, including key pieces on defence such as defensive ends Willie Jefferson and Jackson Jeffcoat. 

The fact Bighill has established deep roots in the community probably didn’t help his leverage in negotiations with Bombers general manager Kyle Walters. But the Bombers veteran middle linebacker had built up a fair amount of good will that went beyond a stellar 2021 campaign. 

It was almost a year to the day, following a cancelled 2020 season owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, that Bighill was asked to restructure the final year of a three-year contract he signed ahead of the 2019 campaign. In what turned out to be a rather public matter, it was reported that Bighill took a pay cut of $145,000, dropping him from $260,000 to around $115,000, prorated over a 14-game regular season.

At the time he signed the contract, Bighill was coming off a 2018 season where he was named the league’s top defensive player, and was far and away the highest paid middle linebacker in the CFL. Times had changed since then, and Bighill, though not thrilled with his new reality, understood that with COVID vigorously challenging the financial health of the league, other positions on the field were given greater priority.

He was ultimately told to sign the deal, or try to get more money elsewhere. He did, and then delivered in a way few could have imagined, registering 70 tackles and adding two quarterback sacks, along with two interceptions and two fumble recoveries — one that he returned for a touchdown. 

Adam Bighill was named Most Outstanding Defensive Player at the CFL Awards in December. (Nathan Denette / The Canadian Press files)

Adam Bighill was named Most Outstanding Defensive Player at the CFL Awards in December. (Nathan Denette / The Canadian Press files)

“I’ve said it before, 2020 was the hardest year of my family’s life, my personal life and I didn’t choose to sulk about it, I chose to make the best of it,” Bighill said. “There were a lot of factors that came into making it tough for me personally, and I didn’t whine about it, I put my head down and worked as hard as I ever have, because I know what creates success, and stuck to it.” 

The financial details of CFL contracts aren’t made public, but sources have told the Free Press that Bighill will earn a salary of $160,000, plus incentives, for the 2022 campaign. That’s above market value for middle linebackers, but Bighill brings much more than the average player. 

While he’s proven that age is simply a number — Bighill turned 33 in October — he’s done so by working harder than anyone else. You only have to look at his workout videos Bighill posts over social media during the offseason to come to that realization, or simply ask his teammates to confirm. 

“I’m screaming!!!!!” Bombers offensive lineman Jermarcus Hardrick tweeted shortly after the news broke. “I’m heading to the gym off this one.” 

Bighill has helped solidify a winning culture in Winnipeg, his guidance is an integral part of the team’s core leadership group. He said last season was the best he’s ever had in his career, and he remains committed to finding the same gear in 2022. 

“What is there left for me to accomplish is winning another Grey Cup and going three in a row. Continue to display that I’m one of the best linebackers to ever play this game. Continue to lead and make memories with my teammates. I mean that’s something that I still want to do,” Bighill said. “And that’s not public for anybody else to quantify the accomplishment, but that’s something that still is important to me as what I want to do with my legacy, is still be able to impact those around me. That’s something I put a lot of value on.”

Twitter: @jeffkhamilton

Jeff Hamilton

Jeff Hamilton
Multimedia producer

After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.

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