He could have refused his employer’s titanic request and walked away but decided it was not the big hill to die on.
Thus, the heart and soul of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ defensive brigade, Adam Bighill, is sticking with the CFL club for the 2021 season at a dramatically reduced wage.
It’s been reported the 32-year-old linebacker has accepted an approximately $145,000 pay cut from the $260,000 he was scheduled to receive. It’s by far the largest salary reduction accepted by a Winnipeg player this off-season as the team struggles to make ends meet amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bighill said Friday while the financial hit is a bitter pill to swallow, he understands the financial realities of the league after the 2020 campaign was scrapped.
But it was far from an easy decision for the two-time CFL defensive player of the year.
“There was definitely a shock, definitely a frustration. I signed a long-term contract in a pre-COVID world, so there were things I was counting on that I believe I had earned,” said Bighill, in his first chat with media since details of the restructured contract emerged last weekend. “With that being said, this has caused everyone to shake things up and re-evaluate and reassess. It’s the new reality.”
Bighill was scheduled to receive a $50,000 bonus on Jan. 15 and again on April 15 but will go without.
“Whether it’s ideal or not, it’s something you have to accept and continually, for me, do what I always do — prove people wrong and be the best player that I can be and do that for myself and my teammates and my family — and continue to show my value,” he said. “I feel I’m one of the hardest workers there is, so I’m going to put the chips on me to perform and be one of the best to play the game.”
Bighill joins defensive end Willie Jefferson and quarterback Zach Collaros as standout players who have restructured their deals to provide the 2019 Grey Cup championship organization with some financial relief. Star running back Andrew Harris recently signed a new one-year deal, believed to be for less money than he made the last few campaigns in his hometown.
Bighill, listed at 5-10 and 225 pounds, is also acutely aware despite his talent and impact on the field, the position he commands doesn’t have the same cachet as that of a starting quarterback.
Seeking a richer deal somewhere else would have been pointless.
“If you look at the linebacker market… it came down to a point where the linebacker market has significantly fallen. That’s where things landed. There could have been other interest to go elsewhere but weighing all the decisions, it was tough — I’m not going to lie, it was tough — but at the end of the day… being in Winnipeg was going to be best for myself and my family,” he said.
“Going somewhere else to play for six months? One, there’s a financial cost yourself to support yourself to do that; and two, you’re away from your family to do that for that amount of time. You’ve got to ask yourself, ‘What is that worth? What does that cost? Is that what’s best?’”
The Montesano, Wash., product has established himself as a financial planner in Winnipeg. His young family lives year-round in the Manitoba capital, and he’s building a new home in south Winnipeg.
He isn’t just bonded to his teammates, he’s gripped by the community.
“When you put all the cards on the table, for what makes sense for me, especially with building a business here in Winnipeg, and the fact Winnipeg is a great club, Winnipeg has a great program, a great culture that’s been built, the guys coming back are nearly everybody, the chances of having another successful season is very high,” he said. “All those things weighed back in to making it the best fit to stay here and still be a part of the Bomber family and the Winnipeg community.”
Bighill started his career north of the border in 2011 with the B.C. Lions and spent six seasons on the coast. He played the 2017 season with the New Orleans Saints of the NFL in a special-teams role, but returned to Canada and inked a deal with Winnipeg in 2018 and was named the league’s top defensive player.
A five-time CFL all-star, his numbers were down in 2019, recording 61 tackles — his lowest count since 2014. But he also missed three games due to injury, and still managed four sacks and a pair of forced fumbles.
Bighill said he’s eager to prove his skills are not in decline but won’t look beyond the upcoming campaign.
“Performance-wise, I expect to have a fantastic year. I’ve been able to not be beat up for over a year. I’ve been training ever since the 2019 Grey Cup ended. So, I’ve been preparing to play. I could walk in and play right now,” he said. “I’m going to have a great season and I firmly believe that because I’m going to make it happen.
“I definitely know I helped my teammates around me be better, and at the end of the day that’s the beauty of a team game like football, Yeah, you want to shine yourself, you want to make plays. But you want to make the guys around you better, and I know I bring a lot of value doing that.”
Assistant sports editor
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