‘It means the world:’ OL Hardrick leaves money on table to remain part of Bombers’ winning culture

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As a CFL all-star offensive lineman and integral member of the back-to-back Grey Cup champion Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Jermarcus Hardrick wanted to make sure he got his worth in contract negotiations for 2022.

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But there’s only so far he really wanted to go with a hard stance.

“At the end of the conversation it’s like ‘Hey, do you want leave this winning culture, do you want to leave this family, do you want to leave this great thing that they’ve built, or we’ve built, over time, to go somewhere for $10-15K when you don’t know how next season will go?’” Hardrick said from his home in Lincoln, Neb., on Friday after signing a one-year contract extension with the Bombers.

“You don’t know how the season is gonna go here either but I know the guys are gonna come here and work. When we get on that phone, we tell each other — I was talking to Jackson Jeffcoat and Willie Jefferson — and we all just came to an agreement, man, that we wanted to be back and it’s not worth leaving for a little extra cash.”

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Hardrick, Jefferson and Jeffcoat — the latter two all-star defensive ends — all re-upped with the Bombers after helping them to an 11-3 regular season, a win over the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the Western Final and a 33-25 overtime win over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the Grey Cup.

Hardrick, 31, will return for his fifth season with the Bombers, an organization that is near and dear to his heart.

“Man, just relieved,” he said. “I know where home is, I know where I want to be. I know where my kids, my family, my wife want to be. I’m so glad to get the job done. I’m just excited to get back to Winnipeg. I miss it already.”

It’s not like Hardrick ever thought he’d be going somewhere else, but all of the Bombers players faced the prospect of difficult negotiations because the team went into the off-season with 49 potential free agents.

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Needing to re-sign all of their star players and plenty of role players, Bombers management has numbers in mind for each position and you never know how that will line up with what the player has in mind.

“I had no doubt where I wanted to be,” Hardrick said. “I never thought about free agency so I didn’t know what free agency was gonna be like or anything like that. I’m just happy to be able to get it done. We got to a certain number and we got the job done.”

A year ago at this time, Hardrick was working odd jobs around Lincoln, trying to make ends meet for his family after the 2020 CFL season was cancelled and with the 2021 season in jeopardy.

Like all other CFL players at the time, he had no idea if or when he’d ever get back on the field, which is why he gets emotional about playing the shortened 2021 season, winning the Grey Cup and signing on for at least one more year with the Bombers.

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“Man, it means the world,” he said. “Last season meant so much. You could just tell, the year off, football guys were just thirsty and hungry to get back to playing football. It’s all I’ve been doing with my life since I was in sixth and seventh grade.

“It was just back to the normal life for me, even though things weren’t normal on the outside. But once we walked inside that locker room and got around my teammates, football is basically one of those things that’s all I know, and it felt good to have that crutch back in my life. That missed 2020 season just made you love football that much more.”

Hardrick is just one of five starters on the offensive line who needed a new contract for 2022. Negotiations are ongoing with fellow all-stars Pat Neufeld and Stanley Bryant — a three-time winner of the CFL’s most outstanding offensive lineman award — and there’s hope the team can bring back centre Michael Couture and all-star guard Drew Desjarlais as well.

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Desjarlais has been working out for NFL teams so his future may not be in Winnipeg, but the Bombers will want to keep as much of their line as possible intact.

“It’s important to get anybody back on this team but those guys I’m in that (offensive line) room with, everyone in that group are family and brothers,” Hardrick said. “We walk in that room and spend all those hours together, we know each other like the back of our hands. It’ll be very important to get those guys back and hopefully, we can. I’ve been in contact with a couple guys but things will fall where they fall.”

Hardrick is such an important player for the Bombers, not just because he’s a rock-solid right tackle, but also because of his larger-than-life personality. An offensive captain, Hardrick is known for his ability to brighten and lighten the mood in the locker room and entertain his teammates and the fans with his creative touchdown celebrations.

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Hardrick is clearly the kind of player head coach Mike O’Shea likes to have around and the feeling is mutual.

“He’s a great influence,” Hardrick said. “I look at Mike O’Shea as a father figure. He probably doesn’t know that — I think he probably knows about how all of us care about him. We talk to him on a personal level but it’s basically all business in there.

“We get personal at times, but, man, just the way Mike O’Shea carries himself. My wife looks up to his wife. They had three kids young, and we got three kids young and our football career we try to do everything the O’Shea way, man.

“I can’t thank Osh enough. Even when I’m done playing football, the way he approaches things, I’ll still do it O’Shea way.”

Twyman@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/Ted_Wyman

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