Jalen Saunders officially scribbled his name on a two-year contract with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Thursday, potentially adding another threat to the two-time Grey Cup champions’ aerial attack. Saunders will speak with the media on Monday, but in the meantime here are 5 Things You Should Know about the Blue Bombers new addition…
1. IT’S BEEN A WHILE…
Saunders has 25 games of Canadian Football League experience, all with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. But his last CFL appearance came on September 3, 2018 in the Ticats annual Labour Day showdown with the Toronto Argonauts.
Saunders, now 29, suffered an ACL tear in his right knee in that game, ending what had been a promising season. At the time of the injury he had 45 receptions for 739 yards and two touchdowns in just nine games – a year after leading the team in receiving with 76 catches for 1,170 yards and four TDs. His QB in 2017, just FYI, was Zach Collaros.
The Ticats re-signed Saunders that December, but then released him prior to the start of training camp in ’19 when it was determined his return – initially pegged for August – would take longer. He surfaced with the XFL’s Houston Roughnecks in 2020 – former Ticats head coach June Jones was the boss there – but was put on injured reserve and a few months later the league ceased operations.
Saunders then signed with the Ottawa RedBlacks in 2020 and again in January of 2021 after the CFL’s 2020 season was cancelled due to the pandemic. He retired from football on June 15 of last year after being in a serious car accident mid-May.
2. WAIT… SERIOUS CAR ACCIDENT?
Just prior to the start of camp last year, Saunders was in a car accident before coming to Ottawa and posted on his Twitter account, “Blessed to be alive this morning, this really made me realize who really in my corner.”
View this post on Instagram
The RedBlacks had left the door open for Saunders as to a possible return in ’21, but that never materialized. The Blue Bombers first began discussions with Saunders in February and as his contract with Ottawa had expired, he was no longer on the retired list.
3. A LONG AND WINDING ROAD
Saunders was a fourth-round draft pick, 104th overall, by the New York Jets in 2014 after posting a 4.44 40 in testing, and dressed for 15 games in his rookie season – three with the Jets, six with the New Orleans Saints and three more with the Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks.
Saunders was traded by New Orleans to the New England Patriots in 2015 but was released and then signed with the Chicago Bears. He was suspended for four games in November of 2015 for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, with that suspension later lengthened to 10.
Upon signing with the RedBlacks – after having his 2020 season with Houston cancelled and then the plug pulled on the CFL campaign – Saunders said this in an interview with Tim Baines of The Ottawa Sun:
“It’s been quite a journey these past few years, I’m not going to lie. I think about how many times I got cut, how many times I got injured. That kind of adversity would stop some people. You’re training so hard for 2020 and both your seasons get wiped out? You prep, prep and prep and all of a sudden it’s over. You have to hope you get another chance. At first I was really sad. I was down. But I knew I had to keep going. I look at life like the sun will always come up tomorrow. That’s just the way I go about it.”
During the pandemic became part owner of a moving company and also started up a tax-return business.
4. THE COLLEGE DAYS
Saunders began his college days at Fresno State, playing catch with current Las Vegas Raiders star QB Derek Carr and pulling in 27 passes for 441 yards and three TDs. A year later he was a First-Team All-WAC selection with 50 receptions for 1,065 yards and 12 TDs. That year the Bulldogs offence was also bolstered by the addition of Davante Adams, the star Green Bay Packers receiver who was traded to the Raiders last month.
Also on the Fresno State roster that year? Current Blue Bombers linebacker and one of the heroes of the 2021 Grey Cup, Kyrie Wilson.
Saunders transferred to Oklahoma in 2012 and made an instant impact with the Sooners. In just nine games he had 62 receptions for 829 yards and three TDs and included in those numbers was a 15-catch, 181-yard performance against Notre Dame in which he tied the school record for catches in a game and set another with eight of those coming in the first quarter.
A year later he was named to Second-Team All-Big 12 after a season in which he had 61 receptions for 729 yards and eight TDs, including a Sugar Bowl win over Alabama in which he had five catches for 75 yards and two TDs.
5. SMALL IN STATURE, BIG IN HEART
Saunders was listed at 5-8 7/8 at the 2014 NFL Combine, but that has never stopped him from being productive and resilient in overcoming injuries – an attribute that could serve him well with the Bombers. “Growing up, I was always the smallest player on the team, I’d get tossed around,” Saunders told The Ottawa Sun last year. “My dad was always my coach. I would complain, ‘Pops, I got a bruise on my arm.’ He’d ask, ‘Are you hurt or are you injured?’ That stuck with me. So, when I felt like I couldn’t get up on my own, it was something serious.“