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February 8, 2024

“They were all selling me on the fact they could provide what I already knew I had in Winnipeg”

Winnipeg Blue Bombers wide receiver Dalton Schoen (83) celebrates with quarterback Zach Collaros (8) after scoring a touchdown against the Saskatchewan Roughriders during the first half of CFL football action in Regina, on Friday, June 16, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Heywood Yu

Just a guess here, but when Dalton Schoen put his name on a new contract with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers earlier this week the gust from his ensuing exhale might have been felt all the way from Kansas City across the border into southern Manitoba.

No doubt there are many merits to the Canadian Football League’s negotiating window that allow prospective free agents to test the waters before the market opens next Tuesday. But the stress then the relief that comes from that experience – the questions, the fact-finding phone calls and texts, the worries, the uncertainty, and the dollar figures tossed about before a decision is made – can leave a player and his camp emotionally drained.

“I’ll touch on the stressful bit first,” Schoen explained during a media zoom call from his offseason base in Kansas City on Thursday. “Part of that comes from the fact that you’re not in the rooms, so to speak, for a lot of the conversations. I’m talking to my agent, then he talks to the team, and then they talk back to him and then he gets back to me.”

“So, you’re communicating through a lot of different people and that can kind of add to the stress because you don’t know exactly what’s being said within those conversations. And there are long periods of time when you’re waiting to hear from your agent. Once we got the deal done, a huge relief, weight off your shoulders. And then, yeah, a lot of phone calls between family, friends, teammates.

“I think I was on the phone for, like, eight hours on Tuesday, just getting the deal done and then talking to all those people.”

Schoen spoke glowingly of the culture within the building, of playing with quarterback Zach Collaros – ‘the best player in the league’ – and of the familiarity he has developed with the offence and the coaching staff as key factors in his decision.

And like so many of the other pending free agents who chose to remain with the Blue Bombers since the end of last season – his return bumps that number to 16 – there is a value in all that which goes beyond the numbers on a paycheque.

The negotiating window opened for all pending free agents last Sunday and Schoen and his agent began fielding calls from rival coaches, GMs and players – the Blue Bombers doing the same – as a full-court press began to land his services. The more he listened, the more he wanted to stay.”

“My biggest takeaway was in having those conversations, they were all selling me on the fact they could provide what I already knew I had in Winnipeg, which is that great team culture, that great offence,” said Schoen. “Or getting to play with Zach, the best quarterback in the league when they’re talking about their own quarterbacks. Those conversations were nice. It was nice to be wanted and have teams be interested in you.

“I was talking to some other guys who were going through this process. I think that was the first time in my career where I’ve truly been recruited at a high scale like that. I went to K-State as a walk-on, I entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent, I came up to Canada with 15 other rookie receivers looking for one job. And so, to be here now, and have all these people pursuing after you, is a good feeling. But, yeah, ultimately it just seemed like the common message was other teams were trying to tell me they could provide what I knew I already had.

“When it got down to crunch time and me making my decision, the financials from other people wasn’t significant enough, to me, to give up what I have here in Winnipeg.”

Schoen’s numbers through his first two seasons with the Blue Bombers and in the CFL are simply astonishing: 141 receptions for 2,663 yards and 26 touchdowns in just 34 games, with 71 of those catches second-down conversions.

He worked his backside off to get healthy for the Grey Cup last year after missing the last two regular season games and the Western Final win over the B.C. Lions. Schoen said he’s fully healed now and, like so many of the new faces who weren’t part of the 2019-21 Grey Cup championships and suffered through losses in the 2022 and 2023 title games, is driven to take care of some unfinished business.

“Kenny (Lawler) called me right after I signed, and we had a very long conversation,” said Schoen. “One of the things I remember saying was, ‘Man, I’m not just trying to go to the Grey Cup, I’m trying to win the thing.’ And so, yeah, it’s tough when you’ve been part of the team for two years and you’ve had a lot of success as a team, had great seasons, but ultimately fell short of that goal. Obviously, that’s the goal again is to get back there but to win it this time.”