The last week has seen plenty of opinions on Winnipeg Blue Bombers' defensive back Jonathan Hefney being charged with possession of 6.2 grams of marijuana, including our own Sandy Annunziata's case that the team should suspend him and my argument that there's been far too much outrage over his charge relative to more serious off-field incidents. For a while, the Bombers' own reaction was mild, with general manager Joe Mack saying Tuesday that "This particular incident won’t affect his status at all." Something appears to have changed, though, as the team elected to cut ties with Hefney Saturday. Now the key question is if this decision was merely a delayed reaction to Hefney's original drug charge, if new information has come to light on that front, or if Winnipeg made this move based solely on his play.
At first, the last possibility there would seem to fit with this timeline the best. However, Paul Wiecek of The Winnipeg Free Press watched Hefney's play in Wednesday's game against Toronto and described him as one of the bright lights on a team that was thumped 24-6:
For my money, Hefney was the best Bombers DB in the pre-season game vs Toronto. Makes me wonder if their minds were already made up.
— Paul Wiecek (@PaulWiecek) June 15, 2013
Moreover, Hefney's a two-time league all-star (2009, 2011) and a three-time CFL East all-star (2009, 2011, 2012) who's only 28, so it seems highly suspect to think his skills are already diminishing, especially when you consider that the Bombers signed him to a three-year contract extension in January so he wouldn't hit free agency. Here's what Mack had to say then:
“As a key member of our defence, it was important for us to re-sign Jonathan who has been a consistent performer throughout his career in Winnipeg,” said Vice-President and General Manager Joe Mack. “The way Jonathan plays the game, the type of enthusiasm and excitement he brings to the field, certainly rubs off on the rest of his teammates and his experience is one we value as an organization. We look forward to having Jonathan continue his high level of play next season.”
Yeah, that's a bit of a change from then to now. However, Ed Tait reported that a source told him this week the team was shopping Hefney last year. That could be merely retroactive editing on the part of the source, but it's possible Hefney was already rubbing his teammates the wrong way last year. If that's the case, it becomes hard to explain his contract extension, unless the team figured he still had substantial trade value and didn't want to lose him for nothing; a three-year extension is highly unusual in those circumstances, though. Still, it is possible the Bombers weren't high on Hefney internally before the marijuana incident.
It's also possible that new information has come to light in that incident or a related legal matter. The charges against Hefney initially (a ticket for first-offence marijuana possession) didn't seem all that serious, and the club seemed willing to let those be. However, if the Bombers found out that he's in more legal trouble that he didn't report, or that the possession incident also involves more serious charges, that could have proved a tipping point and a reason to change their mind on whether he was worth keeping.
The most plausible scenario may be that this is the Bombers caving to public pressure over the marijuana incident, though, and if that's the case, that seems like a flawed decision. If this decision is over the drug charges, they just decided to let a two-time CFL all-star walk over possession of a minor amount of pot, something that's been decriminalized in 17 of the 50 U.S. states. Hefney's still young and talented, and there are plenty of organizations that will value talent that lets them win games on the field even if it involves taking a little public criticism, so it wouldn't be surprising at all to see him land elsewhere in the CFL. Odell Willis stayed in the league after a DUI and Kory Sheets hasn't yet lost his job despite domestic violence charges, so the CFL isn't exactly a place where a minor legal incident tends to make you a persona non grata. However, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers' organization may be more inclined to think that way.