Chris Williams, on CFL return with Ottawa Redblacks: 'The upfrontness was key'

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Chris Williams with Ottawa coach Rick Campbell (left) and GM Marcel Desjardins (Scott Grant, Ottawa Redblacks)
Chris Williams with Ottawa coach Rick Campbell (left) and GM Marcel Desjardins (Scott Grant, Ottawa Redblacks)

Elusive Chris Williams alluded to what, once the CFL reappeared on his horizon, sold him on signing with Ottawa Redblacks.

The second-year team, which already upgraded its receiving corps considerably this off-season by adding Ernest Jackson, Maurice Price and national wideout Brad Sinopoli, made another splash Tuesday by signing the former all-star slotback/returner, who left the league in 2013  after a protracted contract battle with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. While Williams was careful on Tuesday not to fixate on the fight he went through to get his release from the Ticats in order to test the NFL waters, it seems like Ottawa offered the 27-year-old clean slate for a return north.

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"That was an interesting time period for everyone," Williams said of his fight for free agency during a press conference at TD Place. "A lot of good things came from that, for both sides, for the league and myself and the players. Honestly, that's in the past, let it be. I'm just looking forward to playing.

"There were other offers," added the 5-foot-8, 180-pound Williams. "It was just the right fit for me. Dan [Vertlieb, his agent]  and I had some good talks, it's been a long process, I'm happy that everything was straightforward and everything kept moving. The upfrontness was key."

In 2012 with Hamilton, when he worked with Redblacks quarterback Henry Burris, Williams racked up 1,298 receiving yards and 16 total touchdowns, including a league single-season record six on returns. Provided that he still has the same acceleration after nearly three years away, he could have a big impact for an Ottawa, especially with the league's emphais on limiting contact during pass plays and creating more space on punt returns.

"We see him as a receiver and primarily a punt returner, and field goal returner," Redblacks coach Rick Campbell said. "We are also hopeful these new rules play into his hands and other guys on our teams as well, where it rewards speed and athleticism.

"Chris is a consistent guy that shows up and plays every week," added Campbell. "Sometimes explosive guys don't get credit for that, and he is both of those things."

'The dealings I've had in the past, they do take a toll on a player'

Williams had a  101-yard kickoff-return touchdown last season with the Chicago Bears, where he saw limited action. He hasn't closed the door to returning south, but once Ottawa GM Marcel Desjardins put a feeler out in early March, his interest was piqued.

"You get a good feel for a person," said Williams, who will be relocating to the nation's capital with his spouse, Lana, and three children aged five and under. "The dealings I've had in the past, they do take a toll on a player. I wanted to make sure I was coming to the right situation with the right people. I could not have asked for anything better."

Ottawa was more competitive in Year 1 than its 2-16 record would suggest, is still below the CFL's salary cap after the signing. 

"Chris' versatility and return ability is something we couldn't pass up," Desjardins said. "Going back to last October, we had money budgeted to land this player. If it came to fruition, we were in a great place and if it didn't, we could do other things.

"For me it was just a function of reaching out and letting Chris and his agent [Vertlieb] know we were interested," Desjardins added. "I respected their process. I didn't badger them for answers. Once they came to 'we need to look at the CFL now,' it went well."

'The sky's the limit with this group'

The signing might give Burris, who will turn 40 exactly three weeks before the season opener, the best crew of pass receivers in the league, at least on paper. There won't be any excuses if Ottawa's offence continues to stall out like it did last year, when it was the league's lowest-scoring.

"I think [Ottawa's offence] can be tremendous, not only with the quality of players who are new to the team but also with the guys who are coming back, having played for a year," Desjardins said. "Also, just [coordinator] Jason Maas and our system will allow to blend. I would just say, for Henry, this is going to make his job this much easier. He'll have that many more options. 

"I honestly believe the sky's the limit with this group."

Williams smiled and said "no comment" when asked whether the Ticats expressed interest in him returnign; he later noted that he was "embraced" in the Steel City. One of his sons was also born in Burlington. Oddly enough for two East Division teams, the Redblacks and Ticats will not meet in the regular season until their home-and-home on Nov. 1 and 7.

"Right now I'm focused on winning on a Grey Cup," Williams said. "That's something that's stayed with me from Hamilton, that we never made a Grey Cup game in my two years." 

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.

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