Veteran offensive lineman Neufeld looking forward to CFL/CFLPA joint venture
TORONTO — He's preparing for a 12th CFL season, but Pat Neufeld is also looking ahead to when he's no longer a football player.
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers' offensive lineman will be among six players who will participate in the CFL mentorship program. The joint venture between the league and CFL Players' Association exposes participants to pro football's business side.
Upon retirement, the six-foot-five, 290-pound Neufeld would like to remain in the game working in football operations, either with the CFL or a club.
"I was involved with the CFLPA for about four, five years and went through a couple of intense collective bargaining agreements," Neufeld said. "It's an interesting side of sport not many people get to experience where you get to go into the league side and experience the business aspect from their end.
"I think it is a great way of furthering my knowledge of this business. A football career is something I've been passionate about and dedicated my life to . . . and I think this is a great way of when I'm done playing to segue into that next part of my career that's hopefully somehow involved with the CFL."
Montreal Alouettes running back Jeshrun Antwi, Saskatchewan Roughriders linebacker Larry Dean, Ottawa Redblacks receiver Shaq Evans, Hamilton Tiger-Cats defensive lineman Anthony Federico and free-agent receiver Kamar Jorden will also take part.
Starting next Tuesday, participants will work with league officials in football operations, marketing and communications, finance and data analysis while also going behind the scenes of "CFL On TSN" broadcasts.
On March 3, they'll attend the CFL invitational combine at the University of Waterloo.
"Throughout their careers, players spend all their time and effort training, practising, engaging with the community and so much more," CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie, himself a former player, said in a statement. "However, there is life beyond the football field to consider.
"This program offers participants the opportunity to explore what their futures may hold."
Added CFLPA executive director Brian Ramsay: “As a union, it's our duty to not only protect our members’ rights on the field, but also support their transition to life after football. Through the CFLPA Academy, we're committed to providing members with the education, skills, and resources necessary to thrive in their post-football careers and lead fulfilling lives beyond their time on the playing field."
Neufeld, 34, of Regina, is a two-time league all-star (2019, 2021) and has helped Winnipeg reach three straight Grey Cups (2019, 2021-22), winning the first two.
But Neufeld has been traded (2013 from Saskatchewan to Winnipeg) and since the '19 Grey Cup win has negotiated his own contracts.
"After the 2019 season, I knew I didn't want to play anywhere else," Neufeld said. "I felt like I was comfortable enough to talk with (Bombers GM) Kyle Walters and the relationship we have would allow me to speak freely about where I thought I was at.
"I've said often I want to finish my playing days in Winnipeg and the team knows that so it probably doesn't help me in negotiations. But I'm more than happy with where I'm at contract-wise, so for me it's been a pretty seamless process."
However, negotiations can become sticky as an agent's job is to get a player top dollar while the team wants the most cost-effective deal. Sometimes, a GM must be critical of a player and, when that happens, the agent can be a buffer between the two sides.
"I think you have to be a little courageous to do that (represent yourself)," Neufeld said. "It's definitely interesting and a little intimidating the first time you do that but it also forces you to research what's out there for numbers and contracts so that was a fun thing to do as well."
There's plenty of former CFL players either currently in coaching positions or front-office jobs.
Head coaches Dave Dickenson (Calgary), Mike O'Shea (Winnipeg), Ryan Dinwiddie (Toronto), Orlondo Steinauer (Hamilton) and Jason Maas (Montreal) were all CFL players. while Dickenson and Steinauer are also their teams' GM and president of football operations, respectively.
Walters, Toronto GM Mike (Pinball) Clemons, Bombers president Wade Miller, Stampeders president John Hufnagel and Edmonton assistant GM Geroy Simon also donned pads before taking football-related jobs.
And long before the retired Wally Buono won a record 282 regular-season games and five Grey Cups as head coach/GM with Calgary and the B.C. Lions, he claimed two CFL championships (1974, '77) as a linebacker/punter with Montreal.
"I'm going to take in as much information as possible (from mentorship program) and put it towards my playbook for what I want to do when I'm done playing, whenever that is," Neufeld said. "I'm also looking forward to forming relationships with people in the CFL.
"I always say it (CFL) is this scrappy league that never quits and is filled with people who care and put their heart and soul into it. I feel like I'm one of those people. I love playing for the Bombers, I love representing the CFL and getting into the community. Whatever kind of opportunity that could present itself I'd definitely take a look at and pursue."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 21, 2023.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press