Behind the R: REDBLACKS, Mauldin pressing forward after breakout season
All Lorenzo Mauldin needed was a chance, and Ottawa REDBLACKS General Manager Shawn Burke gave it to him.
The rest of the story is written in the history books as Mauldin had one of the best seasons the REDBLACKS defensive end has ever seen with 17 sacks, 43 tackles, two forced fumbles, and was named to the CFL All-Star Team and won the Most Outstanding Defensive Player Award.
Although I was 29 at the time, the opportunity was significant. Mauldin began his NFL pro career with the New York Jets but only lasted two seasons. He moved to Canada and signed with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. With other established CFL veterans ahead of him in the rotation, his playing time was minimal, but while in free agency, Mauldin signed with Ottawa and signed a deal that would change the course of his career.
“I just wanted to give him the opportunity to help our football club,” Burke said. “I felt like he was always holding his nose down and going to work and he was a big, physical guy. He made everything possible, he took the opportunity.”
Now considered one of the league’s most dominant pass rushers, alongside the likes of Willie Jefferson, his services were in demand. Just weeks before free agency opened, Burke and Mauldin’s team struck a deal, disappointing the other eight franchises.
“If you can keep a player of Lorenzo’s importance, that’s a great day [for the franchise]’ Burke said. “Doing this in front of free agency is exciting for us.”
During Gray Cup week, Mauldin told the media that he’s been given an agent and intends to test free hand. Though he didn’t shut the door on an eventual return to Ottawa, it seemed unlikely anything could be done before things opened up.
Even before the legal manipulation period when teams can legally negotiate with other teams’ pending free agents, Burke managed to find a compromise that worked for both parties.
“Whenever there’s a guy like him who’s into and making a more team-friendly deal [an impact] so it always takes a little longer to close a deal,” Burke said. “You try to find something that works for both parties. It took some time but he showed that he cares for us.”
Burke believes Mauldin has shown a lot of loyalty to the franchise, but loyalty doesn’t sustain a family, the offer had to be right.
“I think players have a certain loyalty to the team that gave them a chance within a certain area,” Burke admitted. “But we’ve been together for four years, so the mutual trust helped. The organization must show commitment to the player.”
Whoever wins in the trenches wins football games, and Burke believes that good defense begins with the line of defense. Now that a handful of influential players have been signed, including Mauldin, Kene Onyeka and Cleyon Laing, the build is beginning to take shape, but make no mistake, nothing is set in stone.
“We’re feeling good, but we still have some work to do,” Burke said. “We’ll see what happens with some of the current guys or even new faces because sometimes you have to make tough decisions. We always want a line of defense that can cause a lot of disruption, so we wanted to take out the guys that we thought would make the difference.”