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Six ex-Eastern Washington stars affected by cancellation of CFL season

UPDATED: Tue., Aug. 18, 2020

Months after former Eastern Washington quarterback Vernon Adams signed the biggest contract of his Canadian Football League career, the Montreal Alouettes’ starter was delivering food.

Adams, who signed a three-year, $1.5 million deal in January, was among several former EWU standouts in the CFL not getting paychecks as the 2020 season was thrown in limbo due to coronavirus concerns.

Instead of reporting to training camp in May, Adams, living off his $200,000 signing bonus, supplemented his income by becoming an Uber Eats driver in the Seattle area, waiting as the CFL mulled its return.

It won’t be until 2021.

The CFL announced Monday that it won’t pursue a 2020 season, citing major financial losses if it pursued games without fans due to the country’s strict social distancing mandates.

Adams, who has voiced his displeasure in the league for not paying its players during the pandemic , took to Twitter shortly after the league’s decision.

He’s not happy that others in the organizations are getting paid, namely CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie.

“DefundTheCommish #DefundTheCoaches #CFL #PayTheProduct,” Adams tweeted. “Everybody who is getting paid in CFL organizations, defund them all. This is nuts.”

The league considered playing a six-game regular season in Winnipeg in September in a bubble-like environment akin to the NBA, but didn’t have the money to pursue the plan.

Shortly after the Canadian government turned down the CFL’s request for a $30 million loan – money that would have helped pay player salaries, coronavirus tests and operating costs – the league canceled the season.

Three of the league’s nine teams have a starting quarterback from EWU, including Adams, Bo Levi Mitchell (Calgary Stampeders) and Matt Nichols (Toronto Argonauts). Other former Eagles in the league include defensive backs T.J. Lee (BC Lions), Mitch Fettig (Calgary) and Josh Lewis (Hamilton Tiger-Cats).

Mitchell is the second highest-paid player in the league, Nichols, Adams and Lee are established veterans. Fettig and Lewis were free-agent rookies signed in the offseason hoping to keep their roster spots this summer.

There’s been a wave of emotions for Fettig, who got married on Saturday before finding out the season was canceled on Monday.

“It’s been tough, man. I had a lot of optimism that it was going to happen, then the rug was pulled from under us,” Fettig said. “I’ve been training and getting ready for this. Now it’s in God’s hands.”

Fettig, who has been delivering for Postmates and training local youth players in Olympia for income, thought the CFL would get the much-needed government loan.

“It sounded like we were going to get it,” Fettig said. “Our front office was optimistic that we were going to get the loan.”

Nichols, traded to the Argonauts last season after a successful stint in Winnipeg, lives in Cheney, where he’d been training in anticipation of a season.

He earned his master’s degree at Gonzaga this summer. He said that if a CFL season didn’t happen, he’d consider being an assistant coach at a nearby school, but all college and high school sports in Washington have also been pushed to 2021.

Nichols recently told Canadian media that if a CFL season was canceled, it would give him more time to recover from a shoulder injury.

“That ultimately has helped me physically, which I hate to say that something like this has been helpful because it’s such a devastating thing that’s happening,” Nichols said of the long layoff. “But overall for me and my health, I’ve been able to back off the rehab process and allow it to take a more natural course.”

Mitchell, who has led the Stampeders to two Grey Cup titles, also injured his shoulder last season and missed games in 2019.

Mitchell, who signed a four-year, $2.8 million contract in 2018, told Canada media this week that he felt bad for the players having to scramble for other employment because of the cancellation of the season.

“(There are players who) need to find out where the next mortgage payment is going to come from,” said Mitchell, who helped EWU win a national title in 2010.

He was hoping for at least a truncated season in the Winnipeg bubble, but understands why it didn’t happen.

“You see the NHL and the NBA bubble and the way they handled things. Everything clicked when it was supposed to and got the right things done,” Mitchell said. “But we don’t have the access to the funds they do. We’re not driven by the same portion of money that they are. They sell so much merchandise and everything. We’re a very gate-driven league, and that makes it hard without our gate (money) and our fans.”

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