By Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press on February 9, 2024.
There’ll be no free-agency angst for Adarius Pickett.
The five-foot-11, 210-pound linebacker solidified his CFL future earlier this week, signing a one-year deal with the Ottawa Redblacks. It came after Pickett agreed in principle to the contract during the league’s negotiation window, then put pen to paper after being released by the Toronto Argonauts.
So he’ll only be an interested spectator Tuesday when CFL free agency begins.
“I’m really glad it’s over, honestly,” Pickett said in a telephone interview. “I can focus on all the stuff I need to do here.”
Pickett garnered much attention during the window period following a stellar ’23 season with Toronto. The 27-year-old was the East Division’s top defensive player after registering 105 tackles, 19 special-teams tackles, six sacks and one forced fumble en route to being named a CFL all-star.
“Adarius’s play on the field speaks for itself,” said Kenny Kim of Summit Athletes, Pickett’s Florida-based agent. “He was a very sought-after player in free agency.
“He’s going to bring a winning attitude and culture to his new team and I expect he’ll have another great season. Adarius is also a terrific person who exudes great confidence, on and off the field.”
Pickett began his CFL career with the Montreal Alouettes (2021-22). The former UCLA star has registered 201 tackles, 38 special-teams tackles, 11 sacks, four forced fumbles, and two interceptions in 48 career contests.
Pickett was a key contributor to a Toronto squad that posted a CFL-best 16-2 record. The 16 victories were an Argos single-season record and also tied the league mark.
However, Toronto’s campaign ended with a 38-17 home loss to Montreal in the East Division final. The Alouettes defeated the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the Grey Cup.
But the ’23 campaign marked the third straight year Pickett had been to the CFL post-season. Ottawa hasn’t been to the CFL playoffs since 2018 when it lost 27-16 to the Calgary Stampeders in the Grey Cup.
Since then, the Redblacks have finished fourth in the East Division four straight seasons, compiling an overall 14-54 record.
But as much as Pickett plans to lead by example on the field, he also wants to help create a new culture in the Canadian capital.
“Really, just a belief that you can do it all the way around,” Pickett said. “I’ll be bringing the same energy, that leadership of knowing what it takes to get to the playoffs.
“Everything really matters, small things. The things people sometimes overlook are going to be things I’m going to make sure don’t get overlooked.”
Pickett said a strong locker room was a big reason for Toronto’s regular-season success last year.
“I felt like everybody at all positions liked each other, messed around with each other and enjoyed being around one another,” Pickett said. “That was a special thing because you don’t always get that in all locker rooms.
“Sometimes there’s a division between offence and defence or between position groups but I felt like we had a really special group of men and that led to success on the field. After seeing that, it’s just making sure moving forward that I try to create that same atmosphere (in Ottawa).”
Ottawa GM Shawn Burke has been busy this off-season. In addition to securing Pickett, Burke has also acquired and signed quarterback Dru Brown, receiver Dominque Rhymes and Canadian offensive lineman Dariusz Bladek.
Burke also re-signed many of his own pending free agents, including defensive linemen Lorenzo Mauldin IV, Bryce Carter and Michael Wakefield, defensive backs Brandin Dandridge, Justin Howell and Damon Webb and receiver Justin Hardy.
“Ottawa has always been a hard team to play against when I was with both Montreal and Toronto,” Pickett said. “I’m excited right now, really excited because I think they’re putting together something special there with the players they’ve brought in.”
Despite that excitement, Pickett admitted it was difficult to leave Toronto. However, while the season is a time to play football, the off-season is when business is conducted and regardless of how situations turn out, the key for a player is to never take it personally.
“You really can’t,” he said. “It’s a business and sometimes you might feel one way but the front office feels another way.
“It is what it is.”
Financial details of Pickett’s deal weren’t divulged but he’ll reportedly earn $170,000 this season. Pickett said his off-season priority was to not only secure a good deal for himself but one that didn’t devalue his position.
“That was big for me,” he said. “I couldn’t shortchange myself because if I did I’d be shortchanging other people across the league.
“This is a great league to be part of. I just want to make sure I’m helping it grow and everybody else along the way.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 9, 2024.