April 16th, 2024

Veteran cornerback Edwards-Cooper understands why he’s with Roughriders

By Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press on February 19, 2024.

B.C. Lions' Jalon Edwards-Cooper (29) celebrates after returning a blocked Montreal Alouettes field goal attempt for a touchdown during the first half of a CFL football game, in Vancouver, B.C., Sunday, July 9, 2023. Edwards-Cooper signed earlier this week as a free agent with the Saskatchewan Roughriders. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Jalon Edwards-Cooper understands clearly why he’s with the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

The veteran cornerback was among seven players Saskatchewan signed last Tuesday, the first day of CFL free agency. That activity wasn’t surprising as the Riders have missed the playoffs the last two seasons.

“That (being pursued in free agency) doesn’t put any extra pressure on me at all,” Edwards-Cooper said during a telephone interview. “I know who I am, I know the type of player I am and what I can bring to the table . . . it’s just about playing football and staying healthy.

“If I can stay healthy, I feel like we’re going to have a great season.”

It’s been a difficult time for Saskatchewan since suffering a 21-17 setback to Winnipeg in the 2021 West final. The Riders have posted consecutive 6-12 records, dropping their final seven regular-season contests each year, which cost head coach Craig Dickenson his job.

General manager Jeremy O’Day, who signed a three-year contract extension this off-season, hired Corey Mace as Dickenson’s replacement. Mace will also serve as Saskatchewan’s defensive co-ordinator, a post he held the last two seasons with the Toronto Argonauts.

Last season, a stout defence anchored Toronto’s stellar 16-2 regular-season record and led the CFL in sacks (68), turnovers forced (54), interceptions (27) and fewest big plays allowed (30).

Saskatchewan’s defence was ranked last in ’23 in offensive points allowed (28.3 per game), net offensive yards (381.3) and sacks (37). But the Riders’ offence — which was without starting quarterback Trevor Harris for most of the season — also committed a CFL-high 49 turnovers.

Edwards-Cooper, 27, signed a one-year contract with Saskatchewan. Financial details weren’t divulged but the five-foot-11, 175-pound American will reportedly earn $128,000 in hard money, making him one of the CFL’s highest-paid defensive backs.

He fills a need for Saskatchewan, which released cornerback Nic Marshall this off-season after he was arrested in Georgia on a gun possession charge. The five-foot-11, 175-pound Edwards-Cooper spent his first three CFL seasons with the B.C. Lions, registering 79 tackles, one special-teams tackle, three interceptions and a 62-yard blocked field goal touchdown return in 30 regular-season games.

“They (Riders) are getting a very physical and fast player,” Edwards-Cooper said. “I feel I can cover anyone.

“They’re getting someone who’s going to give it his all and will go out there and put it all on the line.”

Before joining B.C., Edwards-Cooper played collegiately at Texas A&M-Commerce, helping the school win a 2017 NCAA title. He appeared in 46 games over four years there, registering 141 tackles (18 for loss), six sacks, six interceptions (one returned for TD) and four forced fumbles.

“Jalon was a highly sought-after player in free agency because teams are always looking for physical playmaking shutdown corners,” said Kenny Kim of Summit Athletes, Edwards-Cooper’s Florida-based agent. “But not only is Jalon a great football player, he’s also a terrific individual and family man.

“I know he has unlimited potential to dominate in the league.”

Saskatchewan also signed linebacker Jameer Thurman and defensive lineman Malik Carney, who both spent last season with Hamilton. The Riders also bolstered their offence with running back A.J. Ouellette (1,009 yards rushing, 10 touchdowns last season with Toronto) and veteran tackle Jermarcus Hardrick (West Division’s top lineman in 2023 with Winnipeg).

Also added were Canadian twin linebackers Justin and Jordan Herdman-Reed although Justin’s deal was an extension.

Once the ’24 season begins, Edwards-Cooper will be joined in Regina by his wife, Ashley, and their daughter, Aspyn, who was born in January. The new parents are adjusting to less sleep at night, but Edwards-Cooper feels having his family present will accelerate the acclimation to his new football surroundings.

“I love being a girl dad, she (Aspyn) just softens me up,” Edwards-Cooper said with a chuckle. “Seeing them every day will keep me level-headed and my mind focused on working hard.”

Edwards-Cooper said the prospect of playing at Mosaic Stadium before the Riders’ rabid fans both figured into his decision to sign with Saskatchewan. However, leaving Vancouver after three seasons was difficult.

“If we’re being very honest, it was tough,” he said. “It (joining Lions) marked my first time in Canada and the relationships I’d built over those three years in B.C. with teammates and coaches, it was very difficult to leave.

“But it’s a business and we all have to do what’s best for us and our families.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 15, 2024.

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