January 30, 2023

Behind the R: REDBLACKS, Mauldin pressing forward after breakout season

Hamilton Tiger-Cats vs Ottawa REDBLACKS October 29, 2022 PHOTO: Matt Zambonin/Freestyle Photography

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 went on to have one of the best seasons any REDBLACKS’ defensive end has ever seen, picking up 17 sacks, 43 tackles, two forced fumbles, being named to the CFL All-Star team, and winning the Most Outstanding Defensive Player Award.

Although being 29 years old at the time, the opportunity was significant. Mauldin began his professional career in the NFL with the New York Jets, but only lasted two seasons. He moved to Canada, signing with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. With other established CFL veterans ahead of him in the rotation, his playing time was minimal, but during free agency, Mauldin signed in Ottawa, inking a deal that would end up changing the course of his career.

“I just wanted to give him an opportunity to help our football club,” Burke said. “I felt that he always put his nose down and went to work, and he was a big, physical guy. He made it all happen, he took advantage of the opportunity.”

Now viewed as one of the more dominant pass rushers in the league, right up there with 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.

“When you can retain a player of Lorenzo’s significance, it’s a great day [for the franchise],” Burke said. “To get this done before free agency is exciting for us.”

During Grey Cup week, Mauldin told members of the media that he had gotten an agent, and was intending to test free agency. Although he didn’t close the door on an eventual return to Ottawa, it seemed unlikely that something could get done before things opened up.

Even ahead of the legal tampering period where teams can legally negotiate with other teams’ pending free agents, Burke managed to find a compromise that suited both parties.

“Whenever there’s a guy like him who’s on a more team-friendly deal and makes [an impact] like that, it always takes a little longer to strike a deal,” Burke said. “You’re trying to find something that works for both sides. It took some time, but he showed that he was committed to us.”

Burke believes that Mauldin showed plenty of loyalty to the franchise, but loyalty doesn’t feed a family, the offer had to be right.

“I think players have some loyalty to the team that gave them a chance, within a certain realm,” Burke admitted. “But we have been together for four years, so that trust together helped. The organization has to show commitment to the player.”

Winning in the trenches wins football games, and Burke believes that a good defence starts with the defensive line. Having now re-signed a handful of impactful players, including Mauldin, Kene Onyeka, and Cleyon Laing, the build is slowly taking shape, but don’t be fooled, nothing is set in stone.

“We feel good, but we still have a bit of work to go,” 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 defensive line that can create a great deal of disruptions, so we wanted to get the guys we thought are difference makers done.”