By Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press on February 7, 2024.
He entertained offers and seriously considered his football future, but Brady Oliveira just couldn’t leave his hometown.
The 2023 CFL rushing leader signed a two-year contract extension with the Blue Bombers on Tuesday. The 26-year-old Winnipeg native could have become a free agent next week, but said Wednesday he has “unfinished business” with the Bombers.
The five-foot-10, 222-pound Oliveira ran for 1,534 yards last season and was named the CFL’s top Canadian and finalist for its outstanding player award. He helped Winnipeg (14-4) finish atop the West Division and earn a fourth straight Grey Cup berth before losing 28-24 to the Montreal Alouettes.
In 2022, Winnipeg posted a CFL-best 15-3 record and was an overwhelming favourite to win a third consecutive Grey Cup. But the Toronto Argonauts registered a 24-23 victory.
“I want to be a massive part of why this team wins championships,” Oliveira told reporters during a video conference Wednesday. “Not just one, championships.
“We’ve got to go finish this thing off the right way, unfinished business. When it comes to legacy you look at guys, and how many championships they won was one thing, but were they a massive part of winning those championships?”
Oliveira has the perfect mentor: former CFL star Andrew Harris. The Winnipeg-born Harris won four championships with three franchises (B.C., Winnipeg and Toronto) and retired at season’s end as the top-rushing Canadian in league history.
“I always look at a guy like Andrew . . . he won a lot of championships and was a massive part of winning those championships.” Oliveira said. “That’s what I want to do.
“I’m hungrier now than ever. It’s in my mind and we’ve just got to take that out on our opponent every single week and finish this thing off the right way, then do the same in 2025 (when Winnipeg hosts Grey Cup).”
Oliveira also led the CFL in yards from scrimmage (2,016) and touchdowns (13) in 2023 and his rushing total was the second-most ever by a Canadian behind Calgary’s Jon Cornish (1,813 yards in 2013). Oliveira also had 38 catches for 482 yards and four touchdowns.
Financial details weren’t divulged but he’ll reportedly earn $230,000 this season and $240,000 in 2025. It appears he left both money and term on the table as TSN reported Oliveira rejected a three-year offer from B.C. that would’ve started at $250,000 annually.
“The money wasn’t everything for me,” Oliveira said. “It was putting some respect back on the running back position and getting what I’m worth.”
Also on Tuesday, Winnipeg signed receiver Dalton Schoen to a one-year extension. But Oliveira said the return of three starters on the Bombers offensive line — tackle Stanley Bryant, centre Chris Kolankowski and guard Pat Neufeld — also factored in his decision to remain.
Tackle Jermarcus Hardrick has agreed to a deal with Saskatchewan while Canadian guard Geoff Gray is poised to become a free agent. Also, American Drew Richmond, who could’ve replaced Hardrick, has reportedly retired.
But Oliveira feels confident both Canadian Liam Dobson and American Asotui Eli can shoulder heavier workloads in 2024.
“Every team is going to look different every single year,” he said. “I do think we’re in a very good position.”
Oliveira does more than just play football in Winnipeg. He also visits communities in northern Manitoba to interact with people there while also rescuing animals. Oliveira spoke Wednesday from Bali, where he and his girlfriend are finding and rescuing dogs.
“When it came down to looking at my options for this season, my heart is just tied to Winnipeg,” Oliveira said. “I was thinking if I go to another team . . . I can’t do that (charitable work in Winnipeg) for six months so I was thinking about everything.
“My heart is tied to Winnipeg, it feels like it’s going to be forever. I can never see myself leaving.”
Winnipeg selected Oliveira in the second round, No. 14 overall, in the ’19 CFL draft. He will return for a fifth season with his hometown team, having appeared in 51 regular-season games and accumulating 2,970 yards rushing, 70 receptions for 808 yards and 20 total touchdowns.
Oliveira said after last season he wanted to pursue NFL opportunities. Although he didn’t have any contract offers, Oliveira said he did receive interest from both the Detroit Lions and Buffalo Bills.
“With rosters and the amount of guys they had at the position, they just didn’t feel comfortable bringing me in,” Oliveira said. “At the end of the day I believe it’s about right timing and roster spots.
“I am extremely happy where I am right now getting this deal done with Winnipeg. The NFL is in the rear-view mirror . . . the NFL stuff is all behind me now.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 7, 2024.