A desire to be closer to family prompted Jordan Williams to broach the idea of a trade with the B.C. Lions.
The Lions reciprocated Thursday, sending the CFL's top rookie in 2021 to the Toronto Argonauts for a '23 first-round draft pick.
"It's been a great experience being in the league in terms of a learning curve in comparison to the south," Williams said in a telephone interview. "I had a real fun time and great camaraderie with my (Lions) teammates.
"But I wanted to be in the East because I have relatives that live in the area. It's also great to be going from one winning culture to another, that's definitely a plus-plus. There were other teams interested in the area but my No. 1 destination was to be a Toronto Argo."
The six-foot, 232-pound Williams was the first player taken in the 2020 CFL draft out of East Carolina but the league didn't stage a season that year due to the global pandemic. Williams captured the league's top rookie honour in 2021 after posting 92 tackles (the most ever by a first-year player), five special-teams tackles, a sack and interception.
"This trade affords us the luxury of moving back into the first-round in what is a deep draft," Lions co-GM/director of football operations Neil McEvoy said in a statement. "We thank Jordan for his solid contributions to our football team these past two seasons.
"Given the quality Canadian depth we’ve stockpiled onto this roster following the last couple of drafts, we felt we were in a position to part with a very good player in exchange for a higher pick."
Last season, Williams registered 89 tackles, seven special-teams tackles and three forced fumbles. The move makes financial sense for Toronto as Williams is on the final year of his rookie deal.
Williams also gives Toronto roster versatility as he played both the Sam and Mac linebacker spots with B.C. last year.
"If they need me at Sam, I can go in and get reps there as well and cover some of those slot receivers," Williams said with a chuckle.
Williams, 28 is a native of North Carolina but deemed a national because his mother is Canadian.
In 2019, the Ottawa Redblacks offered Williams a practice-roster spot after he attended one of the club’s free-agent camps. But upon learning of his mother’s nationality, the club recommended Williams investigate getting into the league through the draft.
Had Williams accepted Ottawa’s invitation, he would’ve been registered with the CFL as an American and his status couldn’t have been reversed afterward.
Veteran Canadian Henoc Muamba was Toronto's starting middle linebacker last season. Muamba captured the top Canadian and Grey Cup MVP of the Argos' 24-23 championship win over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
Muamba, who turns 34 later this month, is slated to become a free agent Tuesday.
B.C. had dealt its 2023 first-round pick to Montreal last summer in a deal for quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. after Canadian starter Nathan Rourke was hurt.
Also on Thursday, Canadian defensive back Antoine Pruneau retired after eight seasons with Ottawa.
"Antoine Pruneau is synonymous with Redblacks football," head coach Bob Dyce said. "The passion he brought to the field was unmatched.
"He took great pride in wearing the 'R' and it was evident in his leadership and play. I know he will bring the same energy to the next chapter of his career. We thank him and wish he and his family nothing but the best."
Pruneau, of Laval, Que., was selected in the first round, No. 4 overall, in the 2014 CFL draft out of Montreal. The six-foot-one, 200-pound Pruneau appeared in a club-record 122 career regular-season games, registering 374 tackles, 74 special-teams tackles, four sacks, 10 interceptions and four forced fumbles.
Pruneau, 33, appeared in three Grey Cup games, winning in 2016.
"Antoine Pruneau has shown remarkable leadership and dedication to this organization which will be tough to replace," said Ottawa GM Shawn Burke. "We congratulate him on a job well done, a great career and wish him all the best in what comes next.
"He will always be a Redblack."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 9, 2023.