Skip to main content

Cal Football: Kenny Lawler Strikes it Rich in the CFL . . . At Least He Hopes He Did

Labor issues threaten preseason schedule, supposed to kick off on Friday night.

Former Cal star Kenny Lawler signed a $300,000 free-agent contract in the offseason with the Edmonton Elks of the Canadian Football League.

Sounds like he needed the money because during his nearly 1,700-mile drive from southern California to Alberta’s capital city earlier this month his car broke down.

Now there are serious questions about whether the 27-year-old will ever see that cash.

Things got muddled this week after CFL players declined to ratify a seven-year, collective-bargaining agreement put forth by the league and players association. The bargaining committee had approved the deal and team player reps recommended passing it.

But the players, who earlier delayed the start of training camp by going on strike, voted against the deal.

Former Cal star Kenny Lawler

Kenny Lawler

The sticking point is the so-called Canadian ratio, which dictates how many home-grown players are required to be on each team and in starter’s roles.

The league presented a final offer, with the players given a deadline of Thursday at midnight eastern time to ratify it.

What does that mean for Friday’s preseason opener and the start of regular-season play two weeks later?

“Hopefully the season happens and happens on time and we don’t miss any game checks, because I understand the frustration of the fans that want to see us play,” Edmonton quarterback Nick Arbuckle told the Edmonton Sun.

If the new CBA is not approved, teams are expected to lock players out of camp, indefinitely delaying the start of the season.

Lawler may not be able to go car shopping unless the deal is struck.

On his drive to training camp Lawler got as far as Utah the first day, slept at a truck stop, brushed his teeth in the morning and resumed his trip. But four hours later, just outside of Butte, Montana, he had car trouble.

Scroll to Continue

Read More

"I’m not going to say I broke down,” Lawler told the Sun, “but a part in my car that controls the oil pressure broke in half.”

Three days later, after repairs were complete, Lawler finished his trek to his new CFL home.

It’s a major step up financially for the 27-year-old, whose deal is reported to be the richest among non-quarterbacks in the CFL. He was an attractive offseason target after catching 64 passes for 1,014 yards and six touchdowns for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers last season, the only CFL receiver to top 1,000 yards.

But it’s a step down competitively, from the two-time reigning CFL Grey Cup champions to a team that was 3-11 last season, finishing last in the league’s West Division.

The Elks are scheduled to open their preseason Friday at Winnipeg. Yes, against Lawler’s former team.

Lawler played on both of the Blue Bombers’ championship teams — winning titles in 2019 and ’21, sandwiched around the CFL’s canceled season in 2020. In two seasons in Canada, the 6-foot-3, 197-pounder has caught 107 passes for 1,651 yards and 10 TDs.

None of Lawler’s money is guaranteed, according to the Edmonton Sun, so he will have to make the roster . . . and the season will need to be played.

“He’s a pro,” Elks general manager/coach Chris Jones said. “He was the leading receiver in the league for a reason. He’s a good player. He’s big, he’s physical and we’re just glad to have him.”

Lawler played at Cal from 2013 through ’15, catching 143 passes with 27 touchdowns as one of Jared Goff’s favorite receivers. 

A seventh-round pick of the Seattle Seahawks in 2016, Lawler spent two seasons on the team's practice squad but never played in an NFL game.

He has found a home in the CFL, but his 2021 season was marred by an October arrest for driving while intoxicated. Lawler was suspended for one game, apologized publicly and finished the season, helping the team win its second straight Grey Cup title.

A second former Cal player, 24-year-old defensive back Traveon Beck, signed to play this season with the Hamilton Tiger Cats.

Cover photo of Kenny Lawler by John E Sokolowski, USA Today

Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo