Wiltshire heads west to Eskimos

DON BRENNAN -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 11:47 AM ET

It's the aspiration of Kelly Wiltshire to be a law enforcer in Ottawa one day. But for the next two or three years, at least, he'll be patrolling the grass-is-always-greener pastures of Commonwealth Stadium.

In conclusion of what for them has been a dismal first week of CFL free agency, the Renegades have bid adieu to Wiltshire, who becomes the newest Edmonton Eskimo.

Voted Ottawa's top Canadian and consistently one of the team's best defenders in each of the last three seasons, the Quebec-born linebacker/safety/ironman has signed a two- year deal (plus an option) deal with the perennial west division kingpins. While he made in the neighborhood of $100,000 in 2004, it's believed Wiltshire will earn approximately $125,000 this season.

He said the Edmonton offer was "not that much different" than the one made by Ottawa GM/coach Joe Paopao, however.

'A GOOD MOVE'

"It wasn't the money that swayed me," said Wiltshire, a 32-year old who, as one of the first Renegades ever, was viewed as the face of the team. "At this point in my life, I thought it would be a good move. It's a winning, class organization, they play on grass ... there were so many factors. The difficult part is having to leave Ottawa and Coach 'P'.

"He wanted me to do what's best for Kelly, and he knew that it meant I'd probably leave, but he still said that. I respect him, I learned a lot from him and not just as a coach ... the way he is with his kids, his family and as a person. I hope the best for Ottawa, I really do. I want to come back here. But to me, it was time to close this chapter on my career. I grinded it out here for three years, and it was time to go to a different team."

Picking a club that has qualified for the playoffs 33 consecutive years over one that has been denied entry in its only three tries is understandable -- just as it would be if Wiltshire was a little nervous about the uncertainty surrounding the Renegades ownership situation.

"It could be a concern, but I didn't focus on those things. I just focused on the positives, and there were a little more positives with Edmonton," Wiltshire said.

The positives for Ottawa through the earliest shopping days on the free agent market include the signing of two locally grown defensive linemen (Carmen Legault and Marc Pilon), who were backups most of last season in B.C., and another former Lion lineman (Ray Jacobs), who sat out 2004 after reaching all-star status the year before.

The negatives are considerably heavier. Along with watching Wiltshire walk, the Renegades have already lost offensive tackle Alexandre Gauthier, who was their first draft pick ever, and standout import DB Anthony Malbrough to Calgary. Both starters might have accepted contract extension offers had they been placed on the table last season, but ownership was too busy counting dollars. (They are also in danger of losing fullback Mike Vilimek, who was their second pick overall in 2002 and should have been extended, too).

And they couldn't buy a wide receiver, which they desperately wanted, as they were shafted by Ed Hervey and spurned by Chris Brazzell.

While re-signing Vilimek and offensive lineman Mike Abou-Mechrek is now essential, the Renegades will also have to take the budget money they still have and jump hard into the bidding for non-import wide receiver Corey Grant, who started last season in Saskatchewan, as well as high-priced Canadian cornerback Davis Sanchez, who spent last season in Montreal.

Landing non-import Markus Howell, who played wide receiver and DB in Winnipeg last season, would also be a plus, though his impact would be of a smaller scale.

don.brennan@ott.sunpub.com


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