|Two-time Grey Cup champion and former West Division all-star Jason Maas was released by the Eskimos. (QMI Agency file/Jordan Verlage)
EDMONTON - For nine seasons Jason Maas accepted whatever role the Edmonton Eskimos required of him, no matter how big or small.
But there is one thing the 35-year-old wouldn’t do Tuesday: retire as a member of the team he started his CFL career with back in 2000.
Instead, the two-time Grey Cup champion and former West Division all-star was released by the Eskimos.
“We were hoping that he would retire as an Eskimo, but the competitive fires are still burning strongly within, and Jason wants to continue playing this game he loves so much, if possible,” Eskimos general manager Eric Tillman said in a statement released by the club.
Maas, who grew up in Arizona and now lives in Sherwood Park with his wife, Marajean, and their daughter, Makaela, couldn’t be reached for comment.
“As an organization, Jason departs with our profound gratitude and respect,” said Tillman. “From his toughness to his absolute dedication, Jason has been the epitome of a pro.”
Maas earned the starting role at pivot in 2001 on his way to divisional all-star and the Eskimos’ CFL Outstanding Player nominations.
He lost the starting spot the next year, Ricky Ray’s rookie season, but would get it back in 2004 after Ray went to the NFL.
Although Ray returned in 2005, Maas had his greatest playoff success by appearing in relief in both the West semifinal and final games to spark the offence and put together consecutive game-winning drives on the way to the 2005 Grey Cup championship.
“Men who have given so much, deserve to be remembered for their best moments. Jason had many ranging from his all-star year in 2001, to the Grey Cup championship in 2005,” Tillman said. “While Jason may not be retiring in green and gold, there should be no doubt about the incredible bond he has with this club and community. For those reasons, and many more, Jason Maas will always be a member of the Eskimo family.
“Days like this with special players are always bittersweet.”
As was the first time Maas left the Eskimos, accepting a trade to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, where he looked to rejoin the ranks of starting quarterbacks.
But an 0-4 start in Steeltown was the beginning of the end of that dream. He was traded to Montreal in September 2007 and dressed for nine games and the East semifinal before being released following the season.
Maas returned to Edmonton in 2008 and dressed as a backup quarterback for all 18 games, the East semifinal crossover and final. In 2009 he was again the backup for all 18 games and the West semifinal.
But the writing was on the wall last season, when Maas saw his value drop from second string to third on the depth chart — completing 10 of just 23 pass attempts for 128 yards and two interceptions — while the lion’s share of backup duties went to sophomore CFLer Jared Zabransky.
After signing a contract extension on Jan. 22, Ray will resume his starting duties when he reports to quarterbacks camp on June 1 along with third-year pivot Zabransky and Matt Nichols, who rejoins the Eskimos after serving a short stint on the practice roster last season.