Toronto Argonauts quarterback Ricky Ray (centre) looks over at James Wilder Jr. (right) as he speaks to fans gathered in Toronto’s Nathan Phillips Square as the team hold a Grey Cup winning rally on Tuesday, November 28 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Argos running back Wilder Jr. says he plans to sit out 2018 CFL season

Toronto Argonauts running back James Wilder Jr. has decided to sit out the 2018 CFL season.

The CFL’s top rookie last season issued a statement Wednesday saying he’s received interest from “several NFL teams” this off-season. Wilder Jr., who’s under contract with Toronto through the ‘18 campaign, said he’s reached out to the Argos several times but they’re unwilling to allow him to pursue those opportunities so he’ll skip playing in Canada this season to safeguard against a potential “career-ending injury.”

“It’s a decision I’ve prayed on while speaking at length with the people closest to me, including my mentors,” Wilder said. “I wish it could be different.

“I don’t want to put my football dreams aside but as a father of four, playing for $56,000 Canadian (about US$45,000) without any potential protection from career-ending injury isn’t enough to give my family comfort.”

Wilder Jr. added the Argos weren’t willing to re-do his CFL deal “to reflect the value I believe I bring to the team.”

The six-foot-three, 232-pound Wilder Jr. enjoyed a stellar first season with Toronto. After starting the year playing primarily special teams, Wilder Jr. became the Argos’ starting running back and in 10 starts ran for 872 yards (7.2-yard average) and five TDs while adding 51 catches for 533 yards.

Wilder, 25, was a one-man show in Toronto’s 34-26 home win over the Edmonton Eskimos on Sept. 16. He ran for 190 yards and a TD on 11 carries and added seven catches for 67 yards.

The following week, the former Florida State star rushed for 141 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries and had six receptions for 77 yards in a 33-19 victory over the Montreal Alouettes.

After being named the CFL’s top rookie, Wilder Jr. capped his season by helping Toronto beat Calgary 27-24 in the Grey Cup game at TD Place in Ottawa.

Argos general manager Jim Popp declined comment when contacted Wednesday night.

After helping the Seminoles win an American college football title, Wilder Jr. entered the ‘14 NFL draft as a junior but was bypassed. He spent time with the Cincinnati Bengals (2014-15) and Buffalo Bills (2016) before signing with Toronto.

Wilder Jr.’s father, James, was a former NFL running back with Tampa Bay (1981-89), Washington (1990) and Detroit (1990) and remains the Buccaneers all-time rushing leader (5,957 yards).

Wilder Jr. concluded his statement by thanking CFL fans, his Argos teammates and coaches as well as the organization’s front office.

“This isn’t the end of my football career just a business decision for my family, a minor setback in advance of a major comeback,” he said. “I hope my decision can be respected and Gold bless you all.”

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