Lumsden released

Jesse Lumsden isn’t giving up on football. The Edmonton Eskimos released the oft-injured running back Wednesday a year after beating out Toronto, Winnipeg and Hamilton to sign him as a free agent.

The Edmonton Eskimos released Jesse Lumsden on Wednesday after failing to get medical clearance.

The Edmonton Eskimos released Jesse Lumsden on Wednesday after failing to get medical clearance.

Jesse Lumsden isn’t giving up on football.

The Edmonton Eskimos released the oft-injured running back Wednesday a year after beating out Toronto, Winnipeg and Hamilton to sign him as a free agent. But the Edmonton native’s homecoming lasted just one quarter as the 27-year-old suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in his Eskimos debut and has yet to be cleared medically to resume playing.

“I’m not saying no to football, I’m not done yet,” Lumsden said during a conference call. “I’m a football player. That’s one thing I pride myself on.

“It would be easy for me to quit and walk away from football and do something else but I love the sport and truly feel I belong in the sport still. To say I’m disappointed would be an understatement . . . but I don’t think my time is done yet.”

The former Hec Crighton Trophy winner as Canadian university’s top player said his surgeon hasn’t given him medical clearance to resume playing.

“I had met with him (surgeon) and he hadn’t cleared me for contact about a week and a half ago and I’m going to meet with him again at the end of the month,” he said. “He said the surgery went very well and he’s very pleased with where I’m at, he just wants to get me a little bit stronger.

“The Eskimos’ decision going off their medical staff feel it’s a chance they’re not willing to take and it’s a business decision on their part. I’m going to continue to rehab and train and work out and get ready for a football season, wherever and whenever that may be for me.”

Eskimos GM Danny Maciocia said Lumsden was released for medical reasons and not to save money. Lumsden was entering his option year and reportedly poised to earn a six-figure base salary.

“What makes this so tough is knowing you’re dealing with such a great guy,” Maciocia said. “But at the same time you’re five weeks out from training camp and you know you need to have healthy bodies going into camp and can’t bring in anybody who’s not physically ready to compete.

“The way we were structured with our cap, we could’ve carried him but a healthy Jesse Lumsden . . . doctors are forewarning me now that there was no way he’d be ready.”

The six-foot-two, 226-pound Lumsden — who grew up in Burlington, Ont., and competed for Canada in the two- and four-man bobsleigh events at the Vancouver Winter Games — has the rare combination of speed and size that makes him a threat going wide while also being able to get the tough yards inside. When healthy, the 27-year-old is among the CFL’s best.

Trouble is, staying healthy has been a problem.

Before signing with Edmonton, he played just 19 games over his final two seasons in Hamilton due to consecutive season-ending shoulder operations. Lumsden rushed for 584 yards on 87 carries (6.7-yard average) with five touchdowns in 2008 for the Tiger-Cats after running for 743 yards on 98 carries (7.6-yard average) and three TDs in 2007.

Lumsden also battled knee and ankle injuries in Hamilton and prior to coming to the CFL hip ailments hampered him during NFL tryouts with both the Seattle Seahawks and Washington Redskins.

Still, the Eskimos hoped Lumsden — whose father, Neil, was a former fullback with the Edmonton club — would give the offence balance and bolster an anaemic running attack that in 2008 was the CFL’s worst, averaging just 85.2 yards per game. By comparison, the franchise led the league in passing, averaging 335.1 yards per game with quarterback veteran Ricky Ray.

The addition of Lumsden was to give Edmonton the luxury of going with an all-Canadian backfield with fullback Mathieu Bertrand, with reliable veteran Calvin McCarty, a B.C. native, available in the wings.

Edmonton’s run game improved to sixth overall in 2009 (107.4 yards per game) thanks in large part to rookie Arkee Whitlock. He was third among CFL rushers with 1,293 yards while averaging a sparkling 6.1 yards per carry. The emergence of Whitlock and presence of both veteran McCarty and young American Ramonce Taylor made Lumsden expendable.

Lumsden, Hamilton’s first-round pick in the 2005 CFL Canadian college draft, rushed for 1,797 yards and nine touchdowns over four seasons with the Ticats.

Edmonton certainly didn’t do Lumsden any favours with the timing of his release, given the CFL draft concluded Sunday and training camps are set to open in less than a month.

“The timing isn’t great,” Lumsden said. “But this is part of the nasty side of the business, to be released before training camp and after a draft.

“But I’m not going to let it deter me.”

In fact, Lumsden plans to use his situation as motivation although he says he has yet to contact other CFL teams.

“For anybody who knows me on a personal level I’m just going to use this as a stepping stone and try to create an opportunity out of it,” he said.

That opportunity isn’t likely to include a return to Hamilton even though Lumsden was a fan favourite there. Rookie DeAndra’ Cobb emerged as a solid running threat last year, rushing for 1,217 yards and averaging over five yards a carry. The Ticats also have veteran Kenton Keith under contract.

Toronto, though, could be a more likely destination.

Veteran Jamal Robertson ran for 1,031 yards last year but signed with B.C. in the off-season. That leaves Canadians Jeff Johnson (10 seasons), Bryan Crawford (five seasons) and Andre Durie (three seasons) as the club’s most experienced running backs.

But none are close to Lumsden’s career rushing totals. Johnson (186 carries, 771 yards) comes the closest with Crawford (20 carries, 96 yards) and Durie (eight carries, 42 yards) both far behind.

Argos GM Adam Rita said given Lumsden was just released his club hasn’t started examining the merits of signing him. But he added Lumsden certainly has appeal.

“I think he’s a person of interest for everyone,” Argos GM Adam Rita said of Lumsden. “He’s a very good back who has been very unlucky.

“He’s had back to back to back injuries so there is a red flag there but I think everybody will investigate his situation.”