TORONTO — He's the CFL's highest-paid non-quarterback and Derel Walker intends on playing like it in 2019.
Walker was the Toronto Argonauts' biggest splash in free agency, signing a one-year deal reportedly worth around $275,000. And Walker's goal with his new team is to become its No. 1 receiver.
"I feel like I've put in the time and work to (assume) a No. 1 role," Walker said Friday night prior to the Argos' town hall meeting with fans and season-ticket subscribers. "I haven't had that since I've been in the CFL.
"I'm just going to bring a lot of confidence and tenacity with me for these other (Argos) receivers."
Veteran S.J. Green, 33, has been Toronto's No. 1 receiver since his arrival prior to the 2017 season. The six-foot-two, 216-pound Green had 83 catches for 1,095 yards and four TDs last year and has amassed 187 catches for 2,557 yards and 14 touchdowns with the Argos after suffering a serious knee injury in 2016 that limited him to just two games with the Montreal Alouettes.
"S.J. Green is a veteran who's been doing it," Walker said. "He's in this game right now because he's been doing what he's been doing.
"I'm going to learn a lot from him and I'm looking forward playing with him as well."
During free agency, the Argos flew Walker to Toronto for a visit that included watching the Toronto Raptors beat the Washington Wizards at Scotiabank Arena from Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment’s private suite. MLSE owns the CFL franchise.
Other teams also wanted Walker to come for a visit but he settled on signing with Toronto rather than making those trips.
Walker, 27, had 51 catches for 875 yards with eight TDs in 11 games with Edmonton in 2018, a season that saw him miss time with a knee injury. Still, Walker had 297 catches for 4,208 yards with 26 TDs in 49 games over four campaigns with the Eskimos, winning the CFL's top rookie award in 2015.
"I think it (being highest-paid non-quarterback) says a lot about my hard work and dedication, how far I've come to get here," Walker said. "I've been through a lot of trials and tribulations so I'm just thankful to be in the position I'm in.
"Having said that I have to live up to those expectations and I'm definitely going to do that for sure. That's why I'm busting my butt each and every day to get better."
Walker said he considered both returning to Edmonton and following Eskimos quarterback Mike Reilly to the B.C. Lions. But in the end, Walker felt the best deal and fit for him rested in Toronto.
The six-foot-two, 188-pound Walker, a native of Hillsboro, Texas, will be reunited with quarterback James Franklin in Toronto. The two began their CFL careers in 2015 with Edmonton.
"We have a nice chemistry together as far as him placing the ball in the perfect spot for me," Walker said. "Franklin is a great guy, great quarterback, great person.
"I'm really looking forward to seeing him develop this year and seeing if we can get this going again."
In Walker, the Argos get a two-time CFL all-star and a 2015 Grey Cup champion. And Walker comes to Toronto hungry to help his team return to the playoffs after the Eskimos missed the post-season last year.
Walker signed with the NFL's Tampa Buccaneers in 2017 however was among the club's final cuts before returning to Edmonton.
"I really want to put up numbers that have never been done," Walker said. "I guess we'll see.
"I'm really looking forward to the season."
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press