It was a heck of a week for Montreal Alouettes offensive lineman Philippe Gagnon. The 27-year-old was released by the Ottawa Redblacks on Monday, but he managed to get himself a new gig before the weekend. On Thursday, Gagnon signed a one-year with the Alouettes, who drafted him second overall in 2016.

The four-year veteran is still living in Ottawa, but he’s excited to get back to his home province. We chatted about COVID-19, his departure from Montreal, the struggles he faced during his year in Ottawa and his decision to come back to the Als.

Here’s the chat:

Joey Alfieri: How has the COVID-19 situation affected you?

Philippe Gagnon: The only thing that’s really changed day-to-day is my work out. Obviously with the gyms closed and all that I had to get a little more creative. I do have a bunch stuff at home like a TRX, some free weights, a weighted vest and bunch of bands and stuff. I can still get my sweat on. I can still get a pretty good workout. It’s not your classic bench. It’s a little more aerobics and stuff.

JA: How do you mentally prepare for a training camp that might not happen or that will be delayed?

PG: I’m preparing to be ready for Day 1. And then if I have some extra time to prepare some more, so be it. I’m going to be ready for Day 1. I’m hoping that it’s going to start on time.

JA: How surprised were you by the timing of your release from the Redblacks? 

PG: I wasn’t expecting a release. After the season, with the way the CBA is, with the salary cap barely moving up and the minimum salary moving way up, I was expecting maybe a pay cut or being released earlier. The news itself didn’t surprise, it’s the timing of it that blindsided me a little bit.

Given the situation, I think I’ve made the best of it by coming back to Montreal. That’s where I had the best years of my life. So I’m really happy with the way things worked out in the end. 

JA: How stressful was it to be released a month after the free agency period began?

PG: When I first got the news, my mind started going 1,00,000 miles per hour. Like I was kind of – I don’t want to say panicked – I know what type of player I am. I’m a Canadian offensive lineman and there’s a demand for these kinds of players in the league. So I knew I was probably going to be able to get another shot somewhere. Even the fact that I didn’t know where and when, that shot was going to come. Yeah, I was a little worried. My agent (Rob Fry) called all the general managers in the league and Danny Maciocia came back with an offer. I wanted to jump on that and that’s just what happened. 

JA: Why did you decide to sign with Ottawa last year instead of returning to Montreal?

PG: Long story short, it was just a clash of vision and what needed to be done to have a winning team on the field between management and some of the coaching staff and I. I don’t want to revisit all the past and you know the people that have left since I left and came back. I don’t want to name anybody and spend too much time on that. But basically that was it. Just a different vision. I didn’t agree with some of the things that were said and some of the things that were being done. And so I knew as a player that you don’t have a lot of say with that stuff. So I basically moved away from that and tried to build a career somewhere else. Now that these people are gone and that I’m back and that I have the opportunity to be in Montreal again, I’m ecstatic. I’m really happy to be coming back under these circumstances with the management, coaching staff and people they have there. 

JA: What did you hear from Montreal this time around that made you want to come back?

PG: Just all the excitement that’s really province-wide concerning the Alouettes. With everybody being excited about the season, me being one of the them. I know most of the coaching staff and even a bunch of players. I kept in touch with a couple of the offensive linemen. We’d text every now and then. They have a pretty exciting group and I’m glad to be part of it. 

JA: How surprised were you with the amount of success the Als had in 2019?

PG: After the initial news (Mike Sherman being let go) after camp, I wasn’t surprised anymore by the success that they had with the people and the players that took over. I knew they had potential to be good. When I left Montreal, it wasn’t because I thought we sucked or it wasn’t because I wanted to. It was just that I didn’t want to play for certain people that were in charge over there. Once those people were gone, I knew good things were going to come their way. 

JA: How did you deal with being a healthy scratch early on in Ottawa last year?

PG: That was part of the game. I knew coming in that they had their five best offensive linemen coming back. Spoke with the people before I signed and I knew that was the plan until injuries happened. I knew I was going to have to bide my time, which is what I did. I did see some playing time as a starter in the last eight games. I

I knew that going in. It wasn’t the best of situations. I’d rather be playing football than watching football, I’ve always said that. Even though I knew what I was getting into, it still kind of sucked. It wouldn’t have been my first choice. I would’ve rather played. I knew it was something I was going to have to deal with to go the team closest to home (Quebec City) after Montreal. 

JA: Why did the Redblacks struggle so badly in 2019?

PG: It all stems from (offensive coordinator) Jamie Elizondo leaving three weeks before training camp. At that point, as much as I like cooperation, there was too many chefs and not enough cooks. You can’t have everybody pull their own thing and get things done their way. You need a clear leader, you need a clear OC. Someone with a vision, who’s going to do his own stuff. So, I think that definitely was a big part of our lack of success on offence. 

JA: You suffered a nasty left knee injury (he tore his ACL, MCL, PCL, a bit of meniscus and the posterior lateral corner) in 2017. Are you totally healthy heading into 2020?

PG: Yeah, I’m good. I know I had a problem with my knee that in the past. In 2018, my last year with Montreal, I kind of rushed back to play a little earlier than I should have. With the way my contract was set up (he was scheduled to become a free agent that winter), I needed to be on the field to get my money. So yeah, I rushed back a little bit and that hurt my performance for sure. 

I’ve been healthy, no injuries last year. I even shed the brace. I don’t play with braces anymore. 

JA: So if you had a contract for the following year, you wouldn’t have rushed back as quickly as you did.

PG: Yeah, I did rush back. I’m equally to blame for that. I wanted to be the tough guy. Like I don’t need time off, I’m good, I can play. Even if it hurts and all that. Looking back, it wasn’t the best thing for me because I wasn’t playing at the level that I could’ve been. And it wasn’t the best for the team either because I wasn’t playing as well as I could have played. It’s a young guy, full of testosterone kind of of deal. I wanted to be the tough guy. You live and you learn. 

(Feature Image Credit: Montreal Alouettes)