4 NFL Players Who Started in the CFL

The name Mike Reilly may mean much to NFL fans, but if you live in Edmonton, Canada and are a fan of the Canadian Football League’s Eskimos, then he’s the man of the hour — if not the season. In 11 games for the Edmonton Eskimos, Reilly threw 19 touchdown passes for 3,747 yards. Of course, when those gaudy stats come attached to a 5-6 record, though, NFL teams are not knocking down Reilly’s door for a chance to play quarterback in the U.S.

The former Central Washington star played as an undrafted free agent for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2009, but he was cut at the end of the preseason. Reilly has either played on the practice squad or been claimed off of waivers by the Rams, Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks. He went north of the border in 2010 to play for the BC Lions before Edmonton received him in a trade in 2013. Reilly will go down in the pro football annals as a CFL star who never made it in the NFL. There are, however, more than a handful of players who began their career in the CFL, only to return south and star in the NFL.

1. Warren Moon (Houston Oilers)

4 NFL Players Who Started in the CFL
Warren Moon played for the Houston Oilers and the CFL | Mike Coppola/Getty Images

Despite a career at the University of Washington that included a 1978 Rose Bowl win (he was named MVP), Warren Moon went undrafted by NFL teams in 1978. Heading to Alberta to play pro bowl, Moon piloted the Edmonton Eskimos to five Grey Cup championships and was named the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player in 1983. In his six years with the Eskimos, he threw for 144 touchdowns and over 21,000 yards.

In 2001, Moon was named to the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. Jumping to the NFL for the 1984 season, his services were won by the Houston Oilers. Over the next 16 years, with the Oilers, Minnesota, Seattle, and Kansas City, Moon threw 291 touchdowns, compiling more than 49,000 yards. In 1990, with Houston, he was the league MVP and Offensive Player of the Year. Since hanging up his spikes after the 2000 season, Moon was named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Despite never playing a game for the Tennessee Titans (the former Oilers), Moon’s No. 1 jersey has been retired.

2. Joe Theismann (Washington Redskins)

4 NFL Players Who Started in the CFL
Joe Theismann played for the Washington Redskins and the CFL | Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

A former All-American and Academic All-American, Joe Theismann’s illustrious career at Notre Dame ended with him being named to the College Football Hall of Fame and a fourth-round selection by the Miami Dolphins in the 1971 NFL Draft. Unable to reach a contract agreement, Thiesmann headed north to play for the Toronto Argonauts. In his three years in Toronto, he threw for 40 touchdowns and was named to the CFL All-Star team twice.

In 1974, the Washington Redskins obtained the former South Bend, Ind. star’s rights, and in 1978, he became the team’s starting quarterback. Throughout his 167-game career, Theismann threw for more than 25,000 yards and 160 touchdowns. Sadly, what the 1983 All-NFL All-Pro is best known for is receiving a career-ending injury at the hands of Lawrence Taylor on a Monday night in 1985.

3. Cameron Wake (Miami Dolphins)

4 NFL Players Who Started in the CFL
Cameron Wake played for the Miami Dolphins and the CFL | Elsa/Getty Images

After a strong career as a linebacker and defensive end at Penn State, Cameron Wake signed as a free agent with the New York Giants in 2005. Released before the season, he played for the BC Lions of the Canadian Football League. Seemingly receiving a new lease on life, Wake played defensive end for the BC Lions, leading the CFL in sacks in 2007 and 2008. He was named Most Outstanding Defensive Player both those years, too.

Wake’s play in Canada caught the attention of more than half of the NFL teams, and in January 2009, he signed a four-year deal with the Miami Dolphins, which included a $1 million signing bonus. At age 35, Wake is in his eighth year with Miami, where he has registered 70 sacks, two fumble recoveries, and 16 forced fumbles. Now a part-time player, Wake was a first-team All-Pro in 2012 and has been voted to four Pro Bowl games.

4. Jeff Garcia (Philadelphia Eagles, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, San Francisco 49ers)

4 NFL Players Who Started in the CFL
Jeff Garcia played for the many NFL teams as well as the CFL | Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

Considered too small for the NFL, Jeff Garcia was bypassed in the 1994 NFL Draft, and left for Calgary, where he played through 1998 as the quarterback of the Stampeders. In his four season in the CFL, Garcia threw for 111 touchdowns. In 1998, the former San Jose State star led Calgary to a Grey Cup win over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and was named Grey Cup MVP.

After winning the Grey Cup, Garcia signed with the 49ers to be Steve Young’s backup in 1999. When Young retired, he took over as starter in 2000 with a good year statistically. Unfortunately, the team had a 6-10 record. In 2001, Garcia had a career high 32 TD passes and took the team to the playoffs for the first time in two years. After Garcia’s career began to turn sour in San Francisco, he became a journeyman, playing for Cleveland and Detroit before landing in Philadelphia where he was backup to Donovan McNabb.

After McNabb got hurt in 2006, Garcia took over and led the team to the playoffs, winning five consecutive games and the NFC East title. Garcia went on to play for Tampa Bay (He took them to the playoffs in 2007), Oakland, and a second stint with Philadelphia. In 2010, he was with the Omaha Nighthawks of the USFL and retired as a backup in Houston in 2011.

Statistics courtesy of ESPN and Pro-Football-Reference.