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January 13, 2017

A Month Out | Free Agency Forecast

Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Matt Nichols looks to pass during CFL football action against the Calgary Stampeders in Calgary, Alberta on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Larry MacDougal

It was a move that shook up the Canadian Football League neighbourhood, the shockwaves rippling from Montreal through Saskatchewan all the way to the west coast.

The Roughriders traded veteran quarterback Darian Durant – a prospective free agent in a month – to the Alouettes on Friday for a pair of draft picks. And it was the kind of blockbuster deal that left many in the CFL wondering aloud how this might impact the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in their negotiations with Matt Nichols – also set to become a free agent on Feb. 14th.

“That’s a big trade,” began Bombers GM Kyle Walters Friday in a chat with bluebombers.com. “But what happened with Darian Durant doesn’t impact what we’re doing at all.

“Generally when a player wants to be here and we want them here, it will sort itself out. Matt wants to be here, we want him here. It’s just a long process sometimes to get these things done.”

Nichols 4

That’s a response that sounds both encouraging and unnerving at the same time, because clarity on the Nichols situation dramatically impacts what the Bombers might do in free agency when the doors to the annual talent-grab market open in a month.

While Walters admitted to being ‘cautiously optimistic’ a deal with Nichols can be completed, the Bombers also released veteran Kevin Glenn and re-signed Dom Davis a week ago, leaving a mammoth hole at the most important – and most expensive – position on any depth chart.

All that said, Walters & Co. will be approaching free agency from a completely different perspective than in the past few winters. Much of the desperation to plug many of the holes on the roster from years past is gone  after an 11-7 season and the first playoff appearance since 2011.

But with so many players still listed as free agents – 173, according to CFL.ca – there is more opportunity than ever to acquire some top-end talent and meet some needs in the market.

“It’s absolutely 100 per cent different for us than in years past,” said Walters. “We can be a lot more selective in what we’re looking at, knowing now that our roster isn’t full of holes that we desperately need to fill. That’s going to mean a completely different approach.

“The high-end talent, the top 20 or so guys, are going to get their money. But there might be a lot of players who get into free agency and then haven’t signed a few days in who may have to settle for less than what they had expected and could then be considered bargains.”

What follows is a Bomber free agent status report/update with the CFL’s free agent signing period a month away…

BACK ON BOARD

  • Stanley Bryant, OL – Extended Jan. 3, 2017
  • Dom Davis, QB – Extended Jan. 4, 2017
  • Justin Medlock, K – Extended Jan. 3, 2017
  • Chad Rempel, LS – Extended Dec. 19, 2016
  • Gerrard Sheppard, WR – Extended Jan. 4, 2017

 

SET ADRIFT

  • Kevin Glenn, QB – Released Jan. 6, 2017

 

STILL PENDING

  • Darvin Adams, WR – Potential break-out season hampered by shoulder injury. Had 51 catches for 690 yards and six TDs in eight games.
  • Khalil Bass, LB – Led the team in tackles; added four sacks, four fumble recoveries and two interceptions.
  • Jesse Briggs, LB – Valued special-teams contributor hasn’t missed a game in three years.
  • Tony Burnett, LB – Gifted athlete who was a spot starter and led the team with 19 special-teams tackles.
  • Euclid Cummings, DT – Sack totals dropped from eight in Toronto to three as a Bomber.
  • Clarence Denmark, SB – Great numbers with 53 catches for 705 yards and eight TDs in just 10 games. Turns 32 in September and that could be a factor.
  • Tori Gurley, WR – Big target scooped up after his release by the Toronto Argonauts but his impact here was limited – four catches for 62 yards in two games – as he tried to learn a new offence.
  • Macho Harris, DB – Lost his job to Taylor Loffler, who promptly turned a 13-game run as the starter into a spot on the CFL All-Star team. Respected 30-year-old vet seemed to be doing more coaching than playing at year’s end.
  • Sam Hurl, LB – Impacted last offseason as the Bombers upgraded their Canadian talent. Started just one game in ’16 – the regular season finale in Ottawa when some regulars were rested.
  • Jeff Keeping, OL – Spent the entire year on the injured reserve list.
  • Rory Kohlert, WR – Usually reliable, he went through a nasty case of the dropsies late in the season.
  • Quincy McDuffie, WR/KR – Dangerous return man, spot starter in the receiving corps.
  • Matt Nichols, QB – THE biggest item on Walters’ to-do list. Period.
  • Teague Sherman, DB/LB – Has carved out a spot here as a versatile defender.
  • James Tuck, LB/FB – Tough-as-heck special-teams demon.

 

THE QB SITUATION

Touched on above. The Bombers currently have only Dom Davis under contract after releasing Kevin Glenn and with contract talks with Nichols still ongoing.

NEEDS

  • Quarterback sacks aren’t the be-all and end-all when it comes to defensive stats – coaches value ‘pressures’ just as much – but the Bombers managed just 35 QB kills last year; third lowest in the league and 11 fewer than in 2015.
    Winnipeg has two players in its front seven scheduled to become free agents in Bass and Cummings and could certainly use more pressure from the defensive end position opposite Jamaal Westerman.
  • The linebacker and special teams depth could be further impacted by potential departures of players like Briggs, Hurl, Tuck, Sherman and Burnett. FYI, Walters said Burnett has had workouts with as many as seven NFL teams, so he might not even make it to CFL free agency.
  • The Bombers football brain trust will also have some decisions to make regarding their veteran receivers possibly hitting the market in Adams, Denmark, Gurley, Kohlert and receiver/return man McDuffie – especially with so many proven targets from across the league still unsigned.

 

THE LAST WORD

“The next few weeks leading up to free agency are going to be huge for us. But I like the way we are positioned right now.” – Walters.