November 30, 2017

And Then There Were 18 | Bomber Free Agents

Maurice Leggett (31) of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers during the game against the Edmonton Eskimos at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg, MB. Thursday, July 14, 2016. (Photo: Johany Jutras)

Kyle Walters and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers football brain trust have been chipping away at their pending free agent list, knocking the number down to 18 over the past few weeks.

And while that total might sound some alarm bells, consider that it is the second fewest in the Canadian Football League next to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, who head into December with 17 pending free agents.

The league released the official list Thursday morning, and unofficially – depending on what deals might already be in the hopper – there are currently 217 active players who will become free agents when the market opens at 11 a.m. CT on Tuesday, February 13th, 2018.

The Bombers signed kicker Justin Medlock to a one-year contract on Thursday, adding him to the recent signings of offensive linemen Jermarcus Hardrick and Pat Neufeld, running back Timothy Flanders and defensive back Derek Jones.

Here’s a list of the other pending Bomber free agents, with a look at their age and production (in alphabetical order):

OL Travis Bond

Age: 26
FYI: His 2016 season was dominant as he turned 12 starts into a spot on the CFL All-Star Team and was named the Bombers’ Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman. He ended the 2017 season missing the last two regular season games and the playoff loss to Edmonton. He might get another NFL look, but the Bombers also got solid play from Pat Neufeld at the left guard spot when Bond was injured, and his future may depend on whether they are committed to starting three Americans up front.

OL Stanley Bryant

Age: 31
FYI: Hasn’t missed a game since joining the Bombers in 2015 and is coming off a season in which he was named the CFL’s Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman. He’s durable, a three-time all-star, and still seemingly with a ton left in his tank.

SB Clarence Denmark

Age: 32
FYI: Denmark was one of the feel-good stories of 2016, returning after being released to put up superb numbers (53 catches for 705 yards and eight TDs in just 10 games). His totals in 2017 were comparable: 58 receptions for 608 yards and seven TDs, but in his last eight games – including the playoffs – he was just 18-196-1. He’s a future Bombers Hall of Famer because he’s already in the club’s Top 10 in receiving yardage, but the question is whether he’ll be moving on or have the chance to move up the charts further in 2018.

SB/WR Weston Dressler

Age: 32
FYI: He was a 1K receiver for the Bombers in 2016, but injuries cut his numbers this past season as he finished with 51 receptions for 691 yards and three TDs in just 11 games. He remains one of the CFL’s best receivers, is likely headed to the Canadian Football Hall of Fame, and – more importantly from a Bombers perspective – is one of the favourite targets of Matt Nichols. But there is also no shying away from his age and the fact he has missed 11 games over the last two years with the Bombers.

WR Julian Feoli-Gudino

Age: 30
FYI: Coming off his best season as a pro – 45 catches for 462 yards and three TDs. But at season’s end, it was Matt Coates starting at the Canadian receiver spot and Drew Wolitarsky, who is just 22, is also in the picture.

DB/KR Kevin Fogg

Age: 27
FYI: Ended the year playing linebacker for the injured Maurice Leggett, but made his primary contributions as an extra defensive back and the club’s primary punt returner, finishing sixth in the CFL with 775 yards and a TD.

OL Manase Foketi

Age: 27
FYI: Hard to get a read on Foketi, other than the coaching staff continues to rave about him even though he played only three games in 2016 and never took a snap in 2017. He’s an import tackle on a team with two all-stars at that position in Bryant and Hardrick.

DB T.J. Heath

Age: 30
FYI: He’s been nothing but solid since coming to Winnipeg from Toronto in the Drew Willy trade. Heath was a CFL all-star last year and a West Division all-star this season (the 2017 CFL All-Star Team will be unveiled soon) and has proven to be a ball-hawk with 12 interceptions, seven of them coming in 24 games with the Bombers.

LB Sam Hurl

Age: 27
FYI: He’s criticized by many, but did finish third on the team with 65 tackles, an interception, sack and forced fumble. Hurl earned the starting middle linebacker gig coming out of training camp, but saw his snaps drop as the season progressed and Ian Wild returned from injury.

LB Kyle Knox

Age: 28
FYI: The athleticism is there, to be certain. But the Bombers also gave him every opportunity to grab the starting MLB job last season and he didn’t. He’s a solid special teams guy and flashes brilliance occasionally on defence, but is that enough?

QB Dan LeFevour

Age: 30
FYI: Did everything asked of him in his first year as Bomber. A big man at 6-3, 236 lbs, he gives the offence a dynamite option in third yardage and in his one start as a Bomber, helped manage the team to victory in the regular season finale in awful conditions in Calgary.

LB Maurice Leggett

Age: 31
FYI: A common take overheard during Grey Cup week: the Bombers shot at the Grey Cup was flushed the moment Leggett was lost for the season with a ruptured Achilles while fielding an on-side kick to preserve a win over B.C. in mid-October. Leggett, simply put, makes plays including 50 tackles, three sacks, three interceptions – one for a TD – and three forced fumbles while also returning a punt for a score. But the Achilles injury can leave a lot of doubt.

DT Drake Nevis

Age: 28
FYI: The Bombers signed Nevis – like Euclid Cummings before him – to help shore up their run defence and provide some push up the middle. There were flashes of that, including his best game of the season in Game 18, but not enough. Still, there are questions about the production from the inside and whether it is more scheme-related.

FB Christophe Normand

Age: 26
FYI: He’s good at his job, but the decision by the Bombers to use both Andrew Harris and Timothy Flanders in the attack means his offensive touches are going to be even more limited.

CB Chris Randle

Age: 29
FYI: Authored his best season as a pro en route to being named the Bombers Most Outstanding Defensive player. A career-best five interceptions and two defensive touchdowns in 2017, but it’s his leadership both on and off the field that makes him so valuable.

DT Jake Thomas

Age: 26
FYI: Forever under-rated, Thomas already has six seasons and 101 games under his belt and he’s still just 26. Set a career high with 21 tackles and tied a career high with four sacks while also picking off his first pass. A hard-hat and lunch-pail guy who is as durable as they come.

DE Jamaal Westerman

Age: 32
FYI: An arm injury cut short a productive season for the vet, as he was among the league leaders with seven sacks in 11 games before going down. He has 32 sacks in 47 games over three years as a Bomber – moving him into the team’s Top 10 – but the emergence of Jackson Jeffcoat means his return isn’t a given. Still, what Westerman gives in the dressing room and in his daily work in terms of leadership is also of immense value.

LB Ian Wild

Age: 27
FYI: He’s a gamer and he’s an intelligent and quiet leader on the defence. The issue with Wild is his injury history: he missed six games in 2016 and only appeared in five games this past season.