Winnipeg Blue Bombers general manager Kyle Walters and Ryan Lankford (84) during the game at New Mosaic Stadium in Regina, SK, Saturday, July 1st, 2017. (Photo: Johany Jutras)
And what happens next, both in advance of the opening of the annual talent grab on Tuesday and then when the market opens, should make for some interesting drama in Bomberland.
GM Kyle Walters confirmed in his annual pre-free agency address on Friday that offensive lineman Travis Bond, receiver Clarence Denmark and quarterback Dan LeFevour have all been told they will officially hit the market on Tuesday without an offer from the club.
Bond, a CFL all-star in 2016, has been caught in the club’s decision to move to playing three Canadians on the O-line; the team is moving on from Denmark, even for as valuable as he has been to the franchise, while the signing of Durant led to the decision to move on from both Dom Davis, who was released, and LeFevour.
That leaves the Bombers with eight other pending free agents heading into next week: defensive backs T.J. Heath and Kevin Fogg, defensive linemen Jamaal Westerman and Jake Thomas, receiver Julian Feoli-Gudino, fullback Christophe Normand and linebackers Kyle Knox and Sam Hurl.
Walters spoke with the media for almost 30 minutes on Friday to touch on a number of free agent related subjects, ranging from the addition of Bowman, to the impact of one-year contracts on the market, to the move toward teams loading up on offence.
Here are some of the highlights of Walters’ address:
On whether the Bombers might still be interested in adding receiver help now that Bowman has been brought on board:
“I guess we’re looking at everything. The free agent period now… you go through scenarios the way you think they’re going to unfold and then you have to be able to react. If you wanted to spend some money here and it doesn’t go that way, where are you going to upgrade? We’ll see.
It’s a vague answer, but we’re looking to upgrade across the board. There’s certainly a domino effect. If something on the defensive side of the ball doesn’t go the way you want it, can we upgrade another spot on the offence? Is there another receiver available that you might be able to upgrade, then we’ll certainly explore those options as well. There are a lot of moving parts heading into free agency. There’s a give and take offensively and defensively as to what you can add and what you can spend.”
On where negotiations stand with the other pending free agents aside from Bond, Denmark and LeFevour:
“There are still a few on this page which are green spots, which are free agents that we’re trying to sort out. We have until Tuesday to try and sort things out. I’m not going to get into specifics of if (contract talks) are going good or bad. It’s a long ongoing process and there are tons of moving parts. Certainly, when we go in on Adarius like we have you reshuffle the salary cap and the domino effect of doing each individual move… you go through multiple scenarios if one of those players goes go to market, what’s our plan? You go through all of this stuff. Now it’s wait and see how everything unfolds.”
On whether the re-signing of Ian Wild and the emergence of Jovan Santos-Knox late last season will stop the club from chasing a linebacker in free agency:
“We look at making the roster the best we can within the salary cap parameters. Jovan had a great year last year once he got on the field and played the (weak-side) linebacker spot and in college played (middle). Ian has proven he can play either spot. We also like a couple of young guys that finished the year on the practice roster.
“Our linebacker corps, albeit not the big-name guys, we think they’re young and we think they’re athletic. Ian in there provides some flexibility and eases our mind a bit in that he can play either position very well. There are other spots on our roster, when you look at the priorities, in regards to what it’s going to cost to fill various holes and who we have in house that we think can do it currently under contract.”
On what areas the club might be targeting in free agency:
“I made the comment to Mike (O’Shea) and Ted (Goveia, Assistant GM), Ryan (Rigmaiden, Director of College Scouting) and Danny (McManus, Assistant GM) that this has certainly been the most diverse opinions when we all get together, as to how we see things.
“I’ve said this before back when I took over and we headed to free agency, we could all sit here and everybody would know the holes on the roster and what obviously needed to be fixed. It didn’t take a lot of thought or time when we’d all get together. We’d all say ‘We need to fix this, this and this…’ As you get closer to a Grey Cup calibre team, which I believe we are getting towards where we’ve transitioned to a being a solid football team now, it’s about getting from a solid football team to a championship football team. There are less roster moves to be made, but they’re more scrutinized because there are less of them.
“It’s been an interesting couple of months with the group of us trying to figure out exactly what the best plan of attack is to get our roster from being solid to being championship, which I think is the toughest part in all of sports, to get over that hump.”
On balancing the temptation to fill holes via free agency, given the number of players available because of the recent trend toward one-year contracts, versus the new talent the scouting department might find:
“Any position where there are a high number of (free agents) I think the top guys, like every year, are going to go out and get their money early. What you’re going to see is the second or third day, which you see every year, certain positions come down to earth. That’s where the agents start managing expectations for their clients, unfortunately.
“That’s going to be an interesting dynamic, those first couple of days, where the top-end guys get their money early. And then teams are going to have to evaluate how much they have to spend. I do believe there will be some solid veteran players maybe two-three days into free agency going, ‘Hmmm… that didn’t quite go as I thought it might and maybe we get some value with some veteran players at a more cost-effective rate.
“The first 24 hours will be very interesting, and then you take a deep breath and see what the landscape looks like still.”