February 15, 2018

Gm Kyle Walters on Free Agency

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers are kicking the tires again on what has become another Henoc Muamba sweepstakes.

But if the former Bombers draft pick – cut adrift by the Saskatchewan Roughriders on Wednesday – opts to sign elsewhere, the club is more than comfortable with their in-house linebacker options.

Bombers GM Kyle Walters met with the media Thursday morning to provide a free agent update three days into the opening of the market, and discussion turned again to the plans for the middle linebacker position, particularly after Muamba’s release.

“He’s a quality Canadian starter, which in our league puts you at a premium,” said Walters. “Everybody right now will take a look at their roster and look at their ratio and say, ‘Can we or can we not fit Henoc in? What’s the price point? How does it fit to the ratio?’

“It’s no different than when any quality player gets released, particularly a Canadian. I don’t anticipate us being any different than any of the other teams.”

The Bombers have been down this road before with Muamba, of course. He was their first-round pick, first overall, in 2011 and by his third year with the team, had morphed into a CFL all-star. He parlayed that into a two-year stint in the NFL with the Indianapolis Colts, but upon his return has spurned offers from the Bombers on two separate occasions – in 2015 when he signed with the Montreal Alouettes and then a year later when he landed with the Riders.

Asked about some of the other free agent linebacker names out there – Taylor Reed of Ottawa, Bear Woods of Toronto – Walters stressed again the confidence the Bombers have in the players already under contract in Ian Wild, Jovan Santos-Knox, Kyrie Wilson and Jevaris Jones.

“I think that does a disservice to the guys we have,” said Walters. “The reality of the CFL roster is in certain areas, you’re going to have to have younger potential guys playing. It’s just the reality of every team. That being said, Jovan Santos-Knox, in the latter half of the year, was a dynamic young football player. He played the (weak side) linebacker spot, and played the (middle) in college. He can play either. Ian Wild is back under contract and he’s played both as well.

“Yes, I understand the general talk about the linebacker spot. But we’ve got two guys who have played the (middle) and the (weak side) spot at high levels at various times in their career, plus we’ve got a couple young guys that we think really highly of.”

Wilson, FYI, spent most of last year on the practice roster and did dress for one game, while Jones joined the team late after a stint last year with the Oakland Raiders.

Walters said the Bombers will keep their eyes open as to potential fits as free agency continues, but management is more than content with the moves made to date, including re-signing some key vets before they went to market, adding the likes of Adarius Bowman, Darian Durant, Anthony Gaitor and Steven Clarke before free agency and Nic Demski, Kienan LaFrance and Chandler Fenner this week.


“The agents are still sending out their lists of guys who are still available and you have discussions about guys and who fits in,” Walters said. “The rosters, unfortunately, are getting awfully full right now. You’re starting to plan for your training camp roster and who fits in and if you start adding guys, who’s got to go and things like that.

“You do your due diligence as far as kicking the tires on who can come in and what they’re going to cost. Nothing imminent, I would say.”

The Bombers had continued negotiations with defensive end Jamaal Westerman into free agency before he opted to sign with Montreal. In the meantime, they had Demski in their crosshairs and were keen on adding LaFrance to provide depth behind Andrew Harris while learning the hybrid receiver/running back spot Timothy Flanders plays.

“We targeted Nic,” said Walters. “I liked Nic a lot in the (2015) draft. He’s been up and down with his career, but I truly believe he’s on the verge of being a breakout player regardless of nationality. It just seemed like a good natural fit for us with what we’re doing with our ratio and playing another Canadian on the offensive side of the ball.”

The versatility of Fenner and Maurice Leggett also gives the Bombers some options on defence as both have played strong side linebacker and halfback.

“Moe’s very versatile and he and I had a chat when he re-signed,” said Walters. “He’s willing to do whatever it takes to help the team and he’s a team-first guy. He has a willingness to say ‘Put me wherever and I’ll play strong half, weak half, (strong side linebacker)… it doesn’t matter’ certainly made it easier to go target a guy like Fenner.”

Finally, Walters was asked about being in the middle of a West Division ‘arms race’, so to speak, where their rivals are continuing to load up with talent and that if you’re not getting better, you’re falling behind.

“One hundred percent. It’s crazy,” he said. “Last year was tough and everyone’s changing and everyone’s getting better. It’s going to be another dogfight in the West. Good luck predicting one through five.”