February 27, 2018

Off-season moves to date

Edmonton Eskimos SB Adarius Bowman celebrates his TD against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers during fourth quarter CFL West Division semifinal playoff action in Winnipeg on Sunday, Nov. 12, 2017. (CFL PHOTO - Jason Halstead)

They are still chasing a potential big-name ratio changer – and a familiar face – in Henoc Muamba.

And while they may still kick the tires on some other talent still available over the next few weeks, there is a very real sense the Winnipeg Blue Bombers have done all their heavy lifting when it comes to reshaping their roster through Canadian Football League free agency.

The Bomber brass were busy long before the deadline a couple of weeks ago, locking up 13 of their own free agents before they hit the market in offensive linemen Jermarcus Hardrick, Pat Neufeld, Stanley Bryant and Manase Foketi; kicker Justin Medlock; running back/receiver Timothy Flanders; defensive tackle Drake Nevis; linebackers Ian Wild and Maurice Leggett; defensive backs Chris Randle, Kevin Fogg and Derek Jones, and receiver Weston Dressler.

That was augmented by the addition of veteran pieces like quarterback Darian Durant, receiver Adarius Bowman, and defensive backs Anthony Gaitor and Steven Clarke before free agency officially started.

GM Kyle Walters introduces new Bomber, Adarius Bowman.

And when the annual talent store opened, the club then added a pair of homegrowns in receiver Nic Demski and running back Kienan LaFrance, both from the Saskatchewan Roughriders, and a pair of ex-B.C. Lions in versatile defensive back/linebacker Chandler Fenner and defensive end Craig Roh.

Couple all those additions with the annual defections – Jamaal Westerman, Travis Bond, T.J. Heath, Clarence Denmark and Jake Thomas have either signed elsewhere or no longer appear to be in the team’s 2018 plans – and the Bombers roster has undergone a significant makeover even before the team gets to training camp.

With all that in mind, here’s a recap of some of the free agent changes and how they impact the Bombers depth chart (*indicates Canadian):


In: Darian Durant
Out: Dominique Davis (Ott), Dan LeFevour (retired)
Newcomers: Josh Straughan, Philip Nelson
Returnees: Matt Nichols
Synopsis: Landing Durant gives the Bombers a proven, veteran starter behind Matt Nichols and makes the depth chart at the most important position on the field the deepest it’s been in over a decade. Both Straughan and Nelson showed enough during a visit last fall to earn training camp invitations.


In: Kienan LaFrance* (Sask)
Out: Christophe Normand* (Edm)
Newcomers: Zach Bauman
Returnees: Andrew Harris*, Timothy Flanders, Mike Miller*, John Rush*
Synopsis: Andrew Harris is the clear-cut starter and import Timothy Flanders would be his back-up if something were to happen to the CFL’s top Canadian player. LaFrance is an intriguing addition as he is more of a tailback-type capable of filling in for Harris in an emergency than was Normand, a fullback. All three – Harris, LaFrance and Flanders – have the skillset to play the running back/receiver hybrid position.

Kienan LaFrance (left) and Nic Demski (right).


In: Adarius Bowman (Edm), Nic Demski* (Sask), Mitchell Baines* (Ham)
Out: Julian Feoli-Gudino* (Ott.) Clarence Denmark (free agent)
Newcomers: Corey Washington, Tylor Henry*, Gary Brown, Brendon Thera-Plamondon*
Returnees: Darvin Adams, Weston Dressler, Matt Coates*, Chris Givens, Ryan Lankford, L’Damian Washington, Myles White, Drew Wolitarsky*
Synopsis: The Bombers vowed at the end of last season to get more weapons on the field around Nichols and in landing Bowman and Demski, have done just that. Bowman’s numbers were down last season – he had 45 catches for 534 yards and five TDs in 12 games – but he is just one year removed from his spectacular 2016 season in which he went 120-1,761 with nine TDs. In Demski the Bombers believe they have a ready-to-bust-out talent if he can stay healthy, and a player that could allow the offence to feature two Canadians in the receiving corps, along with Matt Coates.


In: None
Out: Travis Bond (Sask)
Newcomers: Cody Speller*
Returnees: Matthias Goossen*, Stanley Bryant, Sukh Chungh*, Michael Couture*, Manase Foketi, Jermarcus Hardrick, Patrick Neufeld*, Qadr Spooner*

Synopsis: Bond’s departure means there will be a change up front to a unit that has been both consistent and durable over the last two seasons. He is a pile pusher from the guard position, but his fate here was sealed late last year when Neufeld capably replaced him. That means the Bombers will now start three Canadians along the O-line, giving them more ratio flexibility.

Craig Roh (93) celebrates his tackle during the second half of CFL action in Vancouver, B.C., on Friday, October 14, 2016. (CFL PHOTO – Jimmy Jeong)


In: Craig Roh (B.C.)
Out: Jamaal Westerman (Mtl); Jake Thomas (free agent)
Newcomers: Sam Montgomery, Chris Casher, Daniel Awoleke
Returnees: Trent Corney*, Jackson Jeffcoat, Tristan Okpalaugo, Ian Marouf*, Faith Ekakitie*, Cory Johnson, Drake Nevis
Synopsis: Even with the departure of two Canadians in Westerman and the uncertainty with Thomas – who remains unsigned – there are a lot of pieces here. Corney and Ekakitie still provide the option to use Canadians, but the addition of Roh augments a crew that features Jeffcoat, Okpalaugo, Johnson and Nevis.


In: None
Out: Sam Hurl (Sask), Kyle Knox (Mtl)
Newcomers: None
Returnees: Jovan Santos-Knox, Maurice Leggett, Ian Wild, Jesse Briggs*, Shayne Gauthier*, Thomas Miles*, Frank Renaud*, Kyrie Wilson, Jevaris Jones (practice roster).
Synopsis: The picture changes dramatically here if the Bombers land Muamba, who is also being wooed by the Montreal Alouettes. It’s not just that he is a Canadian and would provide stability at the middle linebacker position, it’s that he is coming off a year in which he led the Riders in tackles and total defensive plays with 106 (82 tackles, 11 special teams tackles, two quarterback pressures, three forced fumbles, two interceptions, five knockdowns and one tackle for loss). If Muamba takes a pass on a return, the club is more than content to begin camp taking a look at Santos-Knox or Ian Wild in the middle, along with two players from last year in Wilson and Jones and whomever else they might find through their scouting department.


In: Chandler Fenner (B.C.), Anthony Gaitor (B.C.), Steven Clarke (B.C.)
Out: T.J. Heath (Tor)
Newcomers: Tevin Homer, Zavian Bingham, Eric Patterson, Travis Howard, Sam Brown
Returnees: Brandon Alexander, Kahlen Branning*, Abu Conteh*, Kevin Fogg, Derek Jones*, Taylor Loffler*, Brendan Morgan* (returns after being released prior to last season), Robert Porter, Chris Randle, Brian Walker.
Synopsis: Heath’s exit takes a ball-hawk out of the secondary, but the Bombers have added some interesting pieces that could give the unit more flexibility. Fenner, like Maurice Leggett, can play both defensive back and the strong-side linebacker position and Gaitor and Clarke do have some experience. Add that crew to a unit that includes CFL All-Stars in Randle and Loffler and sophomores like Walker and Alexander, and the camp battles for spots figures to be intense.