February 9, 2024

First & 10 | Free Agency Preview

1. Huge few days in Bomberland this past week with the club inking Alexander, Brady Oliveira, and Dalton Schoen to new deals for 2024 – and in Oliveira’s case – through 2025.

Since the end of last season, the club has now re-signed 17 pending free agents, including 11 starters from a year ago.

That group includes the trio above along with other starters DE Willie Jefferson, DB Deatrick Nichols, Dime Redha Kramdi, C Chris Kolankowski, LT Stanley Bryant, guard Pat Neufeld, WR Drew Wolitarsky and DTs Jake Thomas and Cam Lawson, who split reps.

Also back on board are LB Tanner Cadwallader, DBs Nick and Noah Hallett, RB Johnny Augustine and LB Brian Cole.

2. The CFL market opens on Tuesday and is expected to officially announced the departures of right tackle and CFL Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman finalist Jermarcus Hardrick (Saskatchewan), all-star cornerback Demerio Houston and defensive tackle Ricky Walker (both to Calgary).

Still unsigned are defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat – who did announce Friday in a story by The Sun’s Paul Friesen that he is opting to retire – guard Geoff Gray, kicker Sergio Castillo, receiver Rasheed Bailey, kick returner/receiver Janarion Grant, linebackers Shayne Gauthier, Malik Clements and Jesse Briggs, defensive end Thiadric Hansen, DBs Kerfalla Exumé and Winston Rose, RB/Rec Greg McCrae and QB Dakota Prukop.

It was going to be impossible to keep a team that has gone to four straight Grey Cups intact, and the already reported departure of Hardrick is going to leave a huge hole on the depth chart. FYI, Drew Richmond – who was on the practice roster for a couple of years and played in just two games after suffering a knee injury and would have been a candidate to replace Hardrick – announced his retirement this week.

Leftover from Oliveira’s conference call earlier this week after the announcement of his signing:

“I do know that we have great guys in that locker room on that offensive line; a lot of young guys that I know are ready for a bigger role,” Oliveira said. “Tui (Eli) is ready for a bigger role; Liam Dobson is ready for a bigger role and obviously there are some bigger spots we’re going to have to fill with Yoshi (Hardrick) accepting terms to Saskatchewan – that’s a big role we’re going to have to fill.

“I’m very confident in the organization. The scouting department does an incredible job every single year of just finding diamonds in the rough and guys that come in right away and play. We’ve got to let them do what they do best, but I do think we’re in a very good position. We have lots of guys that have been in the building for a couple years now that are very smart football players and our offensive line coach Marty (Costello) does an incredible job of preparing them every single week, starting or not starting, for an opportunity like this in case the time does come and it looks like the time is going to come for some young guys to step in there.”

3. Debate amongst yourselves the point Oliveira made earlier this week about workload/production from the running back position across the CFL. Oliveira’s new contract will make him the highest-paid ball carrier in the CFL this season, but there are receivers in this league making more than him.

His point: he had close to 300 offensive touches with carries (260) and receptions (38) while Saskatchewan’s Shane Bane led all receivers with 93 catches.

“Everyone says the running back position is a dime a dozen, which I get it,” Oliveira said. “But at the end of the day, when you have a guy that is productive and is proven year in and year out as being productive, and the biggest thing is a guy that can stay healthy and available and help the team win games. That was kind of the case that we were trying to put forward – putting respect on the running back position.

“… You look at my production and the amount of touches I’m asked per game is quite high and I’m producing at a high level. So, guys in the league getting paid a significant amount of money for only touching the ball three or four times when you have great running backs in this amazing league that are getting the ball 15-20 times a game and are productive and their salary isn’t a reflection of their workload.”

4. One more free agency-related nugget… we’re launching our new live show – ‘The Huddle’ – on Tuesday, February 13th at 3 p.m. on our You Tube channel.

Join myself and CJOB’s Derek Taylor as we examine what the Blue Bombers have done and take a tour around the rest of the league, too.

5. A second blatant plug: check out our latest ‘Handled Internally’ podcast where Darren Cameron and myself chat with Pat Neufeld.


6. Neufeld mentions in the podcast that he is headed this weekend to New Brunswick along with Nic Demski, Jesse Briggs and Mike Miller for the ‘Jake Thomas Curling Classic’ where all proceeds go to youth football and curling in the Fredericton area.

Yours truly spoke to Thomas a week or so ago upon his re-signing with the club not included in the story was Miller’s retirement and instant move into the coaching ranks as the Blue Bombers new special teams coordinator.

“It’s going to be interesting. Maybe I’ll call Coach Miller and try to get on some special teams,” said Thomas with a chuckle. “Our relationship goes back to 2008 when we played together at Acadia. We’ve got some crazy stories and have done a lot of fun and dumb things together.

“I’d love to still be able to see Mike out there playing, but I’m so happy he’s still in the game. He’ll do an outstanding job coaching because of his fire and his passion.”

7. Coming soon, as indicated previously in this space, the CFL’s Combine will be held in Winnipeg from March 19-24 at the Winnipeg Soccer Federation North on Leila Avenue.

The CFL released the names of the Combine participants, and it can be found here. The group includes one University of Manitoba Bisons player in receiver A.K. Gassama.

Attending the CFL’s Invitational Combine at the University of Waterloo on March 8th – the top performers at that event will move on to the national combine – are Bisons DBs Stephen Adamopoulos and Nick Conway.

The first two days of the event are primarily testing, with the practice sessions going Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 10 a.m.

8. Cool sound bite from long-time NFL executive and former Atlanta Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff about Blue Bombers coach Mike O’Shea during a visit with B.C. Lions play-by-play voice Bob Marjanovich at the Super Bowl this week in Las Vegas:

Dimitroff, FYI, was born in Ohio and went to school at Guelph – like O’Shea – before getting his first pro job in football with Saskatchewan in 1990.

9. This week’s good read comes from Tyler Dunne and ‘Go Long’ and features some great Zach Collaros and Kelce brothers stories from their college days at Cincinnati. Check it out here.

10. And finally, check out our second installment honouring Blue Bombers legends during Black History Month – the first on Tom Casey and this one on Milt Stegall.