Bombers will have plenty of work to do with potential free agents when celebration winds down
Now that the Grey Cup hangover is subsiding, the long-overdue parade is over and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers are getting ready to go their separate ways, there is plenty of business at hand for the team brass.
A total of 23 players on the league champions, including all three quarterbacks who started games this season, can become free agents in February.
Late-season saviour Zach Collaros, super-utility backup Chris Streveler and original No. 1 quarterback Matt Nichols all have clouded futures over the next few months.
There’s no chance all three will be back, but it’s possible the Bombers will try to sign two of the three.
They won a Grey Cup using a combination of Collaros and Streveler in the playoffs and Nichols and Streveler during the season and there’s no reason to think they couldn’t be contenders again with a similar plan for next year.
It seems unlikely a team would look at Streveler as a No. 1 option at this point, given that he is far more of a runner than a thrower and has not proven his ability to execute in a passing offence — touchdown pass to Andrew Harris in the Grey Cup aside.
Collaros is sure to be in demand after he put up a 4-0 record and won three playoff games for the Bombers in just six weeks with the team. He does have a lengthy concussion history and would be a risk for any team, but he sure showed that he can run an offence, throw deep balls and be a cool, calm and collected leader.
Nichols is a question mark after he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in August and had surgery in late September. He has given five years of great service to the Bombers and could reprise his role next year if he’s fully healthy, but there are certainly those who question if the Bombers would have been able to win the Grey Cup with Nichols, not Collaros, starting games.
I think there’s a good chance they would have, but it’s not possible to know.
You’d have to say a Collaros-Streveler combination would be the best option at this point, but it will all depend on what the Bombers are willing to spend on quarterbacks and how much the two players are going to want.
There could be mutual interest between Collaros and the Toronto Argonauts, the team that traded him to Winnipeg. Argos president Michael (Pinball) Clemons expressed an interest in re-signing him when the trade was made and Collaros and his wife have a home in the Toronto area.
If the Bombers do re-sign him, they’d have to send Toronto their first-round draft pick (ninth overall) in May. That would seem a small price to pay for a quarterback who led them to their first Grey Cup in 29 years.
A great deal of what the Bombers decide to do could depend on what happens with head coach Mike O’Shea.
O’Shea, too, is a free agent at the end of 2019 and there are certainly rumours that the Argos are interested in bringing their former star linebacker back to take over a team that went 4-14 this season.
It seems more likely that he’ll stay with the Bombers, a team he has coached for six years and finally turned into a champion.
General manager Kyle Walters said at the Grey Cup that he looked O’Shea in the eye and told him he wanted him back and O’Shea looked him back in the eye and said he wanted to be back.
The general thought is that O’Shea had no interest in discussing a contract during the season and should be ready to sign on the dotted line now that the season is over.
Among the other notable players who could hit the open market are CFL most outstanding defensive player Willie Jefferson, a defensive end who had a brilliant Grey Cup, league interceptions leader Winston Rose, an all-star cornerback, all-star halfback Marcus Sayles and four of the five starting offensive linemen, including all-star tackle Stanley Bryant.
Jefferson, Rose and Sayles will all command big money in free agency and it may be impossible for the Bombers to retain all three and also address their quarterback situation. However, all have given indications that they would like to return if something can be worked out.
Another factor to consider is the re-opening of the CFL-NFL window, which would allow players in the last year of their contracts to try out for and/or sign with NFL teams in the off-season. In that situation, the CFL team would retain the player’s rights through the end of the contract, should they return north of the border.
The deal was written into the collective bargaining agreement between the players and owners this year but it has yet to be approved by the NFL.
Players who might take advantage of the window — if it indeed opens — include receivers Kenny Lawler, Lucky Whitehead and Rasheed Bailey, kick returner Janarion Grant, defensive lineman Steve Richardson and defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat.
The Bombers will still have a pretty solid base going into next season, with Grey Cup MVP Andrew Harris, receiver Nic Demski, linebacker Adam Bighill and defensive back Brandon Alexander among those still under contract.
No matter what, general manager Kyle Walters is going to have his work cut out for him, just like any year.
Only this year, there’s a little less pressure.
Grey Cup wins will do that.
POTENTIAL FREE AGENTS
Players who could become free agents in February of 2020
QB Zach Collaros
QB Matt Nichols
QB Chris Streveler
RB Johnny Augustine
WR Darvin Adams
WR Drew Wolitarsky
OL Stanley Bryant
OL Jermarcus Hardrick
OL Pat Neufeld
OL Michael Couture
DL Willie Jefferson
DL Drake Nevis
DL Craig Roh
DL Jake Thomas
LB Korey Jones
LB Thomas Miles
DB Chandler Fenner
DB Jeff Hecht
DB Mercy Maston
DB Winston Rose
DB Marcus Sayles
DB Nick Taylor
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