CFL Pass

Bombers better not low-ball big Willie

With a starting quarterback signed and sealed, it’s time for the Grey Cup champion Winnipeg Blue Bombers to deliver on their next priority.

Zach Collaros may have thrown some pretty passes in Winnipeg’s title run, but it was the Bombers defence that did much of the dirty work.

Scrape the mud from the undercarriage of that three-game road trip to glory and you’ll find the numbers that mattered most: Holding playoff opponents to 14, 13 and 12 points in the West semifinal (Calgary), the West Final (Saskatchewan) and the Grey Cup (Hamilton), respectively.

At the wheel was defensive end Willie Jefferson, who shifted into a whole new gear in the Grey Cup.

That three-sack, two-forced-fumble performance put a stamp on a 2019 campaign that saw Jefferson named the CFL’s top defensive player for the first time in his career.

The timing is rich: Jefferson will become a free agent on Feb. 11.
We can only imagine No. 5 has asked to be paid like the No. 1 defensive player in the league. That’s just the way it works.

So if Calgary wrecking ball Micah Johnson is cashing cheques worth, say, $250,000 per season, Jefferson’s ask will be north of that.

South of the border, the 6-foot-7, 248-pound freak of nature has attracted attention, too, working out for the NFL’s Miami Dolphins.

Bombers GM Kyle Walters told us on Tuesday he planned to touch base with Jefferson again that day. But he wasn’t holding his breath on making any progress.

“You can’t force a player to make any sort of decision,” Walters said. “He’s doing what’s best for him and his family, and he can take as much time as he wants. But… how long do you hold that bit of money back, hoping that you get Willie later at the potential expense of missing out on another player?
“That is the dance, I guess.”

This free-agent boogie has an added step this year.

A new rule allows CFL teams an early window to approach pending free agents from opposing teams. That window opens on Sunday.
Anyone ogling Jefferson can legally let him know they have bags of cash set aside for him.

Now, this kind of February chit-chat has always been as common as a Winnipeg snow plow, but it was always on the q.t.. This year there’s no need to dig out the cloak and dagger.

“Theoretically, it’s to stop the tampering,” Walters said. “So if somebody wants to put an offer in for Willie, they have to put it on paper, register it through the league and Willie and his agent will see it. And that team will be held accountable to that number.”

The Bombers will also be allowed to see it, and adjust the numbers on their cheque, accordingly, during the last two days before free agency.
Jefferson caused migraines for opposing offences all season, rolling up a dozen quarterback sacks, good for third place in the league, and a CFL-high six forced fumbles.

He also used that pterodactyl wingspan to swat down 16 passes, a league record for a D-lineman.

To say the Bombere defence wouldn’t look the same without him is like saying the Sistine Chapel wouldn’t be the same without the painted ceiling.
Not that fellow end Jackson Jeffcoat and middle linebacker Adam Bighill can’t wield a brush.

But Jefferson was the star attraction. The one player you’d crane your neck to see.
Walters has to pay him accordingly. Because if there’s one thing Jefferson despises more than an illegal chop block, it’s being low-balled.

The Saskatchewan Roughriders found that out the hard way a year ago, when Jefferson stiff-armed their offer of some $175,000 to bolt for Winnipeg and a $210,000 payday.

The Bombers don’t want to be on the wrong end of his next spin move.

“Willie and I have had good talks,” Walters said. “And it seems cordial and we’re both saying the right things to each other. But he’s not overly concerned about talking CFL contract at this moment, while he’s still trying to figure out if he can get an NFL deal.”
At 28, that’s no slam-dunk, no matter how good the man is.

There are exceptions which prove that rule, Calgary defensive back Tre Roberson the latest example, signing with Chicago, at 29.

Jefferson also has a list of minor transgressions (marijuana use) from his past that may dissuade NFL teams. But that list isn’t nearly as notable as the list of CFL O-lineman he’s left grasping for air on his way to consuming their quarterback.
With that in mind, the Bombers have two choices, should he return to this league.

They can pay him now.

Or pay for it later.

Bombers lean to McGuire as Streveler impresses NFL

It appears more and more likely dual-threat quarterback Chris Streveler is going to get a shot at playing south of the border.

Streveler has had workouts with three NFL teams in the last two weeks, including one with the Miami Dolphins on Tuesday, with a number of other teams also expressing interest in the just-turned 25-year-old.

The Bombers certainly aren’t counting on him to reprise his 2019 role as a change of pace from starter Zach Collaros, a combination that produced Winnipeg’s first Grey Cup in 29 years.

Right now that would leave the No. 2 quarterback role in the hands of Sean McGuire, the third-stringer last season.

“Sean made a very good impression on everybody,” GM Kyle Walters said. “But again, young quarterback, an unknown. But he showed enough to have everybody excited to see how he progresses into a second year.”

While the 6-foot-2, 218-pound McGuire, 24 next month, would likely run Winnipeg’s short-yardage offence, nobody expects him to duplicate Streveler’s work.

“He’s a big, strong guy with a strong arm, and willing to do whatever it takes,” Walters said. “But I don’t think it’s fair to try to think that anybody, honestly, can do what Chris did.”

Streveler ranked sixth in the CFL with 726 rushing yards and tied for the lead with 12 rushing touchdowns last season.

He passed for another 1,564 yards, with eight touchdowns and 14 interceptions.


More on this: 737 stories