After winning the 2014 Grey Cup with the Calgary Stampeders, star left tackle Stanley Bryant hit the free-agent market and signed with a Winnipeg Blue Bombers team that hadn’t made the post-season in three years.
Bryant didn’t immediately right the ship as the Blue and Gold went 5-13 in his first year with the team, but his signing was a turning point for a franchise that was desperately trying to return to winning ways. After two CFL Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman awards (2017 and 2018) and a Grey Cup trophy, it’s safe to say Bryant is one of the best signings in franchise history. The 6-5, 306-pound Bryant can further cement himself as a Bomber great in 2021 as the two sides agreed to a one-year contract extension that was announced on Tuesday.
Bryant spoke to media in a conference call Tuesday afternoon and was asked if he expected his Winnipeg tenure to turn out as well as it has.
“I can honestly say no, but I knew that it was a process because Rome wasn’t built overnight,” said Bryant, who hasn’t missed a start since joining the Bombers, boosting his consecutive games played streak to 101.
“I knew things were going to be rough to start, but each and every year we kept building and building and got better on both sides of the ball and then eventually we got to the ultimate goal — we got to the Grey Cup and won it. We got to continue to build on that and just continue to move forward and hopefully build a dynasty and continue to win.”
The Bombers also announced Tuesday they’ve re-signed receiver Nic Demski to a two-year contract extension. Demski had 44 receptions for 543 yards and three touchdowns in 2019, along with 147 rushing yards and two scores. The Winnipeg native will be speaking to the media this morning.
Bryant and Demski join defensive tackle Jake Thomas, quarterback Sean McGuire and offensinve lineman Jermarcus Hardrick as players who have been recently re-signed by general manager Kyle Walters. The Bombers still have 27 pending free agents, most notably running back Andrew Harris and kicker Justin Medlock, who will hit the open market on Feb. 9 if they’re not re-signed before then.
Especially for an iron man like Bryant, a cancelled 2020 CFL season was a major adjustment. The Goldsboro, N.C., native kept busy with family, worked in real estate and started an IPTV streaming service. Bryant will be 35 years old when the 2021 season kicks off, but the five-time CFL all-star has no doubt in his mind that he will continue to be a top performer.
“You said 35? Is that accurate? I think I’m 30. I think you got me confused (with someone else),” joked Bryant, who played his first five seasons with the Stampeders after attending training camp with the NFL’s Denver Broncos as an undrafted free agent in 2009.
“Yeah, I’ll be 35, but my body feels great. My mind is also great so I’m still gonna go out there and compete at a high level and continue what I’ve been doing these past few years and that’s go out there and help this team win ball games.”
Bryant’s got nothing left to prove and has already solidified himself as a hall of famer, but he will have a chip on his shoulder in 2021. He was two votes shy in 2019 from making history and becoming the first player to win the top offensive lineman award for a third time. He was edged out by Hamilton Tiger-Cats right tackle Chris Van Zeyl.
“It’s obviously in the back of my mind. It was a great honour to be in the finals again for a third straight year,” he said. “Chris Van Zeyl had a great year and his team had a great year as well. But I mean, thinking back, it’s one of those things that, like you said, light a fire under you, to know that you got to continue to go at it, prove your worth, put in the work and show not only yourself but other people that you can still play the game of football at a high level.”
While CFL teams are busy re-signing players and restructuring contracts, there’s still no guarantee what a 2021 season will look like, that is, assuming there will even be one. Even with all the uncertainty, Bryant remains hopeful and believes contract signings like his show the league is determined to play this year.
“I think it’s a positive look and a positive step forward. Last year with the season lost, knowing how things are flowing now, things are looking great,” he said.
“I think we’ll have a season. I think things will be normal, not all the way normal, but we’ll have some type of normalcy at some point. I think the season will be great. I think the CFL will bounce back even bigger and stronger.”
Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of.
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