Wednesday night’s Grey Cup celebration at IG Field wasn’t about the future, it was about being present.
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers just won back-to-back championships for the first time since 1961-62.
Go ahead. Soak it in. After all, sometimes teams like this only come around once in a lifetime.
The majority of the Bombers haven’t even fully digested what happened in Sunday’s thrilling 33-25 victory over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats at Tim Hortons Field in the 108th Grey Cup. But with that said, it’s hard not to think about the future. With one-year contracts being the current trend in the CFL, you can build a team, or see one fall apart, in a hurry. The biggest obstacle standing in the way of a three-peat will be the team’s ability to retain as many players, and coaches, as possible.
And that starts at the top with head coach Mike O’Shea. His deal runs through next season, but there’s some rumblings the Edmonton Elks are preparing to throw an offer at O’Shea to be their head coach and general manager.
“I’ve got an interest in hanging out and drinking more beer with the team today. And that’s what I’m focused on,” said O’Shea, who was wearing a t-shirt and socks and sandals while speaking to the media on the field prior to the celebration, when questioned about the rumour.
“Sure, I know why you’re asking. And I know what I want to do right now… Due to the lack of sleep and the magnitude of this win and the importance of our players right now, I’m really looking forward to getting back in that dressing room. Especially since I didn’t put a coat on.”
The Bombers had 21 starters from the 2019 Grey Cup and 45 players overall back in 2021. With all the uncertainty and lost income from the cancelled 2020 season, many of those players took pay cuts to return to the River City. But this offseason, especially after another championship, there’ll be no shortage of names looking for a raise. Quarterback Zach Collaros, running back Andrew Harris, wide receiver Kenny Lawler, left tackle Stanley Bryant, defensive ends Willie Jefferson and Jackson Jeffcoat, safety Brandon Alexander, and linebacker Adam Bighill are some of the most important names not under contract for 2022. In total, the Bombers have over 40 potential free agents.
“It’s gonna be big. This off-season is gonna be fun,” said Jefferson.
“I know what I want to do, I’ve been talking to Kyle (Walters) and talking to Wade (Miller). Right now all of us just want to enjoy the win, enjoy it with our family. And when the off-season really rolls around, we’ll start talking contracts then.”
Collaros was brief when asked, but said he’d love to stay in blue and gold. But one of the most interesting names to keep an eye on will be Bighill. Nobody took a bigger paycut than him as he got hit with a $145,000 reduction prior to 2021. The CFL’s Most Outstanding Defensive player lives in Winnipeg year-round with, but the 33-year-old is going to want to get what he deserves.”I do have a career outside of football as a financial advisor here. That doesn’t mean I can’t still pursue that career somewhere else, because I can. Just always easier to stay where you are,” said Bighill.
“We have a home here, so this is home. But, for me, I have to take a serious look at if I’m going to play four more years, what are those four years going to look like for me? You just have to take a very serious look at the time you have left and make the most of it.”
For someone like Jeffcoat, who sometimes doesn’t get the recognition he deserves since he plays on a defensive unit with household names in Bighill and Jefferson, he might be a player that’s ready for a new opportunity. There isn’t a team in the league that wouldn’t want to add Jeffcoat into the fold.
“I’m gonna take my time and think about and talk to my family. I’ll eventually do some negotiations with Winnipeg and figure out what’s best for me and we’ll figure it out,” said Jeffcoat, who led the team with nine sacks this season.It’s not a problem that’s unique to the Bombers as every CFL franchise has a massive list of players with expired deals. It’ll be impossible to get everyone back, but the advantage that Winnipeg has is that seemingly everyone raves about being a part of their organization.
“Just the people. I know that sounds simple, but top to bottom, the people of the organization, the guys in that locker room, they’re the right guys,” Collaros said.
“I think to win championships you have to be around great people and we have that.”
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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