Unless you’re anxiously waiting to find out who the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ long snapper will be in 2021, this year’s CFL free agency likely won’t be all that exciting around these parts.
There’s not a lot of room, or money, for new faces in Bomberland as general manager Kyle Walters has been busy crossing names off the team’s pending free agents list for the past two months. If there is a 2021 CFL season, the Blue and Gold will return to the field with the majority of its 2019 Grey Cup-winning roster. The CFL free agency window officially opens today at 11 a.m. local time.
“This offseason we really focused on trying to bring the main core back that won and once we were able to do that there’s just not a lot of money left to be spending,” Walters told reporters in a conference call Monday morning.
“We’ll take a look and see if there’s any names out there that we want to add for some competition or some value. We might kick the tires on a few guys, but there will be no big splash. I can’t imagine.”
Outside of some depth pieces, the Bombers appear to be set on offence and defence. It’s on special teams where they have the most question marks. The players the Bombers weren’t able to reach agreements with is mostly made up of special teamers in kicker Justin Medlock, long snappers Chad Rempel and Maximue Latour, and defensive back Kerfalla Exumé who tied Mike Miller with a team-high 25 special teams tackles in 2019. The Bombers would love to have arguably the best kicker in CFL history return, but Medlock, 37, is currently working full-time and hasn’t decided if he wants to keep playing. Walters believes there are several options out there if the veteran kicker decides to hang up the cleats.
A potential replacement is kicker Marc Liegghio, a highly touted prospect out of Western University who the Bombers picked in the fifth round of the 2020 CFL Draft. Liegghio converted 22 of 24 field goals and averaged 47.5 yards per punt in 2019 at Western. The CFL’s four-round Global Draft on April 15 is another option to find a leg as well.
“We knew at some point and we talk every year, ‘OK, what’s the plan if Justin decides to retire this year? We’ve obviously talked it through… We drafted a young kid from Western last year who had a very successful university career to come in and be groomed by Justin (in 2020).
“That was the plan before this. Now, we didn’t get a chance (to do that), but he’ll be given an opportunity and there’s still good American kickers down there who can do them all (field goals, punts and kickoffs) and the Global Draft is filled with Australian kickers that are solid players as well,” Walters said.
Laying low might not have always been the plan, though. Last week, B.C. Lions star receiver Bryan Burnham told reporters things “got interesting” with the Bombers during the league’s negotiation period before he ultimately decided to re-sign. According to Walters, that story was blown out of proportion.
“There was nothing formal. There was nothing formal to discuss with regards to numbers,” he said. “I think whatever the agents use as leverage for their own teams is what a lot of the time happens to be honest with you. So, you know, there was really nothing formal about that… We went after Bryan a couple years ago in free agency if I recall and knew he has very strong ties to Vancouver and it would be very difficult for him to leave that city.”
As for his own guys, Walters spoke about the majority of his players who are hitting the market. Similar to Medlock, longtime long snapper Rempel is on the fence about retirement. Linebacker and special teamer Thomas Miles, a Winnipeg native, is also contemplating moving on from football. Exumé, who played university ball for the Montréal Carabins, has a baby on the way and will likely look to play closer to home. Receivers Lucky Whitehead, a former Dallas Cowboy, and Canadian Daniel Petermann will test the free agent market. Whitehead turned some heads at the beginning of the 2019 season but eventually lost his starting job to Rasheed Bailey.
“When you bring back most of the roster, guys who weren’t starting or weren’t dressing, I completely understand them and their agents’ mindset to go explore other options that might be better for them or a better opportunity to get onto the field,” Walters said.
“That’s exactly Lucky and I think Daniel Petermann as well. That’s in their mindset and I certainly don’t blame them for that.”
More important than who will be snapping and kicking a ball for the Bombers is what a 2021 season will look like and how the league will be able to pull it off. No one has the answers on that as this time. Until there’s some clarity on the season, Walters said the message to his players remains the same.
“The message has been hey, let’s just keep moving full speed ahead as if it was a normal offseason because we don’t know any different,” he said.
“We’ll handle any sort of curveballs that come our way, but until we get some confirmation on anything, let’s just proceed as normal.”
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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