The Canadian Football League’s 2021 trade deadline came and went Wednesday afternoon without the Winnipeg Blue Bombers orchestrating a repeat of the dramatic, last-second deal of two years ago.
If you recall, it was just before the close of business at the deadline in 2019 that the Bombers acquired Zach Collaros and a fifth-round pick in the 2020 CFL Draft from the Toronto Argonauts in exchange for a third-round 2020 selection and a conditional first-round pick should the veteran re-sign here in Winnipeg. And we all know what happened next, with Collaros helping lead the Bombers on a 4-0 run through to the Grey Cup in ’19 and currently at the helm of a club that is 10-1 while being a Most Outstanding Player candidate along with teammates Willie Jefferson, Jackson Jeffcoat, Adam Bighill and Brandon Alexander.
Still even though the deadline passed this year without a move by the Bombers – the word is it was very quiet on deadline day – it’s not like team’s football brain trust hasn’t made any significant improvements over the 10 days. What happened last week, with the Bombers trading a conditional fourth-round draft pick to the B.C. Lions for kicker Sergio Castillo and then signing 2019 CFL All-Star cornerback Winston Rose and running back Shaq Cooper, were essentially the club’s trade deadline upgrades.
And they are significant.
The acquisition of Castillo helps alleviate the concerns about the Bombers kicking, even as Ali Mourtada seems to have found his groove by connecting on four of his five field goal tries and all eight of his converts after struggling mightily in a win over the Edmonton Elks back on October 8th. The CFL’s All-Star kicker in ’19, Castillo was 41-of-45 in his field goal attempts that season (91.1 percent), including five field goals of 50 yards or longer, and has a career percentage of 87.0.
That’s significant for a team that currently has just a 57.1 completion percentage in field goal attempts, worst in the CFL. The Rose addition is fascinating for a couple of reasons. First, adding the CFL’s interception leader in ’19 is remarkable, given this is an already dominant defence which is allowing just 11.5 points per game.
Winnipeg’s defence already leads the CFL in forced turnovers and is tied for the lead with 13 interceptions – including three each by DeAundre Alford and Deatrick Nichols, two of the new faces recruited after ’19 to fill the void left by the departures of Rose (to the Cincinnati Bengals) and Marcus Sayles (first to the Minnesota Vikings, then to B.C.). Where Rose fits into a secondary will be the second component of what makes his addition so fascinating. The Bombers are allowing just 223.5 passing yards per game – Edmonton is first at 212.3 – and have surrendered just three passing TDs all season.
On top of all this, the Bombers seem to have their depth covered at all positions, perhaps another indicator of why the team didn’t make even a minor deal at the deadline. That depth has already been showcased with Brady Oliveira and Johnny Augustine filling in so capably for Andrew Harris at running back and with Pat Neufeld moving out to right tackle and Tui Eli starting at right guard in the absence of Jermarcus Hardrick over the last two games. Geoff Gray, the Bombers sixth O-lineman the last two games, would start for a lot of teams in the CFL.
It’s also worth noting that the Bombers have a two-time 1,000-yard receiver on their practice roster in Naaman Roosevelt, along with veteran D-lineman Tobi Antigha and linebacker Kevin Brown, as well as defensive back Josh Johnson, who is currently on the six game injured list.
The Bombers will return to the practice field early next week, with their final three games on the schedule – November 6th at home to Montreal; November 13th in Montreal and November 20th in Calgary – all not impacting their place in the standings, having already secured top spot in the West Division. The team will then watch the Western Semi-Final on November 28th, before hosting the Western Final on December 5th, with the Grey Cup scheduled for Hamilton a week later on December 12th.
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