Blue Bombers GM Kyle Walters has the off-season spreadsheet blues

Article content

Kyle Walters took a call from the agent for quarterback Zach Collaros on Thursday and tossed out his usual line when he’s made a contract offer and the phone rings.

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

“This is going to be the first time where I sent out the offer and you say, ‘That seems fair. Let’s do it,’” the Blue Bombers GM told the agent.
Walters wasn’t shocked at the response.

“He goes, ‘No.’ Every offer I sent, I say, ‘This is going to be the one.’ And it never is.”

When you’re the GM of a two-time defending Grey Cup champion with a list of high-end free agents as long as Willie Jefferson’s arms, you can expect a few of those return calls.

Walters and the coaches put together a priority list and the offers went out, with an emphasis, again, on bringing back key veteran leaders.

That philosophy worked to a tee last year.

But pandemic uncertainty and league-wide paycuts back then, not to mention the prospect of defending their Cup, had players a little more willing to take the bird in the hand as opposed to hoping for a better one in the bush.

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

This off-season feels different. More normal, Walters says, with players wanting to explore their options.

“You have to decide on your core group of veterans that you’re going to make every attempt to get back, and try to spend your money there,” he said. “And try to plug holes wherever you can, whether it be free agency, scouting, the draft, that sort of stuff.”

Walters has 15 to 20 offers out, “irons in the fire,” he calls them.

One, to offensive lineman Jermarcus Hardrick, came back signed on Thursday.

“And some drag on,” he said. “You just don’t know when it’s going to come together.”

There is incentive for players to act quickly, at least if they really want to stay.

“At the end of the day there’s just not enough pie to go around,” Walters said. “Based on the pecking order and the timing of everything, the money goes. And here’s all that’s left. That’s a discussion down the road. But there will be those, for sure.”

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

Last year there was a big one of those.

Linebacker Adam Bighill took a massive pay cut to return, swallowed hard, put his work boots on and had one of the best seasons of his career, bringing down the CFL Most Outstanding Defensive Player Award.
Bighill has earned a bounce-back in pay. Others have earned raises, too.

Cue the Advil for the GM.

“I’m looking at the spreadsheet here with the numbers on it, and it’s tough,” Walters said. “We won back-to-back Grey Cups because we have pretty good football players on our team… the good players generally deserve the most amount of money, and how do you divide it all up?

“If the offers are fair or somewhat close, I generally think guys will come back here. But certain guys we’re just not going to be able to pay what the market will pay.”

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

The signings of Hardrick and D-lineman Jake Thomas this week make it six starters under contract, although at least one, defensive back DeAundre Alford, appears bound for the NFL.

The others are defensive back Deatrick Nichols, linebacker Kyrie Wilson and receiver Nic Demski.

That still leaves a whole lot of talent on the verge of free agency.
Jefferson recently tweeted out a message wondering what the CFL’s big free-agent splash would be this winter.

“We’ve got a lot of good players that I’m sure will be sought after by other teams,” Walters said.

Then there’s running back Andrew Harris. Soon to be 35, Harris was limited by injuries to just half the regular season, plus playoffs.

Could Harris be this year’s Bighill: asked to take a big pay cut if he wants to keep playing?

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

“Mike (O’Shea) will sit down with Andrew, pick his brain, and we’ll make a plan after that,” Walters said. “It’s another name on the list of discussions.”

There’s added uncertainty with the expiring collective bargaining agreement with the players union.

Add it all up, and in some ways it’s more uncertainty even than last year.

“It feels a little more daunting, to be honest with you,” Walters said. “It’s going to be very difficult if everybody wants fair market value, to bring everybody back.”

HARDRICK, JEFFERSON, LATEST TO RE-SIGN

For the second straight day, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Thursday re-signed a starter from their trenches, this time on offence.

Tackle Jermarcus Hardrick, coming off his first nod as a CFL all-star, has signed a one-year contract extension, bringing the popular veteran back for a seventh season in Blue and Gold.

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

One day earlier, D-lineman Jake Thomas re-upped.

The next big signing took even less time than that.

A member of the team’s front office was with the Grey Cup down in Texas, meeting with defensive ends Willie Jefferson and Jackson Jeffcoat, both pending free agents.

By the end of Thursday night, Jefferson had a new one-year deal, keeping one of the top defensive players in the league in Blue and Gold.

Could Jeffcoat be far behind?

Winnipeg’s “other” star defensive end took the Grey Cup to his alma mater, the University of Texas, for a photo on Thursday, before making the trophy his guest of honour at a family dinner celebration.

The trip to Texas shows how serious the Bombers are about getting both players back for a run at a third championship.

In Hardrick, the Bombers return the emotional leader of their front five, while keeping him from testing free agency next month.

The 31-year-old Mississippi product was a stalwart on an offence that scored the most points and allowed the fewest sacks in the CFL last season.

Fellow tackle Stanley Bryant, guards Drew Desjarlais and Pat Neufeld and centre Michael Couture are also pending free agents.

pfriesen@postmedia.com
Twitter: @friesensunmedia

Advertisement

Story continues below

Comments

Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications—you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, there is an update to a comment thread you follow or if a user you follow comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.

View original article here Source