The Winnipeg Blue Bombers may be open for business, but the phone lines aren’t exactly heating up in advance of Wednesday’s Canadian Football League trade deadline.
Acting Bombers GM Kyle Walters pulled the trigger on a juicy deal Sunday afternoon, shipping defensive end Alex Hall – the league’s sack leader – and a second-round pick in the 2014 CFL draft to the Saskatchewan Roughriders for Canadian offensive lineman Patrick Neufeld and a fourth-round pick in 2015.
But it’s not like Walters has been juggling a ton of inquiries since.
"There's been no talk," said Walters Monday. "Everything's been focused on this (the Hall trade) and as of now there's nothing else in the works. We've had talks. I've been in contact with all the teams in the past couple of weeks, particularly focusing on Alex Hall and nothing else has come up. And so I can't imagine that in the next 48 hours something miraculous is going to come up that hasn't been discussed in the last two weeks."
Walters said the interest in Hall was significant over the last little while, but with the big end already making it known he wants to test the NFL next year, CFL GMs were leery of making a deal for a rental player with designs on heading south and a free agent this winter.
"There were quite a few inquiries, but nothing really serious," Walters said. "The closer it came to making firm offers that we could sift through, teams were somewhat reluctant to put offers together with the fear that Alex had expressed his desire to try the NFL. We sifted through a couple of weeks of this and then it culminated with this (Sunday)."
In Neufeld the Bombers have landed a 24-year-old Canadian lineman who can play both guard and tackle and started 13 games last year and the playoffs. But he broke his leg in camp this year and, upon his return, has been just so-so. And with the Riders’ depth along the O-line, it was unlikely he was going to be protected prior to the Ottawa RedBlacks’ expansion draft in December.
That said, Walters confirmed the Bombers had targeted Neufeld as their No. 1 priority heading into free agency last winter before he re-signed with the Riders.
As for surrendering the second-round pick next year (likely to be 11th overall if the current standings don’t change and with Ottawa picking first in each round) in the deal, Walters explained the Bombers’ rationale this way:
"The thought is, would we have been able to acquire a player of Patrick Neufeld’s ability with the second-round pick in this year’s draft. The answer is no. With this draft and where we’re at, in my opinion with the second-round pick we weren’t going to be able to get a player of Patrick Neufeld’s ability. It’s quite as simple as that."
Walters was also asked if the Hall trade officially signaled that the Bombers have ‘given up’ on this season:
"The players in there are professional players and they’re supposed to go out there and play with their maximum ability, no matter who is out there," he said. "I think ‘given up’ is a real harsh way of putting things. Every player in that locker room who is going to get a chance to play has not given up. They’re going to go out there and give maximum effort. They’re professionals and that’s what they’re paid to do."
And as for the message a deal like this sends to the players still in the Bomber locker room, Walters was up front.
"That’s the fine line you walk. That’s why this got pushed back for so long," he said. "There was interest two weeks ago about Alex Hall and if we could have pulled a win against Edmonton or Calgary and Montreal had stayed where it was then… our No. 1 goal all along was to re-sign Alex Hall. It’s been going on for a year. The No. 2 goal was to have Alex Hall on this team as we made a push for the playoffs.
"The reality of the decision is a tough decision needed to be made within the next 48 hours and that’s what was made."