Whether Buck Pierce will remain a part of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers' long-term plans remains very much an open question.
But what is now settled is that no matter what happens on the football field this coming season, Winnipeg is very definitely a part of Pierce's long-terms plans.
A day after Bombers head coach Tim Burke anointed the oft-injured Pierce as his starting quarterback heading into training camp, Pierce told reporters Tuesday that he got engaged this winter to his longtime girlfriend Lori, a native Winnipegger who works for WestJet.
Pierce, who already owns a house in Winnipeg, said the couple intends to wed in May 2014.
"It's becoming my home here," Pierce said during a news conference inside the Bombers store at Investors Group Field. "I was looking forward to an early spring like everyone else and that's one of the drawbacks I guess is the winter. But I've really enjoyed it here and like I said, the more time I spend here, the more I enjoy it and enjoy the passion behind this organization."
Pierce, who is heading into his fourth season with the Bombers, has always spent his winters in Winnipeg and regards year-round residency in the city as part of the package of being the face of the local pro football franchise, for better or worse.
"I choose to live here, I don't hide," said Pierce. "I don't sit in my basement all winter and worry about the criticisms or what the paper writes or anything like that. I enjoy life, I enjoy the opportunities I'm given. And this is just another one -- another challenge, another opportunity for me."
While Pierce has been declared the nominal starter heading into training camp -- ahead of former fourth-stringer Justin Goltz and newly acquired Chase Clement and Max Hall -- Pierce told reporters he knows he will still have to win the job this spring.
"We're going to give other guys opportunities as well and I have to hold up my end of the bargain. And that's what I plan on doing," said Pierce.
"I feel young, fresh. I feel good right now. I'm relishing the opportunity in front of me. It's going to be a challenging task to put all of the stuff behind me, but I've always had a way of turning those negatives into positives."
Pierce missed most of the 2012 season with a litany of injuries that repeatedly knocked him out of the lineup and there was serious speculation this winter about whether the Bombers might simply cut him.
But the team announced on Monday that they had decided instead to jettison experienced backups Joey Elliott and Alex Brink and bring in Hall and Clement to join Goltz and Pierce in the auditions for the QB job in 2013.
With that decision made, Pierce automatically becomes the favourite to retain his starting job to start this season, although whether he'll still have it -- or even still be upright -- by season's end remains to be seen.
Pierce and the Bombers brain trust have both said they plan to use a new offence that will put in place new blocking schemes and take fuller advantage of the club's depth at running back to keep Pierce safe from injury in 2013.
And Pierce said he's also been given strict orders this season to stop putting himself in danger with his sometimes reckless style of play.
"They don't want me to be somebody I'm not," said Pierce, "but I think they're going to be pretty strict with how I conduct myself on the football field. And I think with those parameters in place, all that stuff will take care of itself...
"If you want me to run for a first down, I will still be that player. But I think now they're going to put some other things in place to really help me on the perimeter and inside the pocket."
Pierce was asked what assurances he can offer fans concerned about his durability.
"I don't say anything to reassure them. I have to go out there and prove it," Pierce told reporters. "I feel the pressure, I know they're concerned. They want me behind centre, but they want me behind centre week in and week out.
"And there's nobody who feels that pressure more than me -- believe me that. And there's nothing more I want to do than be the guy for them and help them get to where we want to get."
Also on Tuesday, the Bombers announced they have released veteran defensive tackle Brandon Collier and signed import defensive linemen Anthony DeGrate and Marquis Frazier.
Collier registered 12 tackles and two sacks in 10 games with the Bombers last season.
DeGrate (6-1, 251, Texas A&M) was on the Bombers practice roster late last season. He most recently played with the Pittsburgh Power of the Arena Football League, where he recorded 39 tackles, 5.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries in two seasons.
Frazier (6-3, 287, SMU) recorded 142 tackles, 10 sacks and an interception during his collegiate career. He was all-Conference USA in his senior year at SMU.
Pierce's numbers in Blue and Gold
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers are gambling that the Buck Pierce they hope will lead them into the 2013 season will look a lot more like the quarterback who led them to the Grey Cup game in 2011 than the one who had injury-shortened seasons in 2010 and 2012. Here are Pierce's passing stats for his first three seasons in Winnipeg:
Comp Att % Yards Long TD % Ints % Rating