Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

CFL dispersal draft could hold key to Blue Bombers' hopes

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As quarterbacking solutions go, Jason Boltus appears to be a short-term fix to a very long-term problem for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

With just 15 career passing attempts in his CFL career -- and none in the last two seasons -- the signing of Boltus this week has more to do with current injuries to Max Hall and Buck Pierce than it does with finding a solution to a problem that has vexed the Bombers for the better part of the last decade.

But the good news for the eternally frustrated bunch that are Bombers fans is that there does appear to be at least the possibility of a long-term quarterback fix for the Bombers on the near horizon.

With the Ottawa RedBlacks set to come into the league next season, the league has scheduled a special dispersal draft for Dec. 16 at which time the Ottawa franchise will get a chance to select the players left unprotected by the existing eight teams in the CFL, including two quarterbacks.

That will be good for Ottawa, of course, but it could also be very good for the Bombers, whose need for a long-term quarterback is something akin to a fireman's need for water.

With existing CFL teams allowed to protect only one quarterback at the end of this season, the thinking in the Bombers front office right now is that GMs across the league are going to be unusually motivated this fall to talk a quarterback trade with Winnipeg -- given that the alternative is potentially losing a quality QB to Ottawa for no compensation at all.

So what quarterbacks will be on the market at the end of this season? Well, it's probably easiest to first eliminate the ones who won't be on the market. B.C. is obviously going to protect Travis Lulay, Saskatchewan is going to protect Darian Durant and Toronto is going to protect Ricky Ray -- those are all givens.

Less certain -- but still very likely -- is that Edmonton is going to protect Mike Reilly. While Reilly has led his floundering team to a 1-7 record this season and has a maddening habit of saving his best play for when his team is so far behind it no longer matters, he's probably already shown enough upside this year to merit the Eskimos protecting him.

So who does that leave quarterback-wise? Well, in terms of existing starters, Hamilton's Henry Burris is a free agent at the end of this season and it's unclear what the Ticats' plans -- if any -- are for him. At age 38, the thinking is Burris has limited upside remaining, although that ignores the fact he threw 43 TD passes at age 37 and is the leading passer in the CFL again this year.

The Ticats have a few options: They could re-sign Burris and protect him from the RedBlacks; they could re-sign him, protect backup Dan LeFevour and hope the RedBlacks aren't interested in an aging pivot; or they could not re-sign Burris and see how it all plays out this winter.

The latter two scenarios would seem to create an opportunity for the Bombers, but then you're back to the same issue -- does a team in Winnipeg that never seems to find a long-term fix at QB really want yet another short-term fix? That's what Burris would most likely be for Winnipeg, given his age.

The Bombers will also have to make the same calculation about another starter, although a part-time one, in Kevin Glenn.

 

The Stampeders will almost certainly leave the 34-year-old former Bombers QB unprotected, with the current thinking being John Hufnagel and company are most likely to protect Calgary backup Bo Levi Mitchell, who has been sensational in the limited playing opportunities he's received.

Would the Bombers be interested in Glenn? Well, they certainly weren't last winter when they could have had him in exchange for their first-round pick in the 2013 CFL Draft. And how did that work out?

Well, Glenn has provided very capable relief in Calgary in 2013, boasting six TDs to two interceptions and the fifth-best QB rating in the league. And the Bombers? Yeah, you already know how that's worked out for them.

Then there's Calgary QB Drew Tate. Touted last season as the Next One in Calgary, a litany of injuries to Tate over the past two seasons has taken the shine off his apple and the betting is Calgary leaves him unprotected.

So, would Tate be the solution to the Bombers troubles? It depends on whether you think the series of injuries that have sidelined him the past couple seasons has been a string of unrelated flukes or a pattern for a guy who cannot stay healthy?

Does that calculation sound familiar? It should because that's been the same debate about Buck Pierce over the years. The Bombers bet four seasons ago that it was the former -- that Pierce was just unlucky, not injury-prone. They were wrong.

And it's precisely because they were wrong that the Winnipeg front office would be very reluctant to head down that same path with Tate.

So who else is out there? Well, if you want a really, really veteran starter, you've got to figure the Montreal Alouettes won't be protecting Anthony Calvillo after this disastrous season. On the flip side, it's hard to imagine Winnipeg pursuing him at age 40 -- and you'd have to figure Calvillo would simply retire rather than take on the challenge of a new team, especially one as mired in the muck as Winnipeg.

Saskatchewan backup Drew Willy? He's 86-of-124 with a 102.4 QB rating in relief of Durant the last two seasons, but his sample size is so small you'd basically be playing a lottery ticket.

Ditto for Argos backup Zach Collaros, who is 58-of-83 with a 114.3 QB rating and five TDs to just one interception in limited relief of Ray in Toronto the past two seasons.

Edmonton's Matt Nichols? He's got Tate's problem -- gets hurt way too often -- and he's hardly played. A bad combination.

B.C. backup Thomas DeMarco? Who?

Hamilton's LeFevour? Again, a small sample size. And it depends what Hamilton does about Burris.

Montreal will have to leave at least one of their two current backups -- Josh Neiswander or Tanner Marsh -- unprotected. Marsh looked great in leading Montreal to victory last week, just as long as you didn't mind his four interceptions and two fumbles. Neiswander, meanwhile, has 33 lifetime passing attempts in the CFL.

Put it all together and you've got a collection of men who come with issues, in some form or another. But after wandering the desert for a decade looking for a viable quarterback, the good news for the Bombers brain trust is they've got some viable candidates from which to choose.

The question now is whether this time, the Bombers will finally choose well.

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 29, 2013 D1

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