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Blue caught flat-footed

Brain trust deflects blame for disasterous (so far) off-season Muamba released, pondering NFL options

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Winnipeg Blue Bombers GM Kyle Walters made clear at the end of a disastrous 2013 season his top priorities this off-season were to sign a veteran QB to be the team's starter in 2014 and to re-sign Henoc Muamba, the team's most outstanding player and the top Canadian in the CFL's East Division last year.

Well, a week into February, the Bombers have now struck out twice in their quest for a viable starting quarterback -- and are now arguably further than they've ever been from completing that task. And, as of Wednesday, Muamba has been released to pursue NFL opportunities.

There's bad -- and then there's worse. And with the clock continuing to tick down to the start of the 2014 regular season, a Bombers team that fans were promised at the end of last season would be markedly improved in 2014 now has a leaderless defence to go along with a leaderless offence.

The Bombers argued none of this is their fault and here's their take on what has been undeniably a brutal week in Bomberland:

-- Zach Collaros was never really interested in signing with Winnipeg, the Bombers said, because he wanted to remain close to family in Ohio. And besides, they said, Collaros wasn't really the QB they wanted anyway, even though they did offer a contract last week prior to Collaros accepting a three-year deal from the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

-- Henry Burris, who was the QB the Bombers said they really wanted, got a crazy offer from the Ottawa Redblacks, the Bombers said, and they weren't prepared to match a deal from Ottawa that reportedly offers 38-year-old Burris in excess of $450,000 in the first year.

-- Muamba, the Bombers said, was released because he got an offer in the NFL.

Yes, the Bombers have to concede, it's true Muamba would never have gotten an NFL workout in the first place if they had just signed him to a contract extension last season, as they tried to do.

But again, the Bombers said that's not their fault -- they tried their best to extend Muamba, they said, and he simply wouldn't re-sign, at which point he became free to work out with whoever he wanted.

Put everything that's happened over the last week together and, according to the Bombers, none of it is the result of any failing on the part of their fledgling front office.

Of course, if the problem is always with everyone else, usually that means the problem is with you.

And, in an honest moment earlier this week, Walters conceded as much, telling Free Press reporter Tim Campbell that "certainly it's not a secret that Winnipeg in the last few years hasn't had the greatest reputation as a destination due to the way the team was run, due to the record, all that sort of stuff."

If that sounds like the new government blaming their failure to live up to their election promises on the mess they inherited from the old government, well, it's because it does sound exactly like that.

But you know what? Sometimes that lame-sounding excuse is actually true. Barack Obama really did inherit a gigantic mess from George W. Bush, and former Bombers GM Joe Mack really did leave behind a steaming pile for Walters.

Still, it's also true at some point in the Obama administration enough time had passed and he owned the mess all on his own, just as there will very soon come a time where Bombers fans will grow weary of Walters pointing at a picture of Mack every time he cannot sign a free agent.

The good news for the Bombers -- and, yes, there actually is a sliver here and there -- is the debacle of the past week has happened early enough in the off-season that wrongs can still be righted.

With free agency set to open Tuesday, all the money Walters has proudly saved the Bombers by not signing free agents could presumably be lavished next week on the likes of stud free agents such as Montreal offensive lineman Josh Bourke and linebacker Shea Emry; Toronto cornerback Patrick Watkins; B.C. defensive end Keron Williams; or even, dare to dream, Saskatchewan running back Kory Sheets.

As for experienced quarterbacks, the cupboard is now almost bare with Collaros and Burris out of circulation, although the Bombers insist Riders backup Drew Willy, who's thrown the grand total of 101 completions in his pro career, could be a viable option for them at starting QB once he becomes a free agent..

Or there's Kevin Glenn, who looks a bit crowded these days now that Burris is in Ottawa. While the Redblacks are publicly insisting they will go to training camp with Glenn, Burris and Thomas DeMarco, there are also reports out of Ottawa they could be persuaded otherwise -- say, with Winnipeg's second-overall pick in this year's CFL draft.

That's a high price to pay, of course, for a QB in Glenn who Winnipeg fans already ran out of town once -- and who was available last off-season from the Calgary Stampeders for a second-round pick, if the Bombers had been interested.

But with Collaros and Burris now off the market, Walters suddenly finds himself in what is decidedly a seller's market for experienced CFL quarterbacks.

Prices are high and getting higher. But those high prices are going to pale in comparison with the cost of the empty seats this Bombers team is going to play to at their expensive new stadium if Walters cannot figure out a way to improve his team.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 6, 2014 D3


Updated on Thursday, February 6, 2014 at 8:17 AM CST: replaces photo

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