Winnipeg Blue Bombers general manager Joe Mack offered a spirited defence of his handling of the current off-season on Friday, answering critics who think he hasn't done enough to improve a team that finished 6-12 in 2012 and missed the playoffs for the third time in four seasons.
Mack has been taking fire since free agency began on Feb. 15 for his continuing refusal to aggressively pursue free agents, even as East Division rivals in Montreal and especially Hamilton have gone hard in the past month to improve their squads.
Mack has never in his time in Winnipeg been an aggressive buyer in the free-agent market and he said Friday he has the facts on his side if you look at recent league history.
"I'd suggest if you look at the CFL -- and I don't mean any disrespect to the players who signed -- you will find that the high-priced free agents that signed (last year) did not make a significant difference to the performance of their teams," Mack said in a phone interview with the Free Press.
"Just go back and look at the highest-priced (free agents) last year. Not to pinpoint him, but a lot of people were talking last winter about the loss of (former Bombers wide receiver) Greg Carr.
"Well, in fact, Greg Carr was (traded for a backup offensive lineman) by Edmonton last season.
"So I think if you do an honest evaluation, the signing of free agents gets overplayed. The last time I heard, the CFL doesn't give any victories for signings in February."
Mack said he believes his approach to finding talent, which focuses on finding the hidden gems in the huge pool of players who fall through the cracks in the U.S. every year, is the better approach and one that has brought big rewards to Winnipeg in recent years.
"If you look at our all-stars, the vast majority were signed in the last two years -- the Bryant Turners, the Alex Halls, the Chris Matthews, the Chad Simpsons. So I think we have shown a track record in being able to get productive American players.
"And then we also have a number of talented young Canadians coming up -- Cory Watson, Henoc Muamba, Kito Poblah."
Mack said he thinks his team's failures on the field last season -- which led to the mid-season firing of former head coach Paul LaPolice -- had a lot more to do with the series of injuries that kept starting quarterback Buck Pierce on the sidelines for most of the year than it did with any perceived failure on Mack's part to recruit good talent.
"To be quite honest with you, it comes down to the quarterback," said Mack.
"I know I'm probably sounding like a broken record... but everything really does come back to that."