With the deadline for CFL teams to submit their protected lists only six days away, the strategy for how the Winnipeg Blue Bombers will try to acquire a franchise quarterback should be coming into focus.
Now that the Ottawa Redblacks have declared they do not intend to select players who may not be under contract in 2014, there is an emerging school of thought the Bombers should sit back and wait to make their moves until free agency begins on Feb. 15.
If we can believe this, that the Redblacks will not choose any player that is a pending free agent, this is a potential game-changer for the Bombers if they still have their sights set on Toronto Argonauts backup QB Zach Collaros.
As it stands right now, Collaros will not sign an extension with Toronto, simply so they can trade him to Winnipeg before the expansion draft. He says he will wait until he is a free agent to sign, so not only can he choose his final destination, but reap the financial benefits from a possible bidding war.
This is not necessarily a bad thing for Winnipeg, because they wouldn't have to give up anything other than cash to sign him, and the number of clubs interested in paying No. 1-pivot dollars in free agency should be limited to themselves and Ottawa.
According to the expansion rules, Ottawa is limited to selecting only two quarterbacks during the expansion draft, and no more than one from any team. Since they say they won't select potential free agents, and we think we know which quarterbacks are worth selecting, the Bombers should be able to forecast their potential targets with relative accuracy.
Toronto will protect Ricky Ray, and Collaros will not be selected because he will be a free agent. In Hamilton, Dan LeFevour will be protected because the Ticats won't have to worry about losing Burris, as he is also a pending free agent. Saskatchewan will protect Darian Durant and won't have to worry about Drew Willy (free agent), and Edmonton will protect Mike Reilly and not have to worry about Matt Nichols (free agent). Montreal will protect Troy Smith and their No. 2, Josh Neiswander (free agent), shouldn't be taken. B.C. is vulnerable, as they will protect Travis Lulay but will have moderately attractive prospects at Nos. 2 and 3, as Thomas DeMarco and Buck Pierce are under contract. Winnipeg will protect Max Hall, but will not care if anybody else is selected.
So from this list, as it currently stands, you can be assured Ottawa will definitely select one of Calgary's three quarterbacks, as all three are signed for 2014, all three can play, and they can only protect one. The Redblacks can then pick only one more quarterback from the remaining teams -- it can't come from Calgary again. Based on what we just reviewed and the expectation from CFL insiders, Bo Levi Mitchell will be protected in Calgary. Ottawa will thereby select either Kevin Glenn or Drew Tate, and possibly Thomas DeMarco from B.C.
The problem with this prediction is it is entirely predicated on what the Ottawa Redblacks have generously volunteered, so I wouldn't trust it.
That is a mighty long list of pending free agents who won't be protected if CFL teams take Ottawa's word for it.
Ottawa may not be able to force any potential free agent to sign with them if they do select one, but they will be able to negotiate with them exclusively until Feb. 15, and that is an advantage.
If you were the Bombers, would you be proactive about your opportunity to sign a top-rank pivot, or reactive?
If Collaros has already rebuffed Toronto's attempts to extend him, the Argonauts should be open to trading his rights until Feb. 15 for next to nothing. Then the Bombers could work on making him an offer he couldn't refuse and not risk entering a bidding war against Ottawa or a potential NFL tryout.
It couldn't hurt to try, could it?
The same goes for the situation in Calgary. If the Stamps have zero pending free agent QB's and can only protect one, the Bombers should be able to trade for a Drew Tate or a Kevin Glenn for a very reasonable sum and protect him.
If they traded for one QB under contract and another with whom they could work to sign until Feb. 15, I would dare say the pivot spot would be dramatically improved.
There is value in the ability to bargain exclusively and wine and dine a quarterback over the next two and a half months.
With what potentially hangs in the balance if they miss this opportunity, I wouldn't sit back and wait to see whether Ottawa stands by their word or not. I would go out and try to secure what I want right now.
Doug Brown, once a hard-hitting defensive lineman and frequently a hard-hitting columnist, appears Tuesdays in the Free Press.