The third time was a charm for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in their quest for a new starting quarterback in 2014.
After being spurned twice in the past week -- first by Zach Collaros and next by Henry Burris -- the Bombers finally found a quarterback willing to sign on the dotted line in former Saskatchewan Roughriders backup QB Drew Willy.
The Bombers announced Thursday that they shipped non-import wide receiver Jade Etienne to the Riders in exchange for the right to exclusively negotiate with Willy before he became a free agent Tuesday -- and then promptly signed the 27-year-old New Jersey native to a two-year contract.
Details of the contract were not released.
While Willy has only two lifetime starts in the CFL, such is the woeful state of the existing Bombers QB corps that he was instantly anointed as the leading candidate to lead the Bombers offence.
"Drew is a quarterback we have always thought had very high potential in this league. He immediately upgrades us at this position, and we really look forward to him being a part of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers moving forward," Bombers GM Kyle Walters said in a statement.
"I am really excited to join the Blue Bomber organization. The support the team gets from the province of Manitoba is remarkable. With such a deep history, the fans, the new stadium, and the direction the team wants to go, it's going to be a great place to play. The people within the organization have shown genuine interest in me, and as a player, you can't ask for anything more," Willy said in a statement.
The club said Walters, Willy and head coach Mike O'Shea will all be made available to the media at a news conference Friday at Investors Group Field.
One of the interesting questions yet to be answered -- and it likely won't be today, if only because to do so would constitute potential tampering -- is whether the acquisition of Willy means the Bombers are no longer interested in cutting a deal with the Ottawa Redblacks for veteran CFL pivot Kevin Glenn.
With Ottawa acquiring Burris this week, Glenn would appear to be available -- at least for the right price -- and a quarterbacking tandem of Glenn and Willy in Winnipeg in 2014 might go a long way to easing the concerns of fans with Willy's limited playing time.
Willy (6-3, 215, Buffalo) has spent the past two seasons in Regina as the backup to Roughriders starter Darian Durant. He has started just two games -- both of them in 2013 -- and has completed just 101 passes in his CFL career.
Willy was scheduled to become a free agent on Tuesday, at which time the Bombers could have negotiated with him for free. But the club was determined not to take any chances this time around after already losing out on the CFL open market twice in the past week in their quest to find a veteran starting quarterback.
The Bombers tendered offers to both Collaros and Burris only to come away empty-handed after they chose to sign instead with Hamilton and Ottawa, respectively.
While Willy was clearly Winnipeg's third choice in their search for a new QB, club sources have been saying for weeks that he is highly regarded by their new assistant GM Danny McManus -- something the club reinforced when they included a quote from McManus in their statement announcing they'd acquired Willy.
"Drew has the attitude and determination you look for at the quarterback position. He is physically and mentally tough, and can endure the challenges a quarterback faces, day in, and day out... He is a quarterback with great promise in our league," said McManus..
As for Etienne, the Riders acquire a receiver the Bombers drafted fourth overall in 2011 but who mostly disappointed in three seasons with the Bombers. Etienne finishes his time in Winnipeg with 20 catches for 276 yards and two TDs, almost all of it produced in 2013.
Like Willy, Etienne was scheduled to become a free agent on Tuesday.
MUAMBA SIGNS: Former Blue Bombers linebacker Henoc Muamba has signed a contract with the Indianapolis Colts, the NFL team reported on its website Thursday. No terms were announced.
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