THE quarterback situation will be the single biggest issue confronting the Winnipeg Blue Bombers this off-season, but it will hardly be the only one.
The club has at least 11 potential free agents, including six starters on defence -- linemen Fernand Kashama, Jason Vega and Bryant Turner, linebacker Marcellus Bowman, defensive back Jonathan Hefney and defensive back/linebacker Johnny Sears.
The good news is that as they cleared out their lockers at Canad Inns Stadium Sunday morning, those players expressed a desire to return in 2013.
Vega said he would like to know who the next defensive co-ordinator will be before he makes his final decision, but he sounded like he's leaning towards returning. "I'd love to be back here in this city with this organization, but there's a lot of things that have to get figured out in the meantime."
Sears said he'd be interested in seeing if he has any NFL opportunities, but said he'd be happy to come back. "NFL is not always the right case. And I don't have a problem in coming back and giving it another run with these guys... The locker-room here is great. It wouldn't be hard for me to come back."
Turner was more unequivocal about his desire to return. "I love it here. The people are nice. We have a really good team, whether the record will show it or not. We've got a really close team. I think good things are going to happen for Winnipeg soon, especially with the new stadium."
Kashama also had nothing but good things to say about returning. "We've got a good thing going here... I feel like I fit in good with the system here."
Bowman enthusiastically endorsed Winnipeg as a place to live -- "I love Winnipeg, I really do" -- and he said he hates contract negotiations and has no desire to get into long and drawn out discussions. "I just hope that whatever decision is made is made in a timely manner. I don't want to drag it out. Hopefully, I can get whatever deal with whoever done soon... I just want to get the process over with and know where I'm going to be and how I will set my mind for the future."
Hefney said last week that he also would like to entertain NFL offers this winter, but will come back to Winnipeg if nothing materializes down south.
Both Vega and Turner said they'd be really happy to play again under Casey Creehan, who was previously the Bombers linebackers coach and would be a leading candidate for the vacant defensive co-ordinator job next year if he gets fired by Hamilton.
Creehan was the Ticats defensive co-ordinator this season and could be out of work soon after a season in which the Ticats defence struggled mightily. Burke and Creehan go back a long way and the former might be willing to overlook Creehan's struggles in Hamilton as he surveys the landscape for a defensive co-ordinator to replace himself.
With Creehan still under contract in Hamilton, Burke has brushed aside any discussion of bringing him to Winnipeg. But Burke did have an answer when he was asked on Sunday if he'd like to bring back all the potential free agents on his defence.
"I would think we would want to bring most of them back. But the likelihood of bringing everyone back is not a sure thing by any stretch of the imagination. There might be one or two slip away. But certainly we're going to make an effort," said Burke.
Other potential Bombers free agents this winter are slotback Clarence Denmark, running backs Chris Garrett and Carl Volny, backup quarterback Justin Goltz and defensive back Deon Beasley.
Garrett, who was expected to start at tailback this year after a strong finish to the 2011 season, missed the entire year with a torn Achilles tendon but said he'd like to re-sign and take on the formidable task of challenging Chad Simpson -- who took over for Garrett and rushed for over 1,000 yards -- in training camp next summer.
"I started my career here and I want to play here as long as possible. But it's a business and I know that."
Denmark laughed when asked if he'd be seeking a raise in his negotiations. "A raise would be nice, but really I just want to play football. And to play here. I've played here for three years and it's been good to me."