Henoc Muamba has arguably been the best part of a very bad Winnipeg Blue Bombers team.
While head coach Tim Burke wouldn't say on Friday who he will vote for in the coming week as his team's most outstanding player candidate this season, he said a case could certainly be made for Muamba.
"He's made a lot of plays, he's made a lot of tackles. And not only is he good at linebacker, he's also an excellent special teams player," Burke said.
Muamba is also -- and this part isn't up for argument -- the best thing remaining from the disastrous period in franchise history known as the Joe Mack era. Consider the status of some of the other rare successful player signings Mack made in the three-plus years he was the Bombers GM in Winnipeg:
-- Defensive end Alex Hall -- traded for an injured non-import offensive lineman who has yet to play;
-- Tailback Chad Simpson -- done for the year with an injury and unlikely to ever return in a Bombers jersey;
-- Wide receiver Chris Matthews -- followed up CFL rookie of the year honours in 2012 with an injury-riddled season in 2013 that saw him play just four games and catch just 14 passes; a free agent at year's end and determined to pursue NFL opportunities.
Yes, as far as a legacy goes, the one Mack left behind in Winnipeg pretty much amounts to selecting Muamba with the first overall pick in the 2011 CFL entry draft. And even that is stretching things, given Muamba was the overwhelming consensus as first overall pick that year and would have been an automatic choice for any CFL GM with the first pick.
Still, in a CFL career in which Mack again and again defied conventional wisdom to make off-the-board draft picks that added up to nothing, you do have to give him credit for at least getting Muamba right.
But the problem now is that even the tiny sliver of a Mack legacy embodied by Muamba is now in peril. Despite the very best efforts of the Bombers front office for the better part of a year -- and even the addition last winter of his brother, Cauchy, to the team -- Henoc Muamba has yet to re-sign with the Bombers and appears determined to test the free-agent waters this winter, where his career-high 89 defensive tackles this season will surely attract attention.
And so it all begs the question: Are we seeing the last of Henoc Muamba in a Bombers jersey as the team plays out the final three games of a 3-12 season, beginning this afternoon at Investors Group Field versus the Toronto Argonauts?
Asked about it on Friday after his team went through one final light practice in advance of today's game, Muamba offered what sounded like conflicting answers. For instance, if you're a glass-half-full type of Bombers fan, you will love this answer by Muamba:
"The odds are really good I will be back in Winnipeg -- really good. Because like I said earlier: I love this city. Since I got drafted here, I've had nothing but love from the organization. The city itself has been tremendous, welcoming me from the first day. Even through my slumps and rough start, I've always had support. And I will always be grateful for that to this city."
Sounds like Muamba is just looking for a pen and a place to sign a Bombers contract, right? Maybe, but in the next breath, Muamba also talked on Friday about a bigger picture he's seeking that doesn't sound much like the one he's in right now.
"I just want to be in the best situation in terms of playing and being on the right team and the unit I'm playing in," Muamba said. "It's everything. I look at it as a whole -- not just one thing."
Ah yes, you're saying, but surely the fact Muamba's brother Cauchy is signed to the Bombers for at least one more year will work in Winnipeg's favour. Right?
Not necessarily. "It's definitely going to play a factor," said Muamba, "but this is a business and you want to treat every decision as a business decision... There's a lot of things that come into play and my agent is doing a lot of research and the negotiating. I hired him for that part. I know he will do what's in my best interests."
So what does Muamba's brother think he'll do?
"I really don't know," Cauchy Muamba said Friday. "I'm right now in the same position he was in last year when there was a chance I could come to Winnipeg -- I'm just sitting back and waiting for his decision."
Will that decision include considerations of the NFL, which Muamba's agent has been rumoured to be pursuing for his client? The good news for Bombers fans is that it doesn't sound like it will.
"I've never played four-down football," Muamba said emphatically, "and I've never heard from any team down south."
So, what do you have with Muamba? Hard to say for sure, as he's a tough guy to parse, but a portrait has begun to emerge that looks something like this: A man who is being tugged right now by loyalty to his family and his team, but who also wants to cash in while he can and probably wouldn't entirely mind doing it with a CFL team that has a better chance to win than this one.
Muamba says the odds are good that he'll be back next year. Bombers fans can only hope so. But just to be safe, you'd be wise to enjoy him in a Bombers uniform these last three games, while you still can.