Blue Bomber Report Record: 5–3–0

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Walters gets early look at prospective CFL free agents, ponders plan to rebuild last-place Bombers

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He's got a hammer in one hand, a saw in the other. And on Thursday Kyle Walters got a sneak peek at some of the building blocks that might be available to him for the massive rebuild of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers this winter.

The CFL released Thursday a team-by-team list of prospective free agents who would hit the open market on Feb. 15 and Walters -- officially named the Bombers GM this week -- has to be intrigued by the collection of quarterbacks and divisional all-stars still unsigned.

After all, Walters has said the club will be active in free agency to address the number of needs for a squad coming off a 3-15 stinker.

"I'm cautiously optimistic," Walters said Thursday. "In the position we're in where clearly we need to upgrade our roster in areas and with all the free agents who could be available, there's -- you don't want to say excitement -- but there is a potential avenue that we can explore to improve our roster more aggressively than we've done in the past."

The league-wide list of free agents is juicier this year because of two key factors:

  1. Teams were reluctant to sign players to extensions with the Ottawa Redblacks expansion draft coming in December, the thinking being the CFL's new entry might be reluctant to select players who were about to become free agents;
  2. The current collective bargaining agreement expires before next season and the belief the salary cap may jump has many players and agents eager to test the free-agent market.

"No one is really into extending (contracts) right now," Walters said. "Normally you'd see some players getting their contracts extended at the end of the year before Christmas. There's a pause on that, there's just going to be no rush to extend guys between now and the Ottawa draft."

The Bombers' list of prospective free agents is 23 names deep and includes linebacker Henoc Muamba, the club's Most Outstanding/Canadian/Defensive player who is planning on taking the next two months to sniff around NFL opportunities.

The other Bombers possibly heading to the market include East Division all-star running back Will Ford, cornerback Jovon Johnson, centre Justin Sorensen, guards Steve Morley and Marc Parenteau, homegrown receivers Jade Etienne, Akeem Foster and Rory Kohlert, defensive end Kenny Mainor, defensive backs Brandon Stewart and Alex Suber, punter Mike Renaud, running back Chad Simpson and receiver Chris Matthews, both of whom have also indicated they will chase the NFL dream.

"You can look at our list and the general public can pick out the guys we want to extend," said Walters. "We're not going to do any of that before the dispersal draft. We've been in works with a few of those guys to try and get some conversations started and see if we can get contracts in place after the dispersal draft and before they become free agents. That work is going on right now."

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

AND THE NEW COACH IS...

KYLE WALTERS has a whole pile of items on his to-do list, but at the very top is finding a new head coach and putting together a scouting staff.

Word around the CFL continues to point to Mike O'Shea, currently the Toronto Argonauts special-teams coach, as the leading head coaching candidate with Saskatchewan Roughriders QB coach -- and Bomber hall of famer -- Khari Jones as offensive co-ordinator.

Walters remains tight-lipped on the search, but did provide this:

"We're right in the thick of it. We've got interviews scheduled for the next few days. We'd like to get the initial round of interviews done, short-list the next round and then go from there. It's the same thing with the scouts and the scouting department talked to and touched base with the 25 or 30 guys who have shown interest on top of the guys that you're asking for permission to speak to from other teams. That's a lot of names to sift through and it's quite a long process.

"With everything else that is going on that's still the top priority. That's what I've learned quickly: prioritize what needs to get done and focus on that or else you get spread too thin.

"I'm looking forward to having people in place that you can have all these discussions with," added Walters. "When you run ideas by yourself, everything sounds great. It'll be nice to have a group think-tank going and be able to throw ideas back and forth with each other. I'm looking forward to have a staff and scouts in place to have some good football discussions."

-- Tait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 29, 2013 C4

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