Blue Bomber Report Record: 6–3–0

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Hall trade a smart start

Blue GM Walters should keep dealing for future

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Yeah, so now what?

With a 38-11 loss to the Calgary Stampeders at McMahon Stadium Saturday night and the trade of CFL sack leader Alex Hall to the Saskatchewan Roughriders on Sunday, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers have accepted that whatever illusions they might have had of going on some kind of miracle playoff run have now been all but snuffed.

The Bombers have just one narrow path to the playoffs -- win all four of their remaining regular-season games and have the Montreal Alouettes lose all four of theirs.

Given this Bombers franchise hasn't won two games in a row since August 2011, the odds of that scenario are slim and none. Add to that a backdrop of a team that has lost four games in a row, six road games in a row and 11 of their last 12 and, well, you get the picture.

And so Bombers acting GM Kyle Walters did on Sunday what you would expect the GM of a 2-12 team to do -- start shedding the present to get better in the future.

The trade of Hall to the Roughriders for a non-import starting offensive lineman in Patrick Neufeld was a no-brainer for Walters.

While you can argue about Neufeld's ongoing learning curve (he's just 24) and the fact he got torched by the Bombers front-four in the Banjo Bowl last month (it was his first game in 2013 after breaking his fibula in training camp), the fact is Neufeld started 13 games for the Riders last season and as a Canadian tackle is potentially a ratio-changer for Winnipeg.

Neufeld has upside, in other words. Lots and lots of upside -- and the Bombers got him in exchange for a player who was set to become a free agent at the end of this season and had made no secret of his desire to seek opportunities in the NFL.

While there is no shortage of players in the CFL who thump their chests about going to the NFL only to slink back north after failing, Hall's dominating pass-rushing abilities, league-leading statistics and the recent successes of lesser former CFL pass rushers down south -- such as former Bomber Jason Vega -- would suggest his chances of landing work in the States are good.

And if Hall fails to catch on in the NFL? Well, the Bombers would have just as much chance of signing him to play again in the CFL next season as anyone else, given his free agent status come February.

And so in other words, with this trade Walters was able to get at least something -- and potentially something very special -- in Neufeld in exchange for a player who, at best, was only going to be playing four more meaningless games for the Bombers.

The question now is whether Walters can extract any other value out of the charred carcass that is the 2013 season.

Aside from Hall, who else do the Bombers have to offer that could generate a meaningful trade? Well, middle linebacker Henoc Muamba is also a pending free agent at the end of this season and has thus far resisted the finest entreaties of the Bombers front office -- including the acquisition of his brother Cauchy as a teammate -- to re-up.

While the Bombers remain committed to the idea of re-signing Muamba and making him a part of this team for years to come, the only thing worse than not re-signing him would be not re-signing him and getting absolutely nothing in return when he signs somewhere else next season.

So what would Muamba be worth on the open market? Could, for instance, the Bombers parlay Muamba's rights for the long-anticipated starting quarterback they so desperately need?

Because of the dispersal draft in December to stock the new Ottawa RedBlacks franchise, there will be all kinds of quarterbacks available after this season -- and all kinds of teams who will not want to lose them for nothing to Ottawa.

The Bombers, of course, would prefer to do both -- re-sign Muamba and sign a new starting quarterback. But if anything positive can come from this disastrous 2013 season it should be this -- if you've got to make a choice between having a stud non-import middle linebacker or a bonafide starting quarterback, go with the latter scenario every time.

We saw what the first movie looked like this year. And it was a horror show.

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @PaulWiecek

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 7, 2013 C4

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