If it was in anyway still unclear how important Henoc Muamba is to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, all ambiguity was erased Wednesday with the club's announcement Muamba was their most outstanding player, most outstanding defensive player and top Canadian in 2013.
Muamba's hat trick of team player awards -- he won fully half of the six that were up for grabs -- served only to punctuate the urgency of the club's need to re-sign the man who was the very best part of a terrible Bombers team in 2013.
Alas, the third-year Bomber out of St. Francis Xavier has been steadfast in his refusal this season to entertain any offer from his current employer to sign a contract extension and has given every indication he intends to test the waters when he becomes a free agent in February.
The good news for Bombers fans is the current head coach of the Bombers, who would presumably have more insight into Muamba's state of mind right now than the average football fan, thinks Muamba will be wearing the exact same jersey he is today when this whole process plays itself out over the winter.
"I do," Burke told reporters after practice at Investors Group Field on Wednesday, where the 3-14 club is preparing for its final regular season game this Saturday at home versus the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. "Because I think he likes it here. He's probably going to test the waters, I would assume. You can't blame any free agents this year for doing it, with the ninth team coming in the league and the salary cap's probably going to go up. So they're probably going to wait and see what's out there for everybody.
"But I know we'll be as competitive -- or more competitive -- as anybody else."
Muamba -- who was also Winnipeg's top Canadian in 2012 -- is third in the CFL right now with a career-high 97 defensive tackles, plus he has a sack and an interception and is a 'ratio-breaker' for the Bombers when he plays a middle linebacker position that is commonly filled by imports in the CFL.
Burke, who in all likelihood won't be around next season even if Muamba does return, said he will make one last pitch at season's end to Muamba on behalf of his current employer.
"One of the things I will emphasize to him when this is all over is that when you look at your place in the community, where else in the CFL can you be so involved in the community? So recognized in the community? Have the endorsements and all that kind of stuff.
"There's only a couple of other places that could even come close to matching Winnipeg."
Muamba didn't shed much new light on Wednesday in terms of his current state of mind, repeating the same tired mantra he's used all season about how he's leaving negotiations to his agent and while he feels loyal to Winnipeg, football is a business at the end of the day.
Asked whether his asking price just went up with the three player awards, Muamba laughed.
"I couldn't tell you. I'd have to ask my agent that. You'd have to ask my agent that. We'll find out later on I guess... Obviously, I think I'm a piece of the puzzle and I believe the team really likes me and I'm grateful for that.
"So like I said, I'm leaving negotiations to the agent and we'll move from there."
Muamba is the first linebacker since KD Williams in 1996 to be named Winnipeg's most outstanding player, but he is not unique in taking down three of the team player awards in one year -- Jovon Johnson in 2011 and Doug Brown in 2008 are other Bombers players to do it most recently.
Muamba was the unanimous choice of voters -- local football reporters and Burke -- for the three awards he won and he also received votes in a fourth category as the team's top special teams player, a category he is tied for fourth in the league in tackles with 18 this season.
Will Ford, who ultimately won the special teams category on the strength of two kickoff returns for touchdowns this year, laughed with reporters about his good fortune. "I guess y'all couldn't give Henoc anymore awards," Ford quipped. "I was the next man in line."
FIELDNOTES -- The Bombers announced Wednesday local chartered accountant Jeff Martin has joined their board of directors, replacing the retiring Chrys Pappas. Martin is the second director to be appointed this year through a new public nomination process.
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