There are fires burning all around them and a desperate need for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers to start piling up wins to stop the 2013 season from engulfing into flames before the calendar even turns to September.
It's not all that surprising, then, that in the face of all that negativity the organization would like nothing more to announce a silver lining or three -- such as inking building block Canadian middle linebacker Henoc Muamba to a contract extension.
'This is a place where I see myself. I love the atmosphere, I love the attitude and I believe the character of this team is going to move us forward... This city has shown me great love since the first day I was drafted'
And yet getting his name, or any prospective free agent's name, on a new deal in the next few months apparently isn't going to be as simple as offering him a tidy little raise and hearty slap on the back.
The CFL landscape changes dramatically this offseason with the Ottawa RedBlacks coming aboard for 2014 and undoubtedly planning to throw money around in free agency in the winter. As well, with the league's collective bargaining agreement expiring on the eve of training camp next June, there is an obvious incentive for players to sit back and wait before committing to anything.
Asked how hard it is to sign their building blocks to new deals right now, head coach Tim Burke didn't hesitate.
"Very hard," he said. "But we're going to be aggressive trying to maintain the guys we have, the guys we want continuing on."
"Of course we would have liked to have extended Henoc already," added acting Bombers GM Kyle Walters in an interview with Paul Wiecek of the Free Press Wednesday before embarking on a CIS scouting trip. "But these guys, with the CBA coming up, their union is saying be careful, no one knows what the salary cap is going to be so you might not want to do it. And with the (Ottawa) dispersal draft (in December) -- does your value go up? So the unions and the agents are giving these guys information that maybe in their best interests they should hold off."
Another factor possibly at play here -- a rumour that has circulated since the Bombers drafted Muamba first overall in 2011 -- is that his agent, Washington, D.C.-based Jonathan Hardaway, might be pushing for his client to take a shot at the NFL. Hardaway also represents Cory Greenwood, who spent the last four years bouncing around down south after being drafted by Toronto third overall in 2010 before being released by Detroit this month.
Not surprisingly, Muamba -- who becomes a free agent in February (there are no levels of restricted-to-unrestricted free agency in the CFL) didn't really want to offer up a whole lot of detail on the state of contract discussions, what with the team at 1-6 and heading into a critical contest this Saturday in Guelph, Ont., against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
Instead, he spoke in generalities when quizzed about re-signing here and of possibly chasing an NFL opportunity.
"To be honest, I'm not getting too involved in that because it's not really time for me to think about that," Muamba said Wednesday. "(The club's expressed interest in re-signing him) shows a lot of loyalty and that the team cares about me and I really love and appreciate that.
"The task at hand for me is to help turn this team around."
But Muamba also hinted that loyalty -- both the club's and his own -- could be a factor going forward. Of course, during negotiations that is an absolutely perfect politically correct answer.
"This is a place where I see myself," said Mumaba. "I love the atmosphere, I love the attitude and I believe the character of this team is going to move us forward. This is what I know, this team and this city. This is what I know as a professional athlete and I love it. This city has shown me great love since the first day I was drafted. I have nothing bad to say about this place or the people here."
And so if the Bombers slid a new deal across the table to him featuring the right number of dollar signs on it, would he sign?
"I'd definitely have to think about it," Muamba said with grin. "I'm just waiting it out and let time handle it. I know it's going to work out."
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