THE Alex Hall trade rumours had become a distraction for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, so much so Bombers head coach Tim Burke thought they played a role in his defence's disastrous performance in a 38-11 loss to the Calgary Stampeders at McMahon Stadium on Saturday.
But just hours after Burke complained to the media about "social media" fuelling unsubstantiated trade rumours that were upsetting his tight-knit defence, the Bombers confirmed the rumours were true with the announcement they had traded their CFL sack-leader to the Saskatchewan Roughriders for offensive lineman Patrick Neufeld.
"Alex has been a great player for us over the past two seasons, however, we feel this move will be positive for the long term betterment of the football team. We thank Alex for his tireless efforts and professionalism with us and wish him the best moving forward," Bombers acting general manager, Kyle Walters, said in a statement.
'I'd say the defensive line played extremely poorly' -- Bombers coach Tim Burke, after watching game film Sunday
"In Patrick, we are receiving a Canadian offensive tackle, who has experience in our league and who we feel can upgrade our offensive line."
The two teams also swapped draft picks, with the Bombers sending Saskatchewan a second-rounder in 2014 and receiving a fourth-rounder in 2015.
Hall is leading the CFL in sacks but is set to become a free agent at the end of this season and has made clear he intends to seek opportunities in the NFL.
Meanwhile, Neufeld (6-5, 296, Saskatchewan) has two years left on his contract after this season and started 13 games at left tackle for the Riders in 2012, making him the kind of potential ratio changer the Bombers were hoping Tyson Pencer, their first-round draft pick in 2012, would prove to be.
But Neufeld arrives in Winnipeg in what has been an injury-plagued season. After breaking his right fibula in training camp he spent the first half of the 2013 season on the nine-game injured list before seeing his first action in the Banjo Bowl, where he played right guard.
Neufeld, along with the entire Riders offensive line, got torched by the Bombers defence for eight sacks in that game. Neufeld played the following two games at right tackle in place of injured Ben Heenan, but hurt his leg in the second game and hasn't played or practiced since.
The Bombers have scheduled a news conference for this morning at which Walters will speak more about the trade, but Riders assistant GM Jeremy O'Day was talking on Sunday and told the Regina Leader-Post's Murray McCormick he felt all parties benefitted from the swap.
"Winnipeg thought they might lose (Hall) at the end of the year. It was an opportunity to trade him and get something back," said O'Day. "They are trying to establish their offensive line over there. It's a situation that Pat will have an opportunity to be a starter and help improve their offensive line."
O'Day said the Riders have no firm plans for Hall beyond this season. "We have him until the end of the year and that's what we know for a fact. After that we don't have any contract for the long term. It's strictly for him to come and finish out his contract. We'll talk to him about moving that further.
"It will ultimately be his decision on what he wants to do. In our opinion, he will take advantage of exploring the NFL. Until we reach that point, we really don't know."
Just hours before the Bombers announced the trade, Burke told local reporters upon his team's return to Winnipeg he thought all the rumours about Hall last week might have played a part in his defence giving up 622 yards in offence -- including 261 yards rushing -- the night before in Calgary.
"Defensively we played poorly. And after watching the film on the plane back, I'd say the defensive line played extremely poorly," said Burke, who benched Hall at one point during the game and called out his poor play afterward.
"I think part of it is that Calgary's offensive line is very good. But I just wonder a little bit too, if all this stir about Alex Hall getting traded, how much effect that had on the D-line group, which is a very tight-knit group. I have to believe it has an effect on Alex...
"I don't know where (the trade rumours) came from. It just says something about social media that anyone can throw something out there, whether it's true or not, and nobody has to even say their name."