Talks between Buck Pierce's agent and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers took a strange turn late this week when the club backed away from a deal they had been working on for several weeks.
Pierce's representative Brian Cox believed a deal was imminent after going back and forth with Bombers assistant GM Ross Hodgkinson in an effort to craft a contract for the team's No. 1 quarterback.
Cox, however, confirmed when the deal hit GM Joe Mack's desk it didn't get his approval.
"I can tell you this," said Cox, when reached on his cellphone Friday morning. "Buck wants to be in Winnipeg and the players in Winnipeg want him there. They want to play for him. I thought we were close on a deal and now it seems we're not."
Cox would not disclose details of the deal, but would not deny the base salary offered is under $150,000. If Pierce were to hit all his playing bonuses the deal would top out in the $300,000 range.
Cox had hoped to get a base salary of $200,000 and the rest in a bonus package, but the Bombers now appear skittish and have reintroduced Pierce's injury issues.
"Every player in pro football risks injury when he steps on the field and Buck did what he was asked to do last season and took his team to the Grey Cup," said Cox. "We're just asking for what is fair."
One agent, when told of the negotiations in Winnipeg, was astonished at the low base salary.
"They must not want him," said the agent, who demanded anonymity. "(Pierce) beat Steven Jyles out for that job and he's going to make $200,000 in Edmonton. Dealing with Winnipeg is odd. You work with Ross (Hodgkinson) and then Joe (Mack) can scuttle it. It's like Ross has the job but Joe has the title."
In 2011, Pierce started 16 out of 18 regular-season games as well as the East Final and Grey Cup. He threw for 14 touchdowns and 18 interceptions and a career high 3,348 yards while winning 11 regular-season games and a playoff game.
One league executive suggested both the Bombers and Pierce had limited leverage.
"Where's he going to go? There aren't any salary openings for the kind of money he wants. On the other hand, do the Bombers want to open camp with Joey Elliott and Alex Brink? They need to get a deal and they will," he said.
Mack has been effusive in his praise of Pierce and said earlier this week he expected a deal would get done.
"You never know for sure, but I'd be very surprised if we had any problem signing Buck," Mack said.
Pierce was signed by the Bombers two years ago after being cut loose by the B.C. Lions due to injury issues. The club offered him a contact heavy on incentives and last season he reached many of them to top out in the neighbourhood of $200,000. Mack was not available for comment on Friday.
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