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Ottawa Redblacks begin building their Frankenteam with Monday's expansion draft

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Redblacks general manager Marcel Desjardins (right) and head coach Rick Campbell.

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Redblacks general manager Marcel Desjardins (right) and head coach Rick Campbell.

The expansion beast that is the Ottawa Redblacks will soon begin coming to life as organs and limbs plucked from their eight Canadian Football League rivals will be added in Monday's expansion draft.

And if new Winnipeg Blue Bombers GM Kyle Walters is losing any sleep over the prospect of losing three players to the league's newest franchise, he certainly wasn't showing it Friday.

After all, some would argue losing anybody from a crew that went 3-15 would be more of a blessing than a curse.

"Certainly the teams with deeper rosters are going to be hurt a little bit more," said Walters during a media availability. "But, put it the other way: for a team with maybe not as great depth, losing a player under contract who we are anticipating to make our team next year could hurt us more so than a (deeper) team that could get hit by losing a couple of guys."

The eight CFL teams were required to submit a protected list of 17 players -- 10 imports, one quarterback and six Canadians -- to the Redblacks last Monday. And it's here where a great deal of strategy was put in play way before that list was crafted. The Bombers, as an example, currently have 23 players headed for free agency this winter -- most in the CFL -- with the thought being the Redblacks would be less tempted to select a player who could turn around and sign elsewhere once the market opens on Feb. 15.

"We spent last week looking at everything, trying to evaluate what Ottawa's thinking and who they might look at on our roster," said Walters. "Everyone's going to have a different theory on their roster, as to who they are going to protect and who they're not. And is Ottawa going to be looking at potentially picking somebody who is going to possibly be a free agent?"

A number of other factors were involved in the Bombers crafting their protected list, including talent, contract status, age and intangibles, such as leadership. Walters did confirm the Bombers' list does include "some" pending free agents.

"It starts with, quite simply, who is a good football player? Let's protect that guy," said Walters. "Then factors like injury, salary, age and what might Ottawa be thinking. And then you try and factor all of those in and then put your list together.

"There are intangibles, and I put a lot of weight into that, particularly because I think I was one of those (leadership/glue) guys when I played and I know coach O'Shea was certainly one of those guys when he played... (players) who brought more to the team than just what you see on the field. It was what you bring in the locker-room and that stuff. That's where losing a guy like Pierre-Luc Labbe (to retirement this week) really hurt our team. Maybe it wasn't the most glamourous name in terms of recognition, but what he brought to our roster was substantial from a leadership standpoint."

The most intriguing Bomber name in all this is linebacker Henoc Muamba, the CFL East Division's top Canadian and the club's Most Outstanding Player and Most Outstanding Defensive Player nominee.

His talent level is well documented, as is his appreciation to the Bomber organization for making him the first overall pick in the 2011 draft. But he is also a prospective free agent who is drawing a lot of NFL interest. So, do the Bombers protect him or leave him exposed and cross their fingers should he not sign down south they've done enough to lure him back before the free-agent market opens?

"I can assure you that name has been brought up in a lot of discussions in regard with what our plan is and in regards to his future," said Walters, who did not -- as per league policy -- reveal who was on the club's protected list.

Asked if he was less confident the Bombers could re-sign the gifted linebacker because of the NFL interest, Walters added:

"Yes. He's obviously a good football player, an outstanding young man. When he gets introduced to NFL clubs he's going to come across like he does to everybody that knows him here. He's a good football player and with growing NFL interest obviously there's concern at the ability to re-sign him. That's a fact."

Walters also hinted teams could have tentative nudge-nudge/wink-wink deals in place with players left unprotected but whom remain very much in plans after Monday's draft.

"Teams are going to be very creative in trying to get guys back who may not have to be protected," he said. "I think everyone will be creative in solving those concerns.

"You'll see a lot of unprotected players back on their rosters."

 

THE 'OTHER' DRAFT: The CFL held its annual, much-less publicized negotiation list draft of players on Friday. It allows teams to quietly -- the results aren't made public -- select players whose rights were held by another squad and add them to their 35-man negotiation list or sign them to new contracts. Two examples: In the 2007 neg-list draft the Bombers added Jovon Johnson from the Saskatchewan Roughriders and this year the club opted to protect receiver Taylor Renaud, who spent time on the club's practice roster this season.

Walters said there were a handful of names available that intrigued him. Ottawa would get first crack at players, followed by the Bombers, in a draft that follows a worst-to-first waiver wire priority format.

"None of the names are going to make anybody go, 'Wow! Look what Winnipeg did,' " he said. "But there will a whole lot of activity in trying to upgrade the back end of rosters today."

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 14, 2013 C4

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Updated on Saturday, December 14, 2013 at 7:18 PM CST: Fixes fact box, replaces photos.

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