Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Free-agent pool stocked with minnows

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There are years in the CFL where the pool of free-agent talent can address a key need and even redefine a roster. Make no mistake, 2013 is not one of them.

This Friday, the community pool of athletic solicitation opens for business. Judging from how it looks right now, the water isn't warm enough to warrant getting wet, or even dipping a toe into.

At one point, there were some big names on the docket. Top-tier, non-import, all-star offensive linemen like Peter Dyakowski and Marwan Hage were going to be available. Jonathon Hefney and Jason Vega were dangling in the wind, as were expectations of Mike Reilly, Shawn Gore and possibly even Solomon Elimimian being available.

Fast-forward a month and they have all either been re-signed by their clubs, been traded or taken a flyer down south with the NFL.

In my era, the Blue and Gold were never big free agent players. In the time I spent with the team, the biggest coup d'etat I witnessed was when Barrin Simpson was signed from the B.C. Lions mere minutes into free agency, with several good years left in him.

There were always big fish and big names, to be sure, that were landed during the Brendan Taman years. Players like Daved Benefield, Eric Carter, Nate Davis and Kamau Peterson all had varying degrees of success and failure, but not a great number of them ended up being long-term starters or solutions.

One of the toughest challenges for any team coming off a losing season is balancing the improvement of your football club with optics. Fans don't want to see their team sitting on its hands when they are coming off of a 6-12, non-playoff season. They want to see them rolling up their sleeves and getting dirt in their mouth as they scour the earth for talent, mudding cracks in the roster.

A full slate of wheeling and dealing doesn't necessarily improve a football team, but it does leave the impression things are being addressed and getting done. The beauty of 2013 is there won't be too much out there for fans to be salivating and wringing their hands over.

Correspondingly, the 2013 grocery list for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers should be a short one. Just like the trend in food today, you always start by looking to see what is available locally. If Bryant Turner doesn't land an NFL audition, he needs to be retained without further discussion. Marcellus Bowman has yet to play an entire season without injury, but his presence on the field changes the face of a defence from physical to homicidal. His nickname is Boomakat -- which essentially means blow someone up -- and is well deserved.

As for exotic ingredients, Dwight Anderson is an established name with some weight to it, but he isn't the same player he used to be and would only be interesting if there was a coupon that severely discounted his purchase. Jovan Olafioye, the CFL's top offensive lineman, is still unsigned by the Lions and would be a huge upgrade in the trenches, but he is reportedly mulling his NFL options and would require a major investment to get out of B.C.

When you work within the framework of a salary cap, free-agency shopping should be sparse and selective, because of the high price of doing business and often low returns.

This club has seemingly learned the biggest margins come from what you plant and grow yourself, in terms of the draft and new imports you bring in to the CFL, though retaining them has been another matter entirely.

For a team like Winnipeg, outside of securing a few of their pending free agents, the opening of the market on Friday is nothing more than white noise and no help in addressing the only issue that will define 2013: who will be taking the snaps behind centre.

 

Doug Brown, once a hard-hitting defensive lineman and frequently a hard-hitting columnist, appears Tuesdays and game days in the Free Press.

Twitter: @DougBrown97

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 12, 2013 C7

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