Hey Walters, give these guys a call Five players the Bombers should chat up during legal-tampering period

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers have mere hours remaining to give their best sales pitch to pending free agents before both sides get their chance to peak behind the curtain and see what else might be out there.

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The Winnipeg Blue Bombers have mere hours remaining to give their best sales pitch to pending free agents before both sides get their chance to peak behind the curtain and see what else might be out there.

Beginning at 11 a.m. on Sunday, the CFL begins a “legal tampering” window — during which, for a full week wrapping up on Feb. 12 — players still without a contract for the 2023 season are free to test the open market early in hopes of reaching a new deal. Teams are also very much on the hunt during this time, capable of signing players to contracts before free agency officially begins on Feb. 14.

There are a couple important caveats to consider here.

While teams can officially register contracts with pending free agents at the league’s head office, once the tampering window closes, the club that originally owned the player’s rights then has two days to try and counter any competing deal. Players can then accept any offer in the hours leading up to free agency or move on and become free agents.

As for the Bombers, following a season in which they made the Grey Cup for a third consecutive time, general manager Kyle Walters has been able to bring back a majority of the band for 2023.

Walters has already re-signed the likes of quarterback Zach Collaros, offensive lineman Stanley Bryant, Jermarcus Hardrick and Patrick Neufeld, defensive linemen Willie Jefferson, Jackson Jeffcoat and Jake Thomas, linebackers Adam Bighill and Kyrie Wilson and defensive backs Winston Rose and Desmond Lawrence and dynamic returner, Janarion Grant, among others.

While a significant number of players have signed on for another season, there are still a few that haven’t, creating some notable holes in the roster.

With Nic Demski, Rasheed Bailey and Greg Ellingson all pending free agents, there’s an obvious need at receiver. Defensive backs Alden Darby Jr., Nick Taylor and Mercy Maston are also up for new deals, creating some potential room in the secondary.

Here are five players the Bombers should talk to over the legal tampering period who might be a good fit.



Let’s start with the receiver position.

The Bombers currently have starters Dalton Schoen, assuming he doesn’t sign an NFL deal by Feb. 14, and Canadian Drew Wolitarsky back in the mix. They also have Canadian Brendan O’Leary-Orange, who played well in relief, as well as Carlton Agudosi, who scored a pair of touchdowns against Calgary in his only real action last year before suffering a season-ending injury to his left leg.

Just how far the Bombers will go here depends a lot on what happens with Demski. Demski and the Bombers have been in talks for a while now, and given the fact he’s a Winnipeg native, is used in several spots on the offence and is coming off a career-best season with 772 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns, the issue is most likely money.

Demski was the highest-paid Canadian receiver in the CFL last season, making a base salary of $165,000 plus incentives. He’s likely due a raise, but at 29 years old and having had some injury issues in recent years, it could be a decision of whether it’s worth breaking the bank.

Here are some potential targets.

1) Kenny Lawler

Receiver, Edmonton Elks, Age: 28, 2022 salary: $300,000

After a year in the wilderness with the Edmonton Elks, might wide receiver Kenny Lawler find his way back to donning the blue and gold? (Amber Bracken / Canadian Press files)

The Skinny: Lawler left the Bombers to chase big money in Edmonton, but he never really left the Bombers’ radar. In fact, Winnipeg tried hard to obtain the 28-year-old in a trade last season and the feeling is had Lawler not broken his collarbone late in the year, the deal would have been completed. Despite being limited to 12 games, Lawler still racked up 894 receiving yards on 58 catches, along with five touchdowns. He’s easily among the best receivers in the CFL and with the familiarity with the Bombers organization and Collaros under centre, if the Bombers can make it work for a manageable number — around $250,000 — it seems like a no-brainer.


2) Eugene Lewis

Receiver, Montreal Alouettes, Age: 29, 2022 salary: $170,000

Eugene Lewis scores a touchdown against the Ottawa Redblacks last fall. (Graham Hughes / Canadian Press files)

The Skinny: After Bo Levi Mitchell signed with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, Lewis jumped to the top of every CFL trade-bait list. Personally, the talented pass-catcher should have always been at No. 1, owing to a 2022 season in which Lewis finished with 91 catches for 1,303 yards and 10 touchdowns and was named the East Division nominee for most outstanding player. Lewis is expected to get a hefty raise and word is he wants the same kind of money Lawler got last season. Not sure he gets that in Winnipeg, but it doesn’t cost anything to try and convince him to come at a friendlier number.


3) Tim White

Receiver, Hamilton Tiger-Cats, Age: 28, 2022 Salary: rookie contract

Tim White evades Argos linebacker Jack Cassar during a game last August. (Christopher Katsarov / Canadian Press files)

The Skinny: White went from 56 receptions for 774 yards and two touchdowns in his rookie year to 94 catches for 1,265 yards and eight touchdowns in 2022. He’s a playmaker on the field, particularly when it comes to being a deep threat, and can also return kicks. He’s coming off his rookie deal that likely paid him near the league minimum (~$65,000), so that number is expected to rise significantly. He’s not considered in the same tier as Lawler and Lewis, so should be a cheaper option.


The other area the Bombers might look at is defensive back, notably someone to play that hybrid role at strong-side linebacker. Winnipeg started the year with Donald Rutledge Jr. there, but by the end had assigned him to the practice roster and traded for Darby to fill the role.

Neither Rutledge nor Darby appears to be in the plans this year. Here are two players that might be worth looking into.

4) Kameron Kelly

Defensive Back, Hamilton Tiger-Cats, Age: 26, 2022 Salary: rookie contract

Kameron Kelly tackles Montreal Alouettes’ Tyson Philpot last September. (Peter McCabe / Canadian Press files)

The Skinny: At 26, Kelly is still in his prime, a physically gifted athlete who can play in coverage and deliver a bruising hit while patrolling inside the box. He’s started nearly every game (32) at strong-side linebacker for Hamilton the last two seasons, including a breakout year in 2022, registering 50 tackles, two quarterback sacks and five interceptions. He’ll want more money this season but could very much be worth it for a Bombers defence that was leaky at times in its pass defence.


5) Adarius Pickett

Defensive Back, Montreal Alouettes, Age: 26, 2022 salary: rookie deal

Adarius Pickett tries to sack Hamilton quarterback Matthew Shiltz last summer. (Peter Power / Canadian Press files)

The Skinny: Another young player coming off a stellar season at the end of his rookie deal, Pickett should have plenty of suitors. He was a wrecking ball for the Alouettes last season, finishing the year with 73 defensive tackles, one interception, two forced fumbles and a touchdown. He also chips in on special teams, with seven tackles in 2022. Kind of sounds like a Mike O’Shea kind of player, even if he’s probably too expensive.



Twitter: @jeffkhamilton

Jeff Hamilton

Jeff Hamilton
Multimedia producer

After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.

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