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Budget squeeze leads Blue to part with Denmark, Bond

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p><p>Clarence Denmark is no longer a Bomber.</p>

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Clarence Denmark is no longer a Bomber.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers general manager Kyle Walters wasn’t willing to show his hand on talks with a pair of key pending free agents.

While Walters did confirm a Free Press report from early Friday that the team had informed 2016 CFL all-star offensive lineman Travis Bond and veteran wide receiver Clarence Denmark they wouldn’t be back, he remained silent on where negotiations stood with defensive end Jamaal Westerman and defensive back T.J. Heath.

When asked specifically about these two players, Walters preferred to stay quiet, adding the Bombers have plenty of time between now and Feb. 13, when CFL free agency officially opens.

“There’s a few, still, on this green page — a few spots which are still free agents that we’re trying to sort things out and we have until Tuesday to sort things out,” Walters said Friday. “I’m not going to get into the specifics of are they going good or bad. It’s a long, ongoing process and there are tons of moving parts.”

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Winnipeg Blue Bombers general manager Kyle Walters wasn’t willing to show his hand on talks with a pair of key pending free agents.

While Walters did confirm a Free Press report from early Friday that the team had informed 2016 CFL all-star offensive lineman Travis Bond and veteran wide receiver Clarence Denmark they wouldn’t be back, he remained silent on where negotiations stood with defensive end Jamaal Westerman and defensive back T.J. Heath.

When asked specifically about these two players, Walters preferred to stay quiet, adding the Bombers have plenty of time between now and Feb. 13, when CFL free agency officially opens.

"There’s a few, still, on this green page — a few spots which are still free agents that we’re trying to sort things out and we have until Tuesday to sort things out," Walters said Friday. "I’m not going to get into the specifics of are they going good or bad. It’s a long, ongoing process and there are tons of moving parts."

Walters noted the addition of free agent receiver Adarius Bowman on Friday does force the Bombers to reshuffle their funds. But he didn’t say what the potential fallout would be or whether it inhibited the potential signings of Westerman and Heath.

The Bombers GM did say in January, while in Banff, Alta., for the annual league meetings that it would be "near impossible" to ink the trio of defensive backs in Maurice Leggett, Chris Randle and Heath as their market value. Asked if that still rings true, Walters once again echoed the struggle of bringing back every one of his key contributors.

"Across the board, with all the free agents, every team is doing it where everybody is going to have 20 free agents every year and everybody thinks, rightfully so, players deserves raises," he said.

"When you become a competitive football team and you have some success on the field, your players become more desirable for other teams to upgrade with. The intrigue for certain players to go out and test the market and see what the value can be is completely understandable from the player’s and agent’s standpoint."

Heath joined the Bombers midway through the 2016 season, acquired in a trade from the Toronto Argonauts, and was an all-star in both his seasons in the CFL. He is on an expiring, cost-friendly contract and is looking to earn a substantial raise.

As for Westerman, he’s considered a key part of Winnipeg’s leadership group since joining the club in 2015, collecting 32 sacks in the last three seasons. His 2017 season was cut short thanks to a torn arm muscle, limiting him to just 11 games.

With Denmark sure to hit the open market, Bombers quarterback Matt Nichols took a moment to share praise for a player he had a deep connection with ever since Winnipeg acquired Nichols in a trade midway through the 2015 season.

"Definitely one of the tough ones," Nichols said.

"He’s one of the best people you can be around."

Denmark was the longest-tenured player for Winnipeg, as he’d been with the team for the better part of the last seven seasons.

Walters said Friday backup quarterback Dan LeFevour will not be back next season.

jeff.hamilton@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @jeffkhamilton

Read more by Jeff Hamilton.

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History

Updated on Saturday, February 10, 2018 at 9:11 AM CST: Writethru

11:08 AM: QB Dan LeFevour will not be back next season.

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