Adarius Bowman takes credit in helping the Winnipeg Blue Bombers break ground for their new stadium at Investors Group Field almost eight years ago. Now he hopes he can help them build a winner.
The Bombers addressed one of their greatest needs in the final days before free agency, agreeing Friday morning to a one-year deal with Bowman, a big-bodied receiver with potential to make big plays on the field.
"When you sign a receiver — and obviously that was one of our (main objectives) — when you go through all of this at the end of the year... it was a spot we needed to upgrade," Bombers general manager Kyle Walters said during a media conference Friday. "We had planned on adding an American receiver in free agency and we just didn’t know how it was going to happen or who it was going to be."
Rumoured to be being courted by almost every team in the Canadian Football League, Bowman returns to the Bombers for a second tour — he played for Winnipeg in 2009 and 2010 — after spending the past seven years with the Edmonton Eskimos. The Eskimos released him Monday, shortly before he was due a reported $140,000 signing bonus.
According to sources, Bowman inked a deal worth just more than $140,000, plus undisclosed incentives. When addressing reporters, he said he has always held Winnipeg in high regard, and when he hit the open market ahead of free agency on Feb. 13, the Bombers were at the top of his list.
"I was here at the ground-breaking of this stadium. I dug one of the first holes into the ground here," said Bowman, referring to a ceremonial opening of the stadium construction in 2010. "I think there might be a dose of that still in me — even though I left I can never forget that."
He added: "I knew where my heart was at. I was looking at teams I would prefer to be with (because) I thought it was going to be a trade at first. Once I became free it was real simple for both parties to reach out to each other."
At the top of the Bombers’ wish list heading into free agency was to sign a big, physical receiver. Winnipeg will get that in Bowman — 6-3 and 217 pounds — as well as a player who has proven over his 10-year career to be able to go up and challenge for balls with defenders.
Bowman joins a group of pass catchers that includes standouts Darvin Adams and Weston Dressler, as well as a dual threat in the backfield with running backs Andrew Harris and Timothy Flanders.
Bombers quarterback Matt Nichols was also a former teammate of Bowman, before being traded from Edmonton to Winnipeg midway through the 2015 season.
"He’s obviously a huge threat — a big-bodied guy who can run and make unbelievable catches on a ball down field and really be that guy you can give a shot to down field," said Nichols. "A lot of times games are won off explosive plays. It’s hard to drive the field when you have two downs and to do that consistently. He just opens up so much for us."
"I’m just going to make sure I come in ready to do all phases," Bowman said. "If it’s only blocking, if it’s taking on a lot of catches or complementing someone else, I want to fit in and be that factor that helps us get over the top."
A number of teams showed strong interest in his services, including the Saskatchewan Roughriders — who, according to sources, offered the highest money-value contract at nearly $160,000. Bowman was said to want to return to a place he felt gave him the best chance to win and somewhere he already had a level of comfort.
That sense of ease comes not only from the players Bowman has created relationships with, but also from a coaching staff he respects greatly. Bowman said head coach Mike O’Shea has turned around the organization, creating a place where players want to go. It was only a few years ago Winnipeg was seen as a less-than-ideal landing spot.
"The pieces are in place for a family environment and that’s what I notice around here," said Bowman, whose wife Lubna is expecting their first child in April.
In his two seasons in Winnipeg, Bowman had 105 catches for 1,616 yards and nine touchdowns in 27 games. But as productive as he was at times, he also described himself as a young and immature pro athlete. A bad attitude led to his release midway through the 2010 season.
Years later, Bowman has become a poster boy for all that is good in the CFL, winning the 2017 Tom Pate Memorial Award, given to the player who has made "a significant contribution to his team, his community and association. He has four seasons with at least 1,000 yards receiving and has been named a CFL all-star three times.
"I’d like to apologize to Winnipeg fans because I didn’t give them a fair share of me. I’ve grown up a lot. I was very immature back then," he said.
"My passion and understanding for this business and this game has changed and my purpose for just being in this atmosphere has changed. That’s what makes this business and without (fans), what’s the point or who would we be playing for?"
Bowman arrives in Winnipeg one year removed from his best season in the CFL. In 2016, Bowman caught 120 passes for 1,761 yards and nine touchdowns. But a dropoff in production last season made it difficult to keep him in 2018 at such a high price tag (he was reported to make $265,000, including the bonus).
In 2017, Bowman struggled with injuries and was limited to 12 games, recording 534 receiving yards on 45 catches and five touchdowns. Though he eclipsed the 100-yard receiving mark just once in his final five regular-season games, he did have five touchdowns.
He also made a strong impression on the Bombers’ brass late in the season by reeling in three catches for 71 yards and two touchdowns in a 39-32 win over Winnipeg in the West Division semifinal at Investors Group Field. Bowman also played a critical role in helping the Eskimos win the Grey Cup in 2015 at IGF. He led all receivers in the championship game, hauling in four catches for 73 yards and a touchdown in a 26-20 win over the Ottawa Redblacks.
At 32 years old, he said there is still plenty left in the tank and looks forward to showcasing his talents in Winnipeg.
"I remember when I first became a professional football player they said the (average) career was 31/2 years. That’s what they say but I feel like I’m only getting started," he said. "Every time I come here I say I’m at home. Life just kind of works out the best way."
firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @jeffkhamilton
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.
Updated on Saturday, February 10, 2018 at 9:13 AM CST: Writethru