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Blue send sackmaster packing

Labelled a distraction, Willis traded to Saskatchewan

The self-appointed Mayor of Swaggerville no longer had the votes in Winnipeg.

After months of speculation that Odell Willis was unhappy with the team, the Blue Bombers finally traded the enigmatic defensive end to the Saskatchewan Roughriders Thursday afternoon.

The Bombers received the Riders second-round pick (8th overall) and fourth round pick (23rd overall) in the 2012 CFL draft. Winnipeg also sent a fifth round pick to the Riders in the 2013 draft, while the Bombers stand to gain another pick in the '13 draft, on the condition Willis signs a contract extension with Saskatchewan.

"I'm excited," said Willis, who leaves a Winnipeg team that went to the Grey Cup in 2011 to join a team that missed the playoffs with a 5-13 record. "Hopefully I can do something to help change the season from last year."

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 22/3/2012 (2033 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The self-appointed Mayor of Swaggerville no longer had the votes in Winnipeg.

After months of speculation that Odell Willis was unhappy with the team, the Blue Bombers finally traded the enigmatic defensive end to the Saskatchewan Roughriders Thursday afternoon.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS archives
Odell Willis has 34 sacks and three fumble recoveries since 2009.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS ARCHIVES

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS archives Odell Willis has 34 sacks and three fumble recoveries since 2009.

The Bombers received the Riders second-round pick (8th overall) and fourth round pick (23rd overall) in the 2012 CFL draft. Winnipeg also sent a fifth round pick to the Riders in the 2013 draft, while the Bombers stand to gain another pick in the '13 draft, on the condition Willis signs a contract extension with Saskatchewan.

"I'm excited," said Willis, who leaves a Winnipeg team that went to the Grey Cup in 2011 to join a team that missed the playoffs with a 5-13 record. "Hopefully I can do something to help change the season from last year."

Willis, 27, is entering the option year of a deal he signed following the 2010 season. That contract is the backdrop to why he is no longer in Winnipeg.

Bombers GM Joe Mack said he was in regular contact with Willis following the Grey Cup loss to B.C. last November, as the rush end was looking for ways to get out of his deal so he could explore opportunities in the NFL.

"He categorically came to me a number of times after the Grey Cup and said he wanted to be released," a frustrated Mack said Thursday. "It was black and white; I just think he didn't totally comprehend what his contractual status was."

The fun-loving Willis leaves the Bombers after his best season in the CFL. The 6-2, 255-pound dynamo had 13 sacks in 2011, earning a CFL all-star nomination. He was dominant during the first half of the season, leading the league in sacks, but quickly fell out of favour with defensive coaches for his inability to defend the run game.

After losing his starting spot, Willis didn't handle the demotion well and when he tweeted he would rather be home for Thanksgiving than with his team for the Grey Cup, it was essentially the end of the road for the University of West Georgia product.

"People have their own opinions about how they want to look at things; I look at it like I made a mistake and I want to learn from it. Character is not a problem," said Willis.

The Bombers, however, were worried about Willis' distraction potential.

"We felt it was best for the team and the locker-room to go in another direction," head coach Paul LaPolice said. "Sometimes you have to make decisions based on more than talent alone."

Willis has 34 sacks and three fumble recoveries since coming to the CFL in 2009.

While the Bombers get draft picks and potential promise for the future, the Riders receive a highly motivated player who should be looking to put up some big numbers in a contract year.

"He's got a lot of things to prove to a lot of people," Saskatchewan GM Brendan Taman said. "He's got a lot of pride. He knows his reputation took a bit of a hit last season. He's motivated to change that."

Taman did his homework on Willis — he checked in with head coach Corey Chamblin, who worked with Willis in Calgary in 2009, and former Bombers all-star Brendon LaBatte.

"I don't know if there's a better pass rusher in the league than Odell," said Taman, who has assurances from Willis he will come to Regina without issue. "The bottom line for most players in this league: If they can help you win games — provided they're not being a total idiot off the field — you have to look into bringing them in."

adam.wazny@freepress.mb.ca

Archive video: Exlusive interview with the Mayor of Swaggerville

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