April 5, 2020

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Bombers maintain optimism as NFL departures mount

Kyle Walters conquered the difficult task of building a team that ended this city's near three-decade Grey Cup drought, but that doesn't mean his job will be a cakewalk moving forward.

For his next trick, Walters will have to figure out a way to keep the majority of the team intact, while also filling several major holes left by players who have moved on to the NFL.

Revised CBA rules in focus as CFL teams gather 

Kyle Walters and the rest of the general managers around the league are hoping for some answers at this week's CFL winter meetings.

A new Collective Bargaining Agreement was signed at the last minute by the players and owners right before training camp kicked off, leading to some grey area surrounding some rules and regulations this past season. 

Kyle Walters and the rest of the general managers around the league are hoping for some answers at this week's CFL winter meetings.

A new Collective Bargaining Agreement was signed at the last minute by the players and owners right before training camp kicked off, leading to some grey area surrounding some rules and regulations this past season. 

"In 2019 with the CBA getting done right before training camp, it was more so status quo last year," said Walters early Wednesday morning, prior to the meetings. "Everybody didn't get too, too into the intricacies of the 2020 CBA. This is the first time this week where the presidents, GMs and coaches will all be in the same room."

One of the biggest topics the league is hoping to provide some clarity on is how CFL players can go about working out for NFL teams. Currently, only players on expiring contracts are allowed to work out for teams down south as the two leagues haven't agreed on an NFL tryout window that would also give players under contract a chance. Bombers defensive backs Winston Rose and Marcus Sayles had expiring contracts, allowing them both to ink deals with NFL teams with no hassle. On the other hand, rookie defensive end Jonathon Kongbo still had two years left on his deal. If the Bombers didn't do him a favour and release him, he couldn't have signed a deal with the San Francisco 49ers.

"That's certainly one of the things that are around the discussion today. Just to make sure we're on the same page so the new players coming up are being told 'This is what you're getting into,'" said Walters. "It's less important what the message is. It's more important that we're all saying the same message to the players coming up."

This year introduces a new "nationalized Americans" rule. American players with three years on one team will count as national players against the ratio. If an American player has played for more than one team, then they have to wait until they enter their fifth season to be deemed national. However, each team can only nationalize three American players and they will only apply to the starter ratio, and not to the roster allocation. These three players do not count towards the mandatory seven starting Canadians that each team must field.

"I believe it was set up, some of the CBA from a union standpoint, to try to ensure that some of the veteran Americans have some security in their jobs. But, we'll see kind of by the end of the day some of the ramifications that will have on how teams are setting up the rosters from week to week," Walters said.

The league will also include more global players in 2020. Each club is now required to have two active roster players on game days and up to three practice roster players. It hasn't been announced how these players will be selected yet. In November, the CFL hired Greg Quick to become the league's first Director of Global Scouting. He will work on behalf of the nine teams and attend CFL Global Combines this winter in Helsinki, Paris, Florence, Frankfurt, Tokyo, Osaka and Mexico City.

"The pool of players that are eligible this year is going to be massive compared to last year. So, that's going to be the challenge," said Walters. "It's just the numbers. The sheer quantity of players that need to be evaluated for your global players is going to add a lot of work this offseason."

Walters was asked how high of a priority it will be to scout the international talent and what teams are hoping to get out of the players.

"These players will be viewed as depth players. The goal is to find players on the field playing. We'll see how realistic that is in the short term. But I think short term, the depth players that can go out and play some special teams and kind of get you out of games if needed is what we're looking for. You have to do your due diligence and anytime you have a chance to add players to your roster, whether it's Canadians, Americans or now globals, you do your due diligence and put the time in."

 

taylor.allen@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @TaylorAllen31

As of now, the team has said goodbye to defensive backs Winston Rose (Cincinnati Bengals), Marcus Sayles (Minnesota Vikings) and defensive end Jonathon Kongbo (San Francisco 49ers) as the trio of defenders have signed contracts down south.

Walters took some time to speak to the Free Press over the phone on Wednesday morning from the Blue Mountain resort in Collingwood, Ont., where the CFL winter meetings are taking place.

"Obviously, there are two different ways of looking at it. You're certainly happy for those guys that have worked hard and are getting an opportunity to provide better lives for their families, which is great. The negative is obviously the holes in our roster, but it happens every year. There's turnover. The benefit of the way this is set up is at least we know about it early enough that we can kind of focus our planning for 2020 knowing that those three guys will be in NFL training camps," Walters said.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers GM Kyle Walters (left) will have to figure out a way to keep the majority of the team intact, while also filling several major holes left by players who have moved on to the NFL. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Free Press files)

Winnipeg Blue Bombers GM Kyle Walters (left) will have to figure out a way to keep the majority of the team intact, while also filling several major holes left by players who have moved on to the NFL. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Free Press files)

The list of Bombers who are NFL bound could continue to grow in the coming weeks. Star defensive lineman Willie Jefferson, the CFL's Most Outstanding Defensive Player in 2019, had an impressive workout with the Miami Dolphins last month and the word has gotten around, leading to other NFL teams wanting to get a look at the 28-year-old from Beaumont, Tx. Jefferson believes his Miami workout and his game tape speaks for itself and has elected to wait and see if a contract offer comes his way. Then, of course, there's versatile quarterback Chris Streveler. The 24-year-old has reportedly booked several NFL workouts before CFL free agency kicks off in February. Streveler visited the Arizona Cardinals in mid-December, but not for a workout. Streveler was still recovering from some injuries he sustained in the playoffs.

Streveler has drawn comparisons to New Orleans Saints quarterback Taysom Hill, who likely helped the Grey Cup champion's odds at landing an NFL deal after an impressive Wild Card weekend performance against the Minnesota Vikings where he rushed four times for 50 yards, caught a touchdown and completed his one passing attempt for 50 yards.

"You're certainly happy for those guys that have worked hard and are getting an opportunity to provide better lives for their families, which is great. The negative is obviously the holes in our roster, but it happens every year." – Kyle Walters, Winnipeg Blue Bombers GM

"Yeah, I was thinking the same thing," admitted Walters, on Hill's big game benefiting Streveler.

Walters added it could still be a while before the team has an idea as to what the future holds for Jefferson and Streveler. Both players have publicly expressed they'd be happy to return to Winnipeg if they don't get a shot at the NFL.

"We just wait. From our understanding, those guys are going to focus on the NFL. Until the official word comes across my desk for their releases so they can sign, It's just sort of a wait and see," said Walters, who had his contract extended through the 2023 season.

"Those guys are going to give it right till the end of February before they focus back on the CFL I anticipate."

Outside of the NFL action, the last few weeks have been quiet in Bomberland. There have been no updates on what Mike O'Shea's coaching staff will look like this upcoming season. Offensive coordinator Paul LaPolice is now the head coach for the Ottawa Redblacks and Richie Hall's status for next year is currently unknown. Walters said O'Shea is still interviewing potential staff hires, but wouldn't provide any information on how close the team is to making any announcements. Unless LaPolice recruits Buck Pierce to Ottawa, it's likely that the Bombers quarterbacks coach will be promoted to offensive coordinator. But until the dust has settled on that, don't expect to hear any news about the team's quarterback situation. Matt Nichols started the season as the starting QB, but a season-ending shoulder injury led to the team making a trade to Zach Collaros who led the team down the stretch. Both veteran pivots are set to hit the open market on Feb. 11 if the Bombers don't re-sign them before then.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers GM Kyle Walters (left) says that it will be a while before the team has an idea as to what the future holds for Jefferson and Streveler. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Free Press files)

Winnipeg Blue Bombers GM Kyle Walters (left) says that it will be a while before the team has an idea as to what the future holds for Jefferson and Streveler. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Free Press files)

"We've got a pretty good idea what we want to do free agent wise, quarterback wise, but you know, you certainly do want to have some input from your offensive staff that we're seeing things the same way."

Sean McGuire is the only quarterback under contract for next season. Nichols rejoining LaPolice in Ottawa sounded like a potential fit, but the Redblacks sent a third-round pick to the Calgary Stampeders last week to have the first dibs on negotiating a deal with Nick Arbuckle before he hits the market. With the Toronto Argonauts looking like the only other team with a question mark behind centre, would it be possible for the Bombers to re-sign both Collaros and Nichols?

"We'll have to wait and see how the numbers work out and speak to their agents," Walters said.

"I'm hesitant to say anything until the conversations get a little further along and you can wrap your head around what the players and agents are thinking and then go from there. Once we get back from these meetings, that'll be the first agenda once we got our offensive staff solidified. We'll sit down, pick their brains about their ideal quarterback situation for 2020 with us and see if we can get that executed."

Bombers fans waited 29 years for a championship. Surely, they can wait a couple more weeks to find out who their quarterback will be next season.

taylor.allen@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @TaylorAllen31

Taylor Allen

Taylor Allen
Reporter

Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of.

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