November 22, 2017

Winnipeg
-7° C, Partly cloudy

Full Forecast

Record: 12–6–0

Winnipeg Blue Bombers Logo

Blue Bomber Report (12–6–0)

Advertisement

Advertise With Us

Bombers pack bags, say goodbyes

After another semifinal loss, thoughts turn to who might not be back

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Winnipeg Blue Bombers Left to right, Frank Renaud, Sach Bauman and Myles White in front of their lockers Monday morning the day after their West Division semifinal loss to the Edmonton Eskimos.</p>

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Winnipeg Blue Bombers Left to right, Frank Renaud, Sach Bauman and Myles White in front of their lockers Monday morning the day after their West Division semifinal loss to the Edmonton Eskimos.

As Matt Nichols drove to Investors Group Field early Monday morning, the gravity of the moment began to sink in.

The Blue Bombers had been eliminated from the Canadian Football League playoffs the night before — losing 39-32 at home to the Edmonton Eskimos in the West Division semifinal — so what Nichols had hoped would be another day of studying opponents and tweaking game plans had shifted to a much different task.

“Getting in here and not just talking to one or two guys but trying to go around the locker room and just hang out with every single guy and figure out their plans for the off-season,” is what the Bombers quarterback said he hoped to achieve. “Just soaking in the last few moments you get with this team, because it will be a different team next year.”

Nichols wasn’t alone in his pain. Less than a full day removed from the loss, many said the sting of defeat still simmered and it would likely stay for weeks. Needless to say, it was too early to be cleaning out lockers.

Subscribers Log in below to continue reading,
not a subscriber? Create an account to start a 60 day free trial.

Log in Create your account

Add a payment method

To read the remaining 1042 words of this article.

Pay only 27¢ for articles you wish to read.

Hope you enjoyed your trial.

Add a payment method

To read the remaining 1042 words of this article.

Pay only 27¢ for articles you wish to read.

As Matt Nichols drove to Investors Group Field early Monday morning, the gravity of the moment began to sink in.

The Blue Bombers had been eliminated from the Canadian Football League playoffs the night before — losing 39-32 at home to the Edmonton Eskimos in the West Division semifinal — so what Nichols had hoped would be another day of studying opponents and tweaking game plans had shifted to a much different task.

"Getting in here and not just talking to one or two guys but trying to go around the locker room and just hang out with every single guy and figure out their plans for the off-season," is what the Bombers quarterback said he hoped to achieve. "Just soaking in the last few moments you get with this team, because it will be a different team next year."

Nichols wasn’t alone in his pain. Less than a full day removed from the loss, many said the sting of defeat still simmered and it would likely stay for weeks. Needless to say, it was too early to be cleaning out lockers.

"Guys are going home. It’s sad," defensive back T.J. Heath said.

"It’s tough to lose, but it’s tougher saying goodbye," safety Taylor Loffler said.

"It just feels unreal that we actually lost," offensive lineman Stanley Bryant said.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Winnipeg Blue Bomber Darvin Adams speaks with the media Monday morning during locker clean-out day.</p>

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Winnipeg Blue Bomber Darvin Adams speaks with the media Monday morning during locker clean-out day.

The Bombers have lost tough games before. In fact, one year ago they suffered a similar defeat, losing on the road to the B.C. Lions in another semifinal matchup. Though the consequences were the same, most said this season felt different. This year, they had grown even further together, forming a bond stronger than the 11-7 club that finished the 2016 campaign (the Bombers went 12-6 this season).

But perhaps the biggest difference from last year to this season won’t be fully understood for another six months, when the team returns to training camp in late May. Who will be there could be drastically different from the group they have now, with as many as 20 players set to become free agents.

Nichols isn’t one of them. The team’s starting quarterback still has two more years on a three-year deal. But he understands the situation many of his teammates now face, having gone through the same thing last year. And though he can’t negotiate contracts with his teammates, he plans to give a pitch to a number of them.

"There’s obviously a lot of guys that are going to have to make decisions, a lot of guys that I’m sure in their minds have no plans on leaving," he said. "It is a business and guys have to make decisions that are best for themselves and their families also. All those things are understandable but I’ll definitely be a salesman and try to keep everyone here."

Where Nichols is likely to begin his recruitment tour is with the offensive line. The unit has been together for much of the last two seasons and is regarded in some quarters as the best in the CFL. Of the five starters, three are upcoming free agents, including Bryant, the West nominee for top lineman and favourite to win the award over the Toronto Argonauts’ Sean McEwen. Jermarcus Hardrick, who was named a West Division all-star, and Travis Bond, a CFL all-star in 2016, are also in need of new deals. Patrick Neufeld, who stepped in for an injured Bond the last three games, could also end up somewhere else next season.

"I’m not sure yet, it’s a process," Bond said, when asked if he hoped to return next season. "I’m not saying I don’t want to come back but it’s a process and anything can happen."

Then there is veteran receiver Weston Dressler, one of Nichols’ favourite targets and a leader on the offence, who is also set to hit the open market. Dressler, who turns 33 in July, has been a solid contributor for the Bombers when healthy, but has struggled to stay in the lineup since joining the team last season. He missed seven regular-season games this year and four in 2016, and played the last month with a broken hand.

"After the season’s over you kind of take a step back and think about it," said Dressler, who had four 100-yard receiving games, including nine catches for 114 yards and two touchdowns against Edmonton Sunday. "After a loss the competitor in you says ‘I want another chance right away’ and that’s how I feel right now. I do feel like I have some good football left in me and if I get that opportunity to continue playing, I hope it’s here."

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Quarterback Matt Nichols speaks at a news conference Monday morning, the day after the Winnipeg Blue Bombers were eliminated from Grey Cup contention following a 39-32 loss to the Edmonton Eskimos in the West semifinal.</p>

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Quarterback Matt Nichols speaks at a news conference Monday morning, the day after the Winnipeg Blue Bombers were eliminated from Grey Cup contention following a 39-32 loss to the Edmonton Eskimos in the West semifinal.

But as much as the offence could potentially change next season, the defence could be the hardest to keep together. The most notable pending free agents include Chris Randle and T.J. Heath, two of the team’s all-star defensive backs, linebacker Maurice Leggett, arguably the team’s most dominant player on defence who missed the last month with a torn Achilles, defensive end Jamaal Westerman, who leads the club in sacks over the past three seasons, and defensive tackle Drake Nevis.

Unlike the offence — a unit coming off a formidable season where they averaged the second-most points in the CFL — the defence was among the worst in the league (statistically). They were second only to the Montreal Alouettes in yards and points against and were susceptible to giving up big plays. Against Edmonton, they surrendered four touchdowns, with two of those the result of big passing plays to receivers left wide open.

"I feel like we had bad communication," said all-star safety Loffler. "It’s tough, especially with the loud crowd, but our communication wasn’t there and we definitely need to work on improving that."

Still, Randle said the tools for a great defence are there.

"I want the same core," said Randle. "We have what it takes and we just need to get a little bit stronger, a little bit better and come back ready to win."

Not to be outdone, the special teams could also face a major overhaul. Justin Medlock, the team’s dominant placekicker who is coming off one of his worst seasons in the CFL, is 34 years old. When asked about his future Monday, he didn’t rule out sticking with the team, but also hinted at a potential retirement. The Bombers were said to be paying him $175,000 per season.

"I want to take a second to kind of think about what I want to do, whether I want to play, whether I want to play somewhere else, whether I want to play here," Medlock said. "Been thinking about doing some other things in life, maybe, so we’ll see."

The Bombers hope to sign a number of these pending free agents before the market opens in February. But in an era where players can sign one-year contracts, roster turnover is an inevitable part of the game, and one that doesn’t always work out the way the team or player wants.

"It’s kind of a weird situation because the season just ended," said Westerman. "At times you may say you want to be here and then two months from now things change. Then they say they want you and then things change again."

For the Bombers, the hope is it’s for the better.

jeff.hamilton@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @jeffkhamilton

Read more by Jeff Hamilton.

Advertisement

Advertise With Us

History

Updated on Monday, November 13, 2017 at 10:47 PM CST: updates factbox

You can comment on most stories on The Winnipeg Free Press website. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective January 2015.