December 13, 2018

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Harris's off-season includes player retention

Andrew Harris has a lengthy off-season to-do list.

The 31-year-old running back has several projects, including the life-altering (he’s getting married) and other more every-day pursuits such as coaching soccer, his involvement in the construction of an apartment building, working on a securities course, playing hockey and training for the 2019 season.

Harris, one of five Winnipeg Blue Bombers players named to the CFL all-star squad Tuesday, will also play an unofficial, yet pivotal role in convincing key free agents to remain with the Blue Bombers or have others come to Winnipeg.

The top priority — pending free-agent linebacker Adam Bighill — is a given.

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Andrew Harris has a lengthy off-season to-do list.

The 31-year-old running back has several projects, including the life-altering (he’s getting married) and other more every-day pursuits such as coaching soccer, his involvement in the construction of an apartment building, working on a securities course, playing hockey and training for the 2019 season.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p><p>Winnipeg Blue Bombers running back Andrew Harris, right, watches practice with team President & CEO Wade Miller in October. Harris and Miller will both be doing whatever they can to attract and retain free agents this off-season.</p>

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Winnipeg Blue Bombers running back Andrew Harris, right, watches practice with team President & CEO Wade Miller in October. Harris and Miller will both be doing whatever they can to attract and retain free agents this off-season.

Harris, one of five Winnipeg Blue Bombers players named to the CFL all-star squad Tuesday, will also play an unofficial, yet pivotal role in convincing key free agents to remain with the Blue Bombers or have others come to Winnipeg.

The top priority — pending free-agent linebacker Adam Bighill — is a given.

"Me and (club CEO Wade Miller) are working out a side commission," joked Harris before turning serious during a media conference Tuesday afternoon at Investors Group Field.

"I had lunch with Bighill actually just today. Honestly, it’s the guys that want to come back (and) that want to be here are going to do what they can to get back, and the guys who are wanting to move on and try to get more money are going to do that. They’ve got to do what’s best for their families and best for their situation."

The Blue Bombers have a large number of players set to hit the open market in February but they aren’t alone. It’s a future made more uncertain by an expiring collective bargaining agreement that has put many CFLers on edge, wondering what 2019 will bring.

"It’s going to be very hard on the players, on the management, on the coaches this year," said Harris. "Especially for us, we have so many guys that are free. But I am talking to guys. You guys all know and I preached about how much I care about the guys in the room... as much as I can do to keep the locker room the same, keep the continuity and that same energy we had, I definitely want to be a part of that and make sure guys do come back.

"Even talking to a guy like Bighill. Guys are interested in being in this environment and playing here. But again, guys are going to do what’s best for them and their families. It’s going to be an interesting off-season, that’s for sure."

Harris is not directly involved in CBA bargaining but expressed hope that an agreement between the CFLPA and the league can be hammered out quickly.

"We’re in a weird position right now with all the free agents, a new league (Alliance of American Football is scheduled to start play in February) coming up," said Harris. "It’s going to be a very interesting off-season. I’m telling guys if you have the opportunity to sign, there’s not going to be a big jump in the salary cap as there was a few years ago. The things we’re talking about and wanting are insurance and medical and things of that nature. So it’s not going to be more so on the money side.

"So if you really want to be in a place and in a community and on a team, you should probably jump on that sooner than later. It’s supply and demand. As many guys as there are about to become free, it’s going to be difficult for GMs to make decisions on guys."

Is Harris prepared to accept a lighter workload in 2019?

"No," said Harris. "But if I need to, if they ask that, that’s fine. It’s not about me taking a lesser load. We just need to be more consistent in whatever we’re doing."

After career highs of 239 carries and 1,390 rushing yards in 2018, Harris was aked how much longer he can handle the workload.

"I have no idea," he said. "... I just had probably the most gruelling season as far as carries go. I feel great right now, so I definitely want to honour the two years I have left (on my contract) and we’ll see what happens after that."

Is it realistic to aim for a season of 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving, a feat Harris came close to accomplishing in 2017?

"Last year, when guys were going down, there was more emphasis on the check-downs and teams weren’t really honouring it that much in 2017," said Harris. "I think it’s going to be a lot harder for any running back to do that now. Because linebackers and defensive co-ordinators and defensive ends are playing the backs a lot more than they used to.

"When I first came into this league, no one even looked at the backs and I would be wide open all the time. And (B.C. quarterback Travis) Lulay would always find me for big plays. The league’s kind of changed that way, where it’s harder to get those backs the ball. So the game’s evolved a bit, and I think it’s going to be hard for any running back to accomplish that."

Harris was also asked about the likelihood of offensive co-ordinator Paul LaPolice remaining in Winnipeg. LaPolice reportedly met with the Toronto Argonauts about their head coaching vacancy earlier this week before withdrawing his name from consideration when it became clear the new head coach would not be assembling his own staff.

"As much as it is important for the players to come back, it’s just as important for the coaches," said Harris. "We’ve built something so special here and continue to build something, it’s very rare in professional football. That’s having people that care about each other. Guys are willing to go to war for each other and really lay it on the line.

"That starts with the coaching staff, from Mike O’Shea to LaPolice and on the defensive side of the ball with Richie (Hall) and all his staff, too. It’s very important. I know LaPo’s a guy who’s very passionate about all the things he does. And with his family being here, it’d be great to have him back."

mike.sawatzky@freepress.mb.caTwitter: @sawa14

Mike Sawatzky

Mike Sawatzky
Sports Reporter

Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.

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