January 19, 2019

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Randle's release sent shock wave across CFL

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p><p>Former Winnipeg Blue Bombers defensive back Chris Randle was released by the team Wednesday, after playing for them for five seasons.</p>

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Former Winnipeg Blue Bombers defensive back Chris Randle was released by the team Wednesday, after playing for them for five seasons.

It didn’t take long for news of Chris Randle's release from the Winnipeg Blue Bombers Wednesday night to send a shock wave across the Canadian Football League.

Fans and teammates — both recent and from earlier in the veteran cornerback's seven-year CFL career — were quick to offer words of support and encouragement for what many deemed a surprising development for the Blue and Gold. Some even used it as a chance to recruit the native of Merced, Calif., issuing subtle pleas over Twitter for their team to sign the 30-year-old boundary corner.

Later, hours after the Bombers formally announced the move, Randle broke his silence, issuing a statement thanking the team and its fans for the support he's received over the last five seasons.

"To say I wasn't shook would be a lie, but I do understand. I'm so grateful to have had the opportunity to play for the Blue Bombers organization. The everlasting relationships I was able to build over the years has changed my life in more ways than you could imagine," he wrote. "To the fans, I appreciate all the love and support you have shown me and my family. I can't thank the city and the people of Winnipeg enough. My faith has never been as strong as it's been now, it's in my nature to always rise!! I pride myself on being flexible and adaptable. This is just one chapter in the storylines. God has begun a good work in me, and he will finish it."

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It didn’t take long for news of Chris Randle's release from the Winnipeg Blue Bombers Wednesday night to send a shock wave across the Canadian Football League.

Fans and teammates — both recent and from earlier in the veteran cornerback's seven-year CFL career — were quick to offer words of support and encouragement for what many deemed a surprising development for the Blue and Gold. Some even used it as a chance to recruit the native of Merced, Calif., issuing subtle pleas over Twitter for their team to sign the 30-year-old boundary corner.

Later, hours after the Bombers formally announced the move, Randle broke his silence, issuing a statement thanking the team and its fans for the support he's received over the last five seasons.

"To say I wasn't shook would be a lie, but I do understand. I'm so grateful to have had the opportunity to play for the Blue Bombers organization. The everlasting relationships I was able to build over the years has changed my life in more ways than you could imagine," he wrote. "To the fans, I appreciate all the love and support you have shown me and my family. I can't thank the city and the people of Winnipeg enough. My faith has never been as strong as it's been now, it's in my nature to always rise!! I pride myself on being flexible and adaptable. This is just one chapter in the storylines. God has begun a good work in me, and he will finish it."

Randle concluded the message with a final goodbye to his former teammates, which also came as a warning: "...it's love but you already know I'm coming!"

Where Randle might end up at this point is difficult to predict, as few teams would have predicted his availability this winter. After all, he still had one more year left on his contract and despite a slight regression in his play last season, he was just one year removed from being voted a CFL all-star. Though Randle should find work in the CFL, he joins a long list of free agents expected to hit the open market Feb. 12, the first day of free agency.

Randle's release provides him the chance to speak with teams immediately, perhaps giving him an early edge. But with an expiring collective bargaining agreement (CBA) in May, all teams are busy trying to sign a number of their own players on expiring contracts, with each club averaging a list of at least 30 names. Some have vowed not to ink a new contract until a new CBA is ratified, which only complicates matters as talks between the CFL players' association and the league have yet to begin.

For the Bombers, the question is where do they go from here? Who will slot into Randle's place at boundary corner has not been solidified. Options currently on the roster include Marcus Sayles, the team's rookie of the year last season, or Brandon Alexander, though he still needs a new contract after two encouraging seasons with the Bombers.

More likely, Winnipeg will look to acquire a younger and cheaper option through free agency. Randle wasn't overly expensive, making $135,000 last season including bonuses, but the belief in the organization is there are lower-priced options available.

Randle played in 17 regular-season games last season, recording 57 tackles and two interceptions. He also had five special-team tackles. In total, he started in 75 games for the Bombers, combining for 217 defensive tackles, 45 special-team tackles, two sacks, 12 interceptions, three forced fumbles and three touchdowns.

What will be harder to replace is Randle's presence in the locker room. Knowing how close the players are and how integral Randle was as part of the glue to that foundation, the Bombers wrestled with the decision to release him. They had lost key leaders before, including defensive end Jamaal Westerman last season and the prospect of losing another made for a difficult conversation for general manager Kyle Walters.

"Roster decisions like these are never easy to make. Some are harder than others, and this certainly was a tough one. Chris has been the definition of a consummate professional in every facet of his game, both on and off the field, since we acquired him," Walters said in a statement. "Our organization cannot thank him enough for everything he has given us, and we wish him and his family the best moving forward."

For the team's younger players, Randle was looked to as an older brother, and was often the calming influence among the team's secondary. Not one to lose his cool, he expressed himself through his faith and struck a strong bond with a number of his teammates.

Randle was scheduled a $15,000 signing bonus on Jan. 15.

Walters was unavailable for an interview Thursday, as he was on a flight to Mexico in preparation for Sunday's combine with the Liga de Futbol Americano Professional (LFA), whom the CFL announced a non-binding partnership deal with in November. A draft, where CFL teams will get a chance to obtain the rights of players, will be held Monday.

The money saved from releasing Randle will be used to sign players on expiring contracts. At the top of the Bombers' to-do list is middle linebacker Adam Bighill, who, in his first season with the Bombers, was named the CFL's most outstanding defensive player.

Bighill signed late into training camp at an affordable $175,000. He's expected to fetch north of $200,000 on his next deal and will be of interest to almost every team in the CFL. Winnipeg is considered a heavy favourite to re-sign the 30-year-old but nothing is guaranteed.

Although Bighill has said he has enjoyed his time in Winnipeg and has a strong admiration for head coach Mike O'Shea, he has not proclaimed a desire to return.

Sources have said talks are going well and there's reason to believe a deal will get done. Randle's release could be viewed as a step to expediting that process. Given the hefty price tag, it's safe to assume the Bombers would like to sign Bighill sooner than later; with the biggest piece locked in, others can start falling into place.

Other players that are due raises, on defence, include linebacker Jovan Santos-Knox, who played alongside Bighill on the weak side and credits him for his vast improvement last season, and defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat. Both have garnered interest from the NFL.

It's expected Jeffcoat, who has worked out for the Cincinnati Bengals, and Santos-Knox will return to the Bombers if they can't earn an NFL contract.

Another name of considerable interest is safety Taylor Loffler, who is coming off his third CFL all-star nod in as many seasons and is expecting to fetch top dollar, especially as a Canadian. Loffler is coming off his rookie deal that paid $87,000 in 2018, inclduing bonuses, so a raise could be in the neighbourhood of close to six figures.

Of the 10 defensive backs the Bombers ended the season with, only four remain under contract. After a season where the Bombers made notable improvements in their pass defence, it only makes sense they'd want to keep as many pieces intact as possible.

But as we've seen in recent months, beginning with the release of Maurice Leggett shortly after the season and Randle on Wednesday, not everyone can return. More decisions are still to be made, which, given the current landscape of the CFL, shouldn't shock anyone at all.

jeff.hamilton@freepress.mb.caTwitter: @jeffkhamilton

Jeff Hamilton

Jeff Hamilton
Multimedia producer

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.

Read full biography

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