Winnipeg Blue Bombers fans can rest assured in general manager
Expect the Bombers to take a noticeably different approach when CFL free agents open shop on securing their services.
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The Blue Bombers came out guns a'blazing one year ago, with general manager Kyle Walters putting in heavy work when the window to CFL free agency opened.
While there is definitely work to be done again this season, expect the Bombers to take a noticeably different approach when CFL free agents open shop on securing their services beginning at 11 a.m. CST this morning.
Walters was decidedly aggressive last February, inking multiple high-profile free agents in the early hours of the window opening on the free agent party. When the dust had finally settled, the Blue Bombers had a half-dozen new starters in their lineup.
This year, much of the work has been done in the preliminary stages of free agency. Walters has locked down his quarterback, handing Matt Nichols a three-year deal and the richest contract in team history. Walters then re-upped versatile deep threat Darvin Adams, added another big receiving target in Kenny Stafford, and landed maybe his biggest free agent fish in rush end Tristan Okpalaugo, fresh off a year in the NFL following two outstanding seasons with the Toronto Argonauts.
So when the majority of pending CFL free agents hit the market, Walters will be just as calculated as he was last winter, despite the overall approach to roster construction looking quite different. Wading into the free agency pool can quickly turn into rising and trepidatious waters with the salary cap keeping CFL teams in check come later in the season when injuries pile up. Just like any business with a strict bottom line, general managers around the league will crunch their cost-benefit analysis, calculate risk versus reward, and decide if reaching for some pricey talent is worth the possibility of it coming back to bite them and their chances at a Grey Cup.
Walters has been perfectly clear that he will be patient this year and wait for value to come in the days following Valentine's Day. So where does he need to add veteran pieces?
With the defensive backfield as stocked as it has been since Winnipeg's 2011 Grey Cup appearance, the interior defensive line is the most glaring area on a club that allowed the most yards in the CFL last season. The departure of starting tackles Euclid Cummings and Keith Shologan leave veteran Canadian Jake Thomas and Padric Scott, but more help is needed. Walters will also likely bolster the interior with one of his three top-15 picks in the upcoming Canadian draft, including his pick of the litter choice at first-overall.
Winnipeg boasts a bevy of young Canadian linebackers, but with Ian Wild the only returning starter, expect Walters to look for some help in the middle.
On offence, the O-line is rock-solid with six returnees capable of filling the five starting spots, receiver is flush with talent, and Andrew Harris and Timothy Flanders may be the best 1-2 tailback duo in the CFL. But Walters needs to add a backup with a Canadian passport, and it just might result in a homecoming for young Winnipegger Kienan LaFrance who broke out during the 2016 playoffs for the Ottawa Redblacks.
Blue Bombers fans can rest assured in Kyle Walters and company — the recent track record speaks for itself. Every one of the club's five 2016 CFL All-Stars were in their first season with Winnipeg last year. Coming off an 11-win 2016 campaign — the club's best regular season finish in well over a decade — expectations for the 2017 season are rightfully sky-high.