Can Bomber fans trust Kyle Walters?

The consensus belief is that Kyle Walters and Mike O’Shea felt the need to go berserk in free agency because they’re in contract years and, of course, have a truck-load of pressure on their shoulders.

The Bombers have already signed RB Andrew Harris, RB Pascal Lochard, SB Ryan Smith, DT Keith Shologan, K/P Justin Medlock and C Jeff Keeping. And they aren’t done yet.

Spending big money in free agency sure hasn’t worked out yet for this regime of Wade Miller, Kyle Walters and Mike O’Shea, and they spent more than ever this year. It’s quite well-known that the Grey Cup champion isn’t crowned in February, and that making a major free agent splash doesn’t lead to success as often as it leads to failure.

But, hey, in Walters I trust… question?

This free agent class is vastly deep, which means there’ll be bargains for the middle-class of players on day two – players that would’ve made big money in regular free agent classes. You know, ones that don’t have 140 free agents.

But Walters made the splash, signing five before Ed Hervey had even woke up. The great signings, in my opinion, are those of Smith (two-year deal), Shologan (2-year deal), Keeping (depth signing) and DT Euclid Cummings, if he signs. Smith and Cummings are both 24-years-old and coming off great first full seasons in the league. Signing Shologan is a relief that they didn’t drop huge dollars on Ted Laurent or Cleyon Laing – if that guy’s not in the NFL, which we don’t even really seem to know – and refreshingly got a middle-tier free agent, who’s still a great pickup, himself.

The Bombers could’ve easily just signed these guys and wait for day 2 and 3 to find some bargains. Instead, Walters inked Andrew Harris to a three-year deal and K Justin Medlock to a deal that’ll pay him a ridiculous $175,000/season.

I was pleased with Medlock’s signing initially, knowing that Big Blue will finally have an automatic, cold-blooded kicker to put up points. But then came the news of the salary, and for any elite kicker/punter, $175,000 is too much money. But for an American who’s an elite kicker but below-average punter, that’s just a ludicrous amount. Medlock better punt as well as he kicks this year to allow Bomber fans to be somewhat at peace with the salary he’s making.

The Harris signing will, of course, receive much fan-fare – we’ve been waiting for Harris to play football in Winnipeg since his Junior football days with the V.I. Raiders. But it might be too late now, as Harris is 28-years-old with a lot of mileage on his tires and a history of injuries.

The term/money in his contract is still very much unknown, but it’s not likely they signed him for anywhere near the numbers the Stamps will pay Jerome Messam in 2016 after re-signing him on the eve of free agency. Messam was reportedly asking for $130,000/season, while Harris wanted $200,000. Paying Harris anywhere near what he wanted would be overpaying him. I’d have preferred a 2-year deal at $130,000 – take it or leave it.

The Bombers could’ve found another American RB in scouting camps to compete with Paris Cotton for $52-$60,000, which would’ve worked fine. Andrew Harris, who may have been playing through injuries last season and still managed to hit 1,000 yards, could reel off another stout season and return to form. But say he gets hurt, I doubt Lochard is a long-term fix at RB, therefore the Bombers will have to either sit an American receiver to start Julian Feoli-Gudino, or start Sam Hurl over Ian Wild at MLB.

All these signings could pay off in spades for the Bombers with a Grey Cup win – as it did for the Saskatchewan Roughriders in 2013 – but after that, we might be in trouble. Next year’s pending free agents may include Sukh Chungh, Rory Kohlert, Julian Feoli-Gudino, Darvin Adams, Clarence Denmark, Sam Hurl, Maurice Leggett, Johnny Adams, Derek Jones, among others (this list is very, very unofficial). That’s a large amount of key free agents, and much of them will want pay-raises. Where will the Bombers find the money to re-sign all these guys? This all seems a little Brendan Taman-esque.

My apologies, I should never compare Walters to Taman. Walters actually values Canadians, drafts well, makes smart trades, negotiates good term on contracts for the team and re-signs players during the season. But the Bomber GM seems to be following the footsteps of the former Bomber GM, Taman, in making a huge splash in the open-market. Again, sorry for the comparison, Walters has signed way more Canadians rather than aged internationals (go away, Macho Harris). But Walters could be the next former GM if the team he has assembled through free agency doesn’t perform on the field in 2016.

Walters and co. will have a tough off-season when the 2016 season ends, but the Bombers believe it’ll be worth it if they vastly improve immediately and save their jobs.

While, of course, I’m even more pumped for the season – if that’s possible – with the news of all these signings, my faith in Walters is slowly fading, and I’ve defended him a lot over the past year. While I think he could be a great GM in the future given some of the things he’s already great at, as mentioned above, he first needs re-evaluate what isn’t sustainable sooner or later: signing expensive free agents insead of relying on the American scouting, which must improve.

The Bombers could be successful in 2016, then follow it up by working some magic in the off-season and putting together another competitive team on the field in 2017. But, let me tell you, that 2017 team will be good, if it is, if it’s built through free agency.

Because sooner or later, the free agency spending will have to stop. Let’s just hope this years coup will guide the team to a big season this year, as history says most of the best teams are built through re-signing and American scouting.

KYLE_WALTERS
Wayne Glowacki: Winnipeg Free Press

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