Assessing the Bombers’ Complicated Free Agents Situation

Thanks to GM Kyle Walters being on top of things and extending contracts early, the Winnipeg Football Club has been in favorable situations in terms of having a relatively small amount of pending free agents to re-sign in the off-season since he took over in 2013.

Despite having already extending key players such as Chris Randle and Mathias Goossen, Walters is still poised to face decisions regarding the most free agents he’s had since taking over the player personnel reigns from Joe Mack. Fortunately, the Bombers’ 19 pending free agents about represents an average number in the CFL.

The Bombers’ cap situation is quite interesting heading into the off-season. They’re now without the egregious contract of Drew Willy, but Nichols’ needed pay-raise – which will likely contain a base salary of at least $300,000 – erases much of the breathing room when you consider that both Khalil Bass and Darvin Adams after expected to go from making peanuts over the last two seasons to north of $100,000 annually.

There will be other pending free agents, of course, that will demand smaller pay-raises, but pay-raises nonetheless. Every penny counts for the Bombers this off-season considering the league’s minuscule salary cap of 5.1 million. Evidently, Walters can’t keep everyone. (Although it does make sense to wish for as much continuity as possible in order for this young team to build on a successful 2016 season). It would also be nice to have a little bit of free cap space for a change after the shopping spree that was the free agency spending last February.

As we look into who should stay and who should go regarding the club’s upcoming free agents, its important to consider that the Bombers will make other moves that will affect their re-sign phase that aren’t directly previewed at this time. The Bombers could be poised to release players with large cap hits such as Patrick Neufeld, which would completely change the way the re-sign phase is approached. For now, though, we’ll deal with the cards that are dealt.

The club released their free agents list on the official team website. Here’s my take on the team’s suspected current cap situation in relation to their upcoming free agents, and which of their 20 should be offered an extension.

Retain without hesitation…

QB Matt Nichols

Nichols has provided the Bombers with the most stability at the quarterback position since Kevin Glenn’s first stint in the blue and gold. As proven by the Montreal Alouettes and certainly the Bombers themselves, quality quarterbacks are not easy to come by. Whether they’re elite passers or lower-echelon game-managers, starting-caliber pivots are a must-resign when the free agent market is as weak as it will be this February. Negotiations won’t be easy between Nichols’ party and Bombers’ GM Kyle Walters, as Nichols has leverage thanks to both the free agent market and his 10-3 record as the starter in 2016. On the other hand, Walters must be careful with both the term and annual average value of the deal following the Drew Willy contract disaster, as well as Nichols’ unconvincing numbers that could regress next season. Regardless, this deal absolutely must get done as soon as possible. The Bombers need Matt Nichols.

WR Darvin Adams

All Adams did in 2016 was produce. Though his season was ravaged by a broken collarbone injury that limited the fourth-year veteran to just eight games, he was productive enough in limited action to warrant a significant pay-raise from the dollar figures he first signed for two off-seasons ago when he came over from the Toronto Argonauts with 261 career receiving yards. Adams accumulated 690 yards and six scores this season, and his phenomenal yards-per-game average of 86.3 yards puts him in the elite company of Adarius Bowman and Chris Williams. Don’t expect Adams to get paid like those two – the minuscule sample size is one of a few reasons – but he’ll still be benefiting financially from an extremely production season.

LB Khalil Bass

Bass’ value to the Bombers’ defense, despite only being a professional for two seasons, is often over-looked. He’s their much-needed bruiser between the tackles, eating blocks to free up his teammates and causing havoc at the point of attack like no one else on the defense does. He provides a steady back-side presence when the ball goes away from him, and is a surprisingly consistent tackler despite his willingness to deliver the bone-crushing hits. As the MIKE, the young ‘backer is depended on to shift his defensive lineman’s alignment and switch around assignments based on the offensive formation and motion, and as far as I can tell, Bass seems is quite reliable in that sense, too. At just 26-years-old, the Bombers need to keep around the Portland State product who’s stepped up and filled a key role in the defense in just his second season.

FB James Tuck

The Bombers were in no dire need to pick up other team’s Canadian training camp casualties, but they pounced on the opportunity to sign Tuck when the Argos released him – and for good reason. Tuck was a special-teams demon in 2016, and at the ripe age of 26, he should be around for awhile. While he falls into the category of a pure special-teamer who doesn’t necessarily have a regular position on offense or defense, Tuck does provide emergency depth at fullback, with Christophe Normand dressing as the Bombers’ lone fullback.

LS Chad Rempel

Rempel’s name was rarely – if ever – brought up this season. As a long-snapper, that’s always a good thing. Rempel, 35, is truly one of the best in the business.

Should the price be favorable….

LB Tony Burnett

Burnett, 26, should be re-upped from his rookie deal with a one-year contract. With Ian Wild missing several games due to injuries, Burnett had the opportunities to prove himself on defense and did not look out of place. In fact, the drop-off from Wild to Burnett was hardly noticeable at all. The USC product is another good season away from being in high demand on the free agent market to fill a starting role next year. The Bombers won’t let him walk, however, if he unseats Wild for the starting job at weak-side linebacker in 2017 – a move that would make sense financially and potentially on the field, too. If he’s again a depth player behind Wild next season, Burnett will continue to be heavily-relied upon on special-teams as he gathers film for a trip to free agency in 2018.

QB Kevin Glenn

A proven backup quarterback is a must-have in the CFL. At this point in his career, Glenn, soon-to-be 38, is exactly that. Youngsters Dominique Davis and Bryan Bennett haven’t given the Bombers any reason to go young and cheap at the position. Glenn must be re-signed.

SB/KR Quincy McDuffie

McDuffie had a quietly good first season in Blue after three seasons in Hamilton as depth to Brandon Banks. He’s merely 26-years-old, and led the league in both major kick return categories: return average (27.7) and touchdowns (2). McDuffie will likely take over all return duties next year, as its not ideal to have a starting DB in Kevin Fogg returning punts full-time. And if Fogg does not earn a starting job in the secondary, there’s likely not a spot on the roster for him at all. McDuffie, meanwhile, looks to be a solid backup receiver when used properly, too. He’s well deserving of a slight pay-raise from the near-league minimum he likely earned in 2016.

LB Sam Hurl

Hurl is a very solid special-teamer and, despite the Bombers being destined to draft another linebacker in 2017 along with recent draftees Garrett Waggoner and Shayne Gauthier, it he would be a noticeable loss if he isn’t deemed affordable. Signed as a starter two seasons ago, Hurl will have to take a pay-cut after being demoted following his first season in Winnipeg.

QB Dominique Davis

Davis has had very few chances to show his skill in a real-game situation, and that could work in his favor. In terms of accuracy and ball-placement, Davis was clearly superior to fourth-string quarterback Bryan Bennett, who’s also a free agent, in the pre-season. The Bombers are looking for a young quarterback to move into the backup role and displace Glenn, and though they’ll likely add two new faces in the off-season, expect them to retain one of Davis and Bennett. The former, who kept his third-string job all season, should be the one.

SB Thomas Mayo

At minimum salary, the Bombers may as well bring back Mayo, who showed potential in his few opportunities, for training camp.

Worthy but likely not affordable…

DT Euclid Cummings

Cummings is an athletic specimen who’s statistics did not represent his effectiveness in his first season in the blue and gold. While his sack totals decreased from 8 in his unofficial rookie campaign to just three sacks in 2016, he remains an above average pass-rusher at a position largely centered on pass-rushing – the 3-technique. The 290-pounder provides versatility in that he can shift out to defensive end if needed, possessing the speed and some of the flexibility needed for playing on the edge. Regardless, as an international defensive tackle who was inconsistent against the run, the Bombers can’t break the bank for Cummings. I was surprised to read reports indicating Kyle Walters paid Cummings $140,000/year after really just one season in the league in 2015. He’ll request about the same money this year, and seeing as Darvin Adams and Khalil Bass will go from making pennies to well north of $100,000 this off-season, the Bombers may have to sacrifice Cummings, who could leave for the NFL regardless.

Clarence Denmark

There’s a decent chance the Bombers make room to bring back Denmark, which would likely come through releasing Tori Gurley, who has an official contract in place should he not defy the odds and earn another NFL shot. But the Bombers have to be weary in investing veteran money in international players. They certainly can’t keep both Denmark and Gurley along with Weston Dressler, Darvin Adams and Ryan Smith. For now, Denmark is the one without a contract for next year.

Time to move on from…

WR Rory Kohlert

After starting all 18 games for the third straight season – well, he missed one game last year –  Kohlert lost his starting position heading into the West semi-final, a move that was long overdue. Kohlert’s numbers have continually declined since a career-high 594 yards and three TDs in 2014. The Bombers are desperate for improved production from a Canadian at field-side wide receiver – Kohlert has shown that he’s no longer capable.

HB Julian Posey

The Bombers are loaded with faces at defensive back. There’s no reason to bring back a occasional-practice roster player that gave up an average of 41 receiving yards/game in six starts.

LB Jessie Briggs

Having drafted Canadian linebackers Garrett Waggoner and Shayne Gauthier in the last two years, the Bombers will likely choose between Briggs and Hurl in the coming months. Briggs is the cheaper option, but Hurl has significantly more starting experience. Though he played injured, Briggs had a poor season this year, riddled with penalties and missed tackles.

FS Teague Sherman

Though he was certainly legitimately injured at one point, the Bombers willingly kept Sherman off the active roster with the emergence of rookie FS Taylor Loffler. Fellow Canadian defensive backs Derek Jones and Brendan Morgan are already under contract for next season, leaving little room for the veteran. The University of Manitoba alumni should get another look elsewhere in the league.

QB Bryan Bennett

Seeing as they picked up Kevin Glenn mid-season, the Bombers certainly aren’t completely sold on Davis and Bennett for immediate returns. Glenn’s arrival could be irrelevant, but look for the Bombers to bring in a new arm next season to hopefully compete in the future for the no. 2 spot.

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