The dream or the nightmare? Bombers either end drought or clean house

The dream scenario: Bombers end 25-year Grey Cup drought

A Grey Cup championship is likely too tall an order for the 2016 Blue Bombers, but there’s a reason this piece is entitled “the dream scenario.”

Drew Willy, now in the first year of a two-year contract extension worth roughly $400,000 per season, establishes himself as one of the CFL’s elite quarterbacks with a 5,000-yard season. Making quick throws to avoid pressure, Willy is sacked just 25 times over eighteen regular season games and sees his safety valve — running back Andrew Harris — earn Most Outstanding Canadian honours with a 1,000-yard rushing and 700-yard receiving season.

Jamaal Westerman — while still producing elite pass rushing numbers — is no longer the only threat found on Winnipeg’s defensive line. Rookies Shayon Green and Trent Corney combine for twelve sacks opposite Westerman, while interior defenders Euclid Cumming and Keith Shologan each match their 2015 pass rushing figures with eight.

Harris, Cummings, and Shologan aren’t the only free agent additions who prove their worth in 2016, with both Ryan Smith and Weston Dressler eclipsing the 1,000-yard receiving mark. Darvin Adams also tops the 1,000-yard plateau, while newcomer Jace Davis earns serious Most Outstanding Rookie consideration with 800 receiving yards and six touchdowns.

Justin Medlock continues to prove why he is the most accurate field goal kicker in CFL history, connecting on 39 of 44 field goal attempts — two of which are game-winners.

All in all, the Bombers manage to stay healthy en route to a 12-6 record in the regular season. General manager Kyle Walters and head coach Mike O’Shea are rewarded with contract extensions through 2020 and 2019, respectively, and Investors Group Field finally provides the home-field advantage Bomber fans were anticipating with the club going 8-1 at home.

The Bombers finish the regular season atop the West Division and, after battling out a tough 22-19 victory over the Calgary Stampeders in the West Final, upset the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the 104th Grey Cup by a score of 34-29.

The nightmare alternative: Willy a dud, Bombers clean house

Drew Willy never fully masters Paul LaPolice’s quick-release offence, leading to mediocre production, another serious injury, and his eventual release. Matt Nichols, Dominique Davis, and Bryan Bennett each earn starts in Willy’s absence, with none appearing to be the Bombers’ long-term solution at quarterback.

Hometown hero Andrew Harris, meanwhile, becomes Winnipeg’s latest free agent bust, averaging just 3.8 yards per carry and proving ineffective in the passing game. Free agent signees Weston Dressler and Keith Shologan also prove ineffective, with age and wear and tear bogging down two once-great players.

Oft-injured Canadians Patrick Neufeld and Addison Richards each miss over half the regular season, testing the Bombers’ Canadian depth and limiting their ratio flexibility.

Former Blue Bomber kicker Lirim Hajrullahu — now with the Toronto Argonauts — converts on a higher percentage of field goals than expensive free agent addition Justin Medlock. And Quincy McDuffie, the former Tiger-Cat who will return kicks for Winnipeg in 2016, fails to have a major impact on special teams.

The Bombers’ American rookies fail to impress for the third consecutive season of the Kyle Walters era. First-year starters Shayon Green and Jace Davis prove ineffective, quickly giving way to fellow newcomers Adrian Hubbard, Thomas Mayo, and Gerrard Sheppard — none of whom have much success.

Investors Group Field continues to be a black hole for a Blue Bomber club that has recorded just seven wins in 27 regular season contests at their first-class facility, with the Bombers losing seven of nine home games in 2016 — including September 10’s Banjo Bowl versus the hated Saskatchewan Roughriders.

The Bombers finish at the bottom of the CFL’s West Division with a 5-13 record, resulting in the firing of both head coach Mike O’Shea and general manager Kyle Walters, throwing the Bombers into yet another off-season of turmoil and uncertainty. Winnipeg extends its unprecedented streak of missing the playoffs to a fifth season, while pushing its Grey Cup drought to 26 years.

The Blue Bombers kick-off their 2016 regular season at Investors Group Field on Friday at 7:35 PM CST versus the Montreal Alouettes.

John Hodge is a CFL insider and draft analyst who has been covering the league since 2014.