Bombers get roughed up on day one of free agency

The Bombers have added a ton of talent on day one of free agency in recent years, an aggressive strategy that has achieved mixed results. With the club’s roster as talented and deep as it’s been in years, Kyle Walters promised to take a less-active approach to this year’s free agent frenzy.

And he did.

Walters started his day by adding two players (more on that in a moment) before allowing linebackers Khalil Bass and Tony Burnett to leave for Ottawa and B.C., respectively.

Bass had been as consistent as any Bomber defender over the past two seasons, recording 181 tackles, nine sacks, and three interceptions in 35 games. Bass, an ideal fit at weak-side (WILL) linebacker, played in the middle last season to allow Ian Wild to return to WILL where he shone in 2013 and 2014. Wild makes good money and has had trouble with missed tackles and injuries — why Walters would elect to keep him over Bass is a head-scratcher.

Ditto with Burnett. Burnett had a slew of NFL workouts before signing with B.C. for a reported $90,000 — not a ton of cash for a player who has drawn comparisons to former Edmonton Eskimo Deon Lacey, a dominant special teamer who eventually developed into a solid defensive starter.

Letting better (and possibly cheaper) options leave for greener pastures is simply bad business, particularly considering that linebacker was (and now certainly is) a position of need for the Bombers.

Back to Winnipeg’s two free agent signings.

The biggest name free agent Kyle Walters added on Tuesday was international defensive tackle Drake Nevis.

Nevis enjoyed a stand-out rookie season in Hamilton last year, recording 29 tackles, five sacks, and one forced fumble. The former New Orleans Saint was also one of the top-five free agents I suggested the Bombers should target in free agency just two days ago.

The problem with the Nevis signing is the contract itself. The Bombers confirmed Nevis’ deal is for just one year, with TSN’s Gary Lawless reporting its value at approximately $125,000.

The international defensive tackle market is currently flooded. Even with Micah Johnson and Mic’hael Brooks re-upping with their respective clubs prior to Tuesday, there are still plenty of names to be had. Alan-Michael Cash is very good, Moton Hopkins is excellent when healthy, and Bryan Hall can play.

Even if Nevis was Walters’ first choice (and he’d have been mine, too), why sign him to a big-money deal in the first hour of free agency? There wasn’t a single report of Nevis negotiating with any other CFL team. The Bombers would have been better-served by offering more cap-friendly figures to several international defensive tackles and seeing if one would bite.

The club may have even got a second year out of the deal, a huge plus in a league where contracts aren’t guaranteed. If a player signs a two-year deal and outperforms the first year’s salary, great. If the player fails to live up to the contract, the team simply cuts him after year one. Either way, the team wins.

The Nevis signing is also highly reminiscent of one of Winnipeg’s less-successful free agent signings from a season ago.

Euclid Cummings was coming off a dominant eight-sack season when he inked a one-year, $150,000 deal with Winnipeg last February. People around the league loved the signing — Cummings was the perfect player to inject life into the Blue Bomber pass rush.

Until he wasn’t.

Cummings regressed in 2016, recording just sixteen tackles and three sacks in seventeen games. He simply wasn’t the same player he had been the prior season with Toronto. Cummings played alongside stalwart defensive tackle Cleyon Laing with the Argonauts, a dominant player who drew a lot of attention from opposing offensive lines.

The problem with the Nevis signing is that he comes from a similar circumstance in Hamilton.

As great as he was with the Ticats, Nevis benefited greatly from playing alongside the CFL’s best nose tackle in Ted Laurent. He also played in Orlondo Steinauer’s vaunted defence, a unit known for disguising its exotic blitz schemes as well as any in the CFL.

In Winnipeg, Nevis will play alongside Jake Thomas, Brandon Tennant or Rupert Butcher — none of whom are in the same league as Laurent. He will also be playing in Richie Hall’s defensive scheme, one that rarely rushes more than four defenders and does little to disguise its tendencies.

Nevis may be dominant in 2017, but it’s difficult to get too excited about his signing knowing the aftermath of Cummings’ addition last February.

Walters also added national receiver Matt Coates from the Ticats. The Bombers desperately need help at Canadian receiver, but it’s difficult to imagine Coates being the long-term answer. The former Hamilton Hurricane boasts decent size at 6’2, but has just nine receptions in 34 career games. Incumbent national pass catchers Addison Richards and Julian Feoli-Gudino need to be pushed, but I’m not sure Coates is the right guy to do it.

The worst part of Walters’ day was missing on two Canadians with ties to Winnipeg.

Defensive tackle Jabar Westerman, the younger brother of Blue Bomber defensive end Jamaal Westerman, signed with Montreal today to join former Bomber nose tackle Keith Shologan in La Belle Province. The younger Westerman would have been a perfect fit for Winnipeg’s ratio, simply replacing Shologan in the starting line-up. Instead, the Bombers will need to start one of Thomas, Tennant or Butcher, none of whom have proven track records as CFL starters.

Meanwhile, running back Kienan LaFrance, a Winnipeg native, signed with Saskatchewan after much speculation that he’d sign with his hometown Blue Bombers. In fairness to Walters, the Riders ponied up huge money for a player who has just 37 carries to his name.

What kept Tuesday from being a true disaster in Bomberland were the contract extensions handed out to two key Canadians: right guard Sukh Chungh and linebacker Sam Hurl. Chungh is a future all-star, while Hurl is a solid special teamer who is capable of starting in a pinch. Four of Winnipeg’s five Canadian offensive linemen (Matthias Goossen, Michael Couture, Zach Intzandt, and Chungh) are now under contract through 2018. The lone exception is Patrick Neufeld, who is a free agent after this upcoming season.

Fortunately for Winnipeg, several worthwhile free agents remain unsigned heading into day two of free agency tomorrow. TSN’s Matthew Scianitti has reported the club is interested in former Argonaut safety Matt Black, a player who has a history with Mike O’Shea and would be capable of backing up starting safety Taylor Loffler.

National receiver Devon Bailey, and defensive backs Rico Murray and Jovon Johnson would all be intriguing options for the club heading into tomorrow.

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