Edmonton Eskimos GM Brock Sutherland has a big decision to make.
Bowman has cracked the 1,000-yard plateau three times over his six CFL campaigns with Edmonton. But last year, Bowman had 45 catches for 534 yards and five TDs over 12 regular-season games before adding five receptions for 96 yards and two touchdowns in two playoff contests.
Bowman, who’ll become a father for the first time this spring, did cap his season by receiving the Tom Pate Memorial Award for his community service. He also finished the year strong, registering 20 catches for 338 yards and five TDs in the Eskimos final five games (three regular season, two playoff).
Pro-rated over 18 games, that translates into 72 receptions for 1,216 yards and 18 touchdowns.
Sunderland declined an interview request Tuesday, citing the Eskimos’ policy of not discussing contracts or salaries.
Bowman had a club-record 120 catches for a league-high 1,759 yards and nine TDs in 2016 then signed a contract extension through the 2018 season that at the time made him the league’s highest-paid non-quarterback. Bowman reportedly earned $260,000 last year and is scheduled to make $265,000 this year, including the bonus.
The choices facing Sutherland are: pay the bonus on the Feb. 5 due date and ensure Bowman stays put; re-negotiate Bowman’s contract; trade him; or release him, thus making Bowman a free agent ahead of official Feb. 13 start of CFL free agency.
But any team acquiring Bowman would likely request to re-negotiate his current deal rather than pay the bonus.
Last month the Hamilton Tiger-Cats dealt quarterback Zach Collaros to Saskatchewan rather than pay him a reported $200,000 roster bonus. After the trade, the Riders and Collaros agreed to a restructured, one-year deal.
And last week, the Montreal Alouettes released veteran quarterback Darian Durant the day before he was due a $150,000 bonus.
Incidentally, Bowman, Collaros and Durant are all represented by the Vancouver-based Core Sports Group.
Age is one factor working against Bowman, who’ll turn 33 in July. But Bowman’s body of work with Edmonton is solid with 485 career catches for 7,050 yards (14.5-yard average) with 36 TDs while helping the Eskimos capture the ’15 Grey Cup.
Prior to last season, Bowman had registered three straight 1,000-yard seasons, recording 325 catches for 4,521 yards and 22 TDs over that span. He also appeared in 17 regular-season contests each year.
Another variable in the equation is Bowman’s teammate Vidal Hazelton (55 catches, 709 yards, four TDs and two years Bowman’s junior) is scheduled to become a free agent next month.
On Monday, veteran defensive lineman Marcus Howard was among four players released by Edmonton. Offensive lineman Danny Groulx and safety Cauchy Muamba, both Canadians, and American defensive end Phillip Hunt – who were all due to become free agents Feb. 13. – were the others.
Howard, 32, played seven seasons with the Eskimos, registering 36 sacks in 68 career games. But he played in just five contests in 2017 with just one sack.
One factor in Bowman’s favour, though, is Edmonton has already lost a top receiver this off-season. American Brandon Zylstra, who had a CFL-high 1,687 yards on 100 catches with five TDs, signed with the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings.
The return of Bowman, a native of Chattanooga, Tenn., could help solidify an Edmonton receiving corps that still features D’haquille Williams (46 catches, 715 yards, four TDs) and Derel Walker (48 catches, 634 yards, two TDs).
Bowman also has a history with Edmonton quarterback Mike Reilly, another Core Sports Group client who was the CFL’s outstanding player last year and is entering his sixth season in Alberta.