What Geoff Gray’s signing means for the Bombers

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers announced on Monday that the club has signed offensive lineman Geoff Gray to a three-year contract through the 2020 season.

Gray, a graduate of the University of Manitoba, was selected eighth overall in the 2017 CFL draft shortly after signing a contract with the Green Bay Packers. Had it not been for his NFL agreement, Gray would have been the consensus first overall pick in last year’s draft.

Gray spent fourteen weeks on the New York Jets’ practice roster last year after completing training camp with the Packers. Claimed by the Cleveland Browns on December 12th, the Winnipeg native finished the 2017 season on Cleveland’s active roster.

Gray remained on the Browns until August of this year when he was released early in training camp. He remained a free agent until he became a member of the Blue Bombers on Monday.

National offensive linemen are worth their weight in gold in the CFL (which, considering their size, is saying something). Gray is a physical specimen whose pro day drew the attention of eight NFL scouts. His background in Olympic-style weightlifting has given Gray a pro-ready frame that’s lean, powerful, and explosive.

Impressive as they are, Gray’s physical attributes may be surpassed by his smarts. As first reported by Blue Bomber Director of Content Ed Tait, Gray will begin his Masters in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Manitoba in January.

The addition of Gray means little for the Bombers in the short-term. Winnipeg’s offensive line is one of the league’s best units and — aside from reserve international tackle Manase Foketi — is healthy for a prospective playoff run. Barring a slew of late-season injuries, it’s unlikely that Gray will play for the Bombers in 2018.

Even with Gray unlikely to suit up this season, the timing of his signing works well for both him and the Winnipeg Football Club.

The 2016 J. P. Metras Trophy finalist will make good money this year in the form of a signing bonus, two regular season game cheques, and playoff bonus money (should the Bombers qualify for postseason play). Gray will also be able to depart for the NFL following the 2019 season by virtue of the CFL’s reinstatement of the NFL option window. Should he fail to earn an NFL opportunity following 2019, Gray will remain property of the Blue Bombers through 2020.

The club, meanwhile, can count Gray’s signing bonus against their 2018 salary cap. This will save dollars against next year’s cap, making it easier for Winnipeg to re-sign some of its key pending free agents — Adam Bighill, Taylor Loffler, and Matthias Goossen chiefly among them. The Bombers will also get a chance to assess the 24-year-old’s development since his pro day last year, gaining a better understanding of how Gray will fit into next year’s line-up.

The Bombers currently have just one national offensive lineman under contract through next season — veteran guard/tackle Patrick Neufeld. Winnipeg’s remaining Canadian hogs — centre Matthias Goossen, guard Sukh Chungh, centre/guard Michael Couture, guard Qadr Spooner, and centre/guard Cody Speller — are all pending free agents.

While it’s hard to see Winnipeg not re-signing starters Goossen and Chungh, having insurance behind high-priced veterans is never a bad thing. Depth pieces Couture, Spooner, and Speller could also be back, though each will be expected to continue developing as time progresses.

There’s also the matter of Arnaud Gendron-Dumouchel, the 6-foot-9 tackle out of the University of Montreal. The Bombers drafted Gendron-Dumouchel in the fourth round of last year’s draft knowing that he wanted to return to school in 2018. Assuming he signs with the Bombers this upcoming off-season, Winnipeg may have the depth required to start four nationals along the offensive line.

The problem with that — and it’s a good one to have — is that the Bombers have two excellent international offensive tackles. Left tackle Stanley Bryant and right tackle Jermarcus Hardrick were both named West Division all-stars in 2017. Bryant is signed through 2019, while Hardrick is a free agent at season’s end.

Bryant, the league’s reigning Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman, is one of the CFL’s highest-paid American players. The three-time league all-star has yet to miss a game as a member of the Blue Bombers and has been a model of consistency during his four-year tenure with the club. With that said, Bryant will be 33 years old (and still very expensive) by the time next season rolls around.

Hardrick, meanwhile, currently makes approximately half of what Bryant does. He’s 28, capable playing left tackle, and has quickly become a fan favorite in Winnipeg. The Nebraska product isn’t under contract for next year but, like Goossen and Chungh, shouldn’t be a difficult player to re-sign.

It’s worth noting that Hardrick’s back-up, third-year man Manase Foketi, is signed through 2019.

With this in mind, here are a few ways in which the Blue Bomber offensive line could look next season. I’ve included a note about each iteration.

Left Tackle Left Guard Centre Right Guard Right Tackle
Stanley Bryant Patrick Neufeld Matthias Goossen

Michael Couture

Sukh Chungh

Geoff Gray

Jermarcus Hardrick

Manase Foketi

This unit would be outstanding — but also very expensive.

Left Tackle Left Guard Centre Right Guard Right Tackle
Stanley Bryant Geoff Gray Matthias Goossen

Michael Couture

Sukh Chungh

Cody Speller

Jermarcus Hardrick

Manase Foketi

This unit sees the club trade away veteran guard/tackle Patrick Neufeld to open a starting spot for Geoff Gray (and save some money in the process).

Left Tackle Left Guard Centre Right Guard Right Tackle
Jermarcus Hardrick Patrick Neufeld Matthias Goossen

Michael Couture

Sukh Chungh

Geoff Gray

Manase Foketi

Arnaud Gendron-Dumouchel

This unit sees the club trade away veteran left tackle Stanley Bryant, flipping a re-signed Jermarcus Hardrick over to fill the role.

Left Tackle Left Guard Centre Right Guard Right Tackle
Stanley Bryant Geoff Gray Patrick Neufeld

Michael Couture

Sukh Chungh

Cody Speller

Jermarcus Hardrick

Manase Foketi

This unit sees the Bombers let Matthias Goossen leave via free agency. I don’t suspect the Bombers will let that happen.

Left Tackle Left Guard Centre Right Guard Right Tackle
Stanley Bryant Patrick Neufeld Matthias Goossen

Michael Couture

Geoff Gray

Cody Speller

Jermarcus Hardrick

Manase Foketi

This unit sees Sukh Chungh depart via free agency. I don’t think this one will happen, either.

Left Tackle Left Guard Centre Right Guard Right Tackle
Stanley Bryant

Manase Foketi

Geoff Gray Matthias Goossen

Michael Couture

Sukh Chungh

 

Patrick Neufeld

Arnaud Gendron-Dumouchel

This unit sees the Bombers start four Canadians along the offensive line by virtue of Hardrick’s departure in free agency.

There are a number of factors that will play a role in determining how the Winnipeg Football Club will build its offensive line in 2019. These factors include the league’s upcoming CBA negotiations, the club’s pending free agents, and the 2019 CFL draft (in which the Bombers have two first round picks).

Regardless of how these issues play out, the addition of Geoff Gray provides the Blue Bombers with a number of options ahead of the 2018-2019 off-season.

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