Which pending free agents should be back with the Grey Cup champions?
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers have been busy this off-season re-signing five players who would have become free agents in February. Patrick Neufeld, Drew Wolitarsky, Mercy Maston, Jermarcus Hardrick, and Johnny Augustine have all inked new deals to remain the club in 2020.
That leaves 17 names to consider, not including retired offensive lineman Manase Foketi. Below is a look at who should stay, who should go, and those who fall somewhere in between.
Break the bank
OL Stanley Bryant (A)
The 33-year-old has yet to show signs of aging, starting 90 consecutive games over the past five seasons. The two-time CFL Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman is widely considered the best blocker in the league and Winnipeg can’t afford to let him walk.
DL Willie Jefferson (A)
The league’s reigning Most Outstanding Defensive Player is coming off his best season as a professional. The 28-year-old can go quiet at times, but his three-sack performance in the Grey Cup was one for the history books.
QB Chris Streveler (A)
I don’t see Streveler as a CFL starter, but that doesn’t matter. The 25-year-old is arguably the most versatile weapon in the CFL, capable of contributing as a passer, rusher, and receiver. Even as a backup, Streveler is a must-sign commodity for the Blue Bombers.
For the right price
REC Darvin Adams (A)
Adams produced just 549 receiving yards and five touchdowns in 2019, his lowest totals as a Blue Bomber. The club also uncovered a pair of young gems in Kenny Lawler and Rasheed Bailey last season, both of whom could press for expanded roles in 2020.
QB Zach Collaros (A)
Collaros and Matt Nichols are very similar commodities — competent veteran passers with a history of injuries. Winnipeg should sign one to be their starter in 2020, but do so without overspending.
OL Michael Couture (N)
Allowing young Canadian offensive linemen to get away is never prudent, but the emergence of Cody Speller has made Couture somewhat expendable. Geoff Gray, Drew Desjarlais, and Tui Eli round out a group of good young national blockers in Winnipeg.
DB Derek Jones (N)
Every team needs a guy like Jones — a national defensive back who makes his money on special teams. He didn’t push for a starting role at safety, but Jones is still a valuable contributor for the Bombers.
LB Thomas Miles (N)
The Winnipeg native had just eight special teams tackles in 18 games but does a tremendous amount of volunteer work off the field. Miles was recently awarded the CFL’s Ed Kotowich Good Guy Award for his efforts in the community.
DL Drake Nevis (A)
Nevis had an excellent season in 2019, recording 24 tackles and three sacks in 18 starts. The emergence of 23-year-old Steven Richardson — who’s under contract for 2020 — is the only thing keeping Nevis from being a must-sign player.
QB Matt Nichols (A)
See: Collaros, Zach.
DL Craig Roh (A)
Roh didn’t dress after Jackson Jeffcoat returned from injury, but the 28-year-old still put up six sacks and three forced fumbles in 12 games. You can never have too many pass rushers and Roh is an excellent depth player.
DB Nic Taylor (A)
Taylor secured the field-side halfback position late in 2019, starting seven games including three in the postseason. He’s almost 32, but Winnipeg isn’t in a position to turn away solid defensive backs following the departures of Winston Rose and Marcus Sayles to the NFL.
DL Jake Thomas (N)
The perennially underrated big man recorded 22 tackles and five sacks in 2019, both of which were new career-highs. The longest-serving Blue Bomber started all three postseason games and provides the club with solid ratio flexibility.
Take a pass
DB Chandler Fenner (A)
Fenner never lived up to the hype that accompanied his signing two years ago. His role on special teams was diminished in 2019 and he lost his starting spot at field-side cornerback to rookie Mike Jones just prior to the postseason.
DB Jeff Hecht (N)
Hecht started 14 games at safety this past season, recording 29 tackles, three interceptions, and two sacks. He lost his starting role late in the year, however, and is fast-approaching the age of 34.
LB Korey Jones (A)
The 30-year-old got into 11 games in 2019, recording 10 total tackles. Unable to crack the starting lineup, it’s hard to see the Blue Bombers bringing back an American linebacker who contributed almost exclusively on special teams.
REC/RET Charles Nelson (A)
The Oregon product has had a difficult time staying healthy in Winnipeg, appearing in just five games over the past two seasons. Given the emergence of Lucky Whitehead and Janarion Grant in 2019, the Bombers have little need to bring Nelson back.