Winnipeg Blue Bombers fans might still be celebrating their 2019 Grey Cup victory, but more than a year later the team has some tough decisions to make when it comes to the core of that championship squad.
CFL teams across the league are cutting costs and asking players to take a pay cut in the aftermath of the canceled 2020 season, but the Bombers have their hands full according to TSN CFL insider Farhan Lalji.
“They’ve got some big tickets in Winnipeg. Paddy Neufeld is upwards of $200,000, even a guy like Michael Couture is $190,000. You’ve got Adam Bighill and Willie Jefferson who are due $260,000 next year on their old deals. Even Andrew Harris, who’s a pending free agent, was $215,000 last year,” Lalji said on the SportsCage Tuesday. “When you look at all those numbers, there are some big tickets that Winnipeg has got to get done.”
The list of top earners includes some of the league’s premier players. Defensive end Willie Jefferson is the league’s reigning Most Outstanding Defensive Player and veteran Adam Bighill is a two-time winner of the award himself.
Canadian running back Andrew Harris dwarfs them both in popularity, having brought a Grey Cup back to his home city with a performance that made him the first player in CFL history to win both Most Valuable Player and Most Valuable Canadian in the title game.
Star American tackles Stanley Bryant and Jemarcus Hardrick have already shaved their salaries to stay in Winnipeg, as has native son Nic Demski, and their teammates will have to follow suite or risk being cut loose.
The Bombers must also ink a new deal with Grey Cup starting quarterback Zach Collaros. Lalji believes Collaros would like to remain with the organization, but the two sides have not yet reached a compromise.
“They’re still working through their situation with Zach Collaros. They’re not hugely apart in terms of the overall, but I do think structure is something that will have to be dealt with,” he said when asked about the quarterback situations.
While Collaros has not yet agreed to terms, Lalji does not believe he is as far apart with the club as former Bombers’ starter Matt Nichols is with the Toronto Argonauts.
General manager Kyle Walters still has his work cut out for him with a full slate of big-money players he’ll have to make unhappy. Those tough decisions are the cost of the hefty ring on his finger.
“It’s the price of winning,” Lalji explains. “They made the right decisions on the right guys and now a year later, you’ve got to see if those are the right fits anymore after a lost season.”
The Bombers aim to repeat in 2021, but how different the team looks will depend on what dollars make sense.