Walters: talks with Andrew Harris ‘ongoing,’ will be ‘tough’ for Bombers to keep all free agent running backs

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The Winnipeg Blue Bombers appear to be interested in bringing back future Canadian Football Hall of Fame running back Andrew Harris for 2022.

“(Contract negotiations are) ongoing like everybody,” said general manager Kyle Walters via videoconference. “(Head coach) Mike (O’Shea) and Andrew had a good talk last week. I’m not going to get into the specifics of it, but there’s a lot of moving pieces on the go right now. There’s still a lot of decisions that need to be made.”

Walters declined to comment on the possibility of Harris retiring, though the fact that negotiations are ongoing implies that the running back intends to continue playing in 2022. He gave Harris a vote of confidence, saying he believes the 34-year-old is still a starting-calibre running back when healthy.

“You saw glimpses of it last year when Andrew came back and looked like hadn’t missed a beat,” said Walters.

Harris played seven games in 2021, missing the first three due to a calf injury and the final four due to a knee injury. He returned for the postseason and had a monstrous performance in the West Final against Saskatchewan, recording 23 carries for 136 yards and a touchdown. He ran 18 times for 80 yards the following week in the Grey Cup.

Winnipeg had success running the football even when Harris was hurt due to the strong play of backups Brady Oliveira and Johnny Augustine. Walters admitted that it will likely be impossible for Winnipeg to retain all three pending free agent running backs given the constraints of the salary cap.

“That would be a tough one,” he said. “Financially and realistically, I don’t see how that one would work. Maybe, you never know. Never say never.”

Oliveira started six games in 2021 and rushed 94 times for 429 yards (4.6 yards per carry) and two touchdowns. The Winnipeg native also caught nine passes for 74 yards in what was his first full CFL season after suffering a broken leg in 2019.

Augustine started the season finale against Calgary and finished the year with 40 carries for 285 yards (7.1 yards per carry). The Guelph product joined Winnipeg as an undrafted free agent in 2018 and has made the most of his opportunities since, averaging 6.8 yards per carry.

Winnipeg also recently signed running back Kyle Borsa, who they drafted out of the University of Regina. He returned to school in 2021 and started all six games for the Rams, recording 73 carries for 354 yards and a touchdown. He also caught 22 passes for 147 yards and two touchdowns to lead the team with 578 all-purpose yards.

Borsa is signed through 2024 on a rookie contract that will pay him a league-minimum salary of $65,000 in 2022. As such, it may be prudent for the club to let one of their veteran running backs leave via free agency in order to keep Borsa on the roster.

Harris is close to making history as the first Canadian player ever to reach 10,000 career rushing yards. He currently sits just 339 yards shy of the mark, meaning he has a good chance of reaching it if he returns to the field in 2022. He is also only 625 rushing yards shy of surpassing Charles Roberts (10,285 yards) for fifth on the CFL’s all-time list.

The Winnipeg native rushed 116 times for 623 yards and three touchdowns in 2021. His 5.4-yard-per-carry average was tied for second among CFL running backs with a minimum of 50 carries, though it was his second-lowest average since joining the Blue Bombers as a free agent in 2016.

Only three players in the history of professional football have rushed for 1,000 yards in a season at or above the age of 34: George Reed (1973-75), John Riggins (1983-84), and Mike Pringle (2001, 2003-04). Harris will turn 35 in April.