‘No formal contract negotiations’ between Andrew Harris, Bombers; star RB willing to play elsewhere: report

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The Winnipeg Blue Bombers have gone to great lengths to retain their veteran Grey Cup-winning core, but one of the biggest names may not be back next season.

Future hall of fame running back Andrew Harris intends to play in 2022 at 35-years old, but remains a pending free agent ahead of February 8. According to a report from TSN’s Farhan Lalji, he is likely to stay that way.

“My understanding is there have been no formal contract negotiations between Harris and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and no initial contract offer has been tendered,” Lalji reported on Thursday.

Late last month, Winnipeg general manger Kyle Walters described talks with Harris as “ongoing,” while admitting it would be difficult to retain his entire stable of free agent Canadian ball carriers. The homegrown Grey Cup hero now appears to be the odd one out, potentially the result of some internal tension between the team and the player last year.

“Coming out of the lost COVID season. Harris was admittedly distracted and his preparation wasn’t necessarily as all in as it needed to be,” Lalji alleged. “That led to some frustration in the building and there’s a belief that it also may have contributed to his injuries that forced him to miss a large portion of last season.”

Harris played just 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.

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.

Winnipeg had success running the football even when Harris was hurt due to the strong play of backups Brady Oliveira and Johnny Augustine. The latter was signed to a two-year contract extension early Thursday, while Lalji reports that the team remains in negotiations with Oliveira.

If both of the youngsters are re-signed, there is likely no room under the cap for the Bombers to retain their aging fan favourite, though Lalji adds that head coach Mike O’Shea still wants Harris back.

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.

As Lalji reports, he’s more than willing to continue marching towards that mark in another city and there will be plenty of interest if the Bombers let him walk.