CFL free agency officially gets underway on Tuesday and though the Winnipeg Blue Bombers aren’t expected to be major players, I would expect the club to explore a few potential signings.
Winnipeg made two moves on Monday morning, signing Canadian running back Brady Oliveira and American defensive back Nick Taylor to contract extensions. It’s possible that more moves will be made before the market officially opens, but for now let’s take stock of who the Blue Bombers have under contract for 2022.
I’ve created a depth chart for the Blue Bombers excluding those who are set to become free agents on Tuesday. Let’s start with the offence.
Zach Collaros, the CFL’s reigning Most Outstanding Player, is back under centre and the offensive line remains the best in the league. Oliveira and Johnny Augustine appear ready to carry the load out of the backfield as it appears unlikely that Andrew Harris, who turns 35 in April, is going to return.
The two areas of need that I see on the depth chart are receiver and backup quarterback.
Darvin Adams may yet re-sign with the Blue Bombers but Kenny Lawler is expected to sign a mega-deal with the B.C. Lions or Edmonton Elks. The team was high on Kelvin McKnight in 2021 and he started five games, though he made only 15 receptions for 96 yards. I’d expect him to have the inside track to a starting role, especially if Adams doesn’t return.
Greg Ellingson is 3DownNation‘s top-rated pending free agent receiver behind Lawler and I could see him being a potential fit in Winnipeg if the money is right. The Blue Bombers are paying Rasheed Bailey around $135,000 on his new contract, which doesn’t leave a huge budget to add another marquee receiver.
Other options include Ricky Collins Jr., who is coming off a great season in Toronto, as well as aging veterans Brandon Banks and B.J. Cunningham. Though he never played in 2021, having Naaman Roosevelt on the practice roster was wise from a depth perspective. If a similar option — maybe Jordan Williams-Lambert — is available, Winnipeg should scoop them up.
As for the quarterback spot, it appears as though Trevor Harris and Chris Streveler will be too expensive for the Blue Bombers. Calgary’s Michael O’Connor could be an interesting fit in Winnipeg, though I’d expect him to garner some interest from B.C. as they plan to start a Canadian quarterback in 2022.
Winnipeg’s defence looks very good, even with the potential departures of Steven Richardson and Alden Darby. General manager Kyle Walters told the media in January that they expect Brandon Alexander to be back for 2022, though he underwent ACL surgery following the Grey Cup and will not be available for the first portion of the season.
The club could use some depth in the secondary, though the scouting department has done a great job of uncovering talent at defensive back. DeAundre Alford and Deatrick Nichols were named CFL all-stars as rookies in 2021, the latter of whom remains under contract with the club.
Arguably the biggest area of need for Winnipeg is on special teams. Marc Liegghio and Ali Mourtada struggled on field goals and converts last season, prompting the club to make a trade for Sergio Castillo. The veteran remains a pending free agent and should fetch a hefty price tag if the club hopes to have him back for 2022.
Winnipeg could also stand to add a return specialist with Janarion Grant still unsigned. Charles Nelson, who finished the year on the practice squad, also won’t be back after signing with the Edmonton Elks this past weekend.
Frankie Williams is coming off a down year in Hamilton, but he remains one of the best returners in the CFL. Could he be an option for Winnipeg? He’d provide some depth in the secondary as well, which would be a nice added bonus.
All in all, expect the Blue Bombers to be relatively quiet on Tuesday. That’s not a bad thing, as the club hasn’t made a big free agent splash since ending their long Grey Cup drought in November 2019.
Winnipeg signed only one veteran free agent last year — long snapper Mike Benson — and went on to repeat as Grey Cup champions.
The club was also relatively quiet during free agency in February 2020, signing three veterans in defensive end Tobi Antigha, linebacker Micah Awe, and defensive back Josh Johnson. Antigha made nine tackles in eight games, Awe was cut before playing a down in Winnipeg, and Johnson appeared in just one game before suffering a season-ending injury.
Stay tuned to 3DownNation during Tuesday’s free agent frenzy and don’t forget to check back next week for my thoughts on how Winnipeg navigated free agency.