Andrew Harris is no longer a Winnipeg Blue Bomber. It was the story that dominated CFL free agency and now we have a peak behind the curtain at the messy divorce between the future hall of fame running back and his hometown club.
In an exclusive interview with Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun, Harris laid out the months of conversations — and often lack thereof — that occurred between the Bombers’ December Grey Cup win and the opening of free agency on Tuesday.
In so doing, the star back admitted that the relationship had deteriorated throughout the season, when issues in his personal life caused Harris to come into the year unfocused and out of shape, contributing to an injury in training camp that caused him to miss the start of the 2021 season.
“I think he lost maybe a little trust in me,” Harris said of head coach Mike O’Shea.
Unlike years past, the team was not immediately forthright with their interest in retaining his services and meetings with O’Shea focused on his commitment, even requesting he work out for the team. General manager Kyle Walters finally offered Harris a contract on the Saturday night before free agency with a number that the back simply couldn’t accept.
“It was definitely a big insult. It was one that wouldn’t have made me even the highest-paid running back on the team,” Harris said. “Someone who’s done so much for the team, and yes, I understand they’re looking for the future. But the past and what I would bring to the future is still a lot.”
Harris will turn 35 in April and was limited to seven games last season due to injuries to his knee and calf. He was still highly productive when in the lineup, carrying the ball 116 times for 623 yards and three touchdowns.
The Winnipeg native turned back the clock in the West Final, rushing for 136 yards and a touchdown in a win over the Saskatchewan Roughriders. He was solid in the Grey Cup the following week against Hamilton, rushing 18 times for 80 yards in the overtime victory.
Harris knew that young Canadians Johnny Augustine and Brady Oliveira were the future in Winnipeg. Had the Bombers been forthright with their plans from the start he may have considered taking less to finish his career as a Bomber as he always wanted.
“I just wish they had been more transparent,” Harris told Friesen. “Instead of stringing me along and then giving me this last-ditch offer out of nowhere. Disrespectful.”
“I wanted to be back in Winnipeg. I wanted to end my career here. I wanted to try to get a third Grey Cup.”
In a press conference Tuesday, Bombers’ GM Kyle Walters dubbed the Harris situation one of the most difficult he’s ever had to deal with. It has been no easier for the ball carrier, who quickly signed with the Toronto Argonauts.
“It turns my stomach a little bit to think that I’ll have to wear a different jersey,” Harris said. “But I’m also very, very excited about doing that again. It’s going to inspire me.”
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 when 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.While he insists he has no hard feelings towards the Bombers, Harris now says he wants to go out on top with “a certain level of dominance.” He’ll just have to do it in a different shade of blue.