Bombers’ all-star Willie Jefferson has moved his family full-time to Winnipeg, but fans of the team remain more focused on the native son leaving than the adopted one gained.
Homegrown running back Andrew Harris’ unceremonious departure from the team after helping power the Bombers to back-to-back Grey Cup victories was the biggest storyline in free agency. It was the same way among the team’s core group of veterans, as Jefferson admitted in an interview with Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun.
“When Andrew’s name didn’t come up in those weeks before free agency… a lot of eyebrows were raised, wondering what was going to happen,” the former Most Outstanding Defensive Player said.
“We were asking Andrew what’s up. He didn’t know. From the sense we had, he was ready to come back. The team just went in a different direction. And I’m sure it wasn’t an easy call for the front office to make.”
After signing with the Toronto Argonauts, Harris revealed that Bombers’ general manager Kyle Walters did not offer him a contract until the Saturday before free agency, at a price point that the future Hall of Famer deemed “disrespectful.” He insisted that he might have returned at that dollar amount had the team been transparent with their plans, but was disillusioned after being kept in the dark, a fact corroborated by Jefferson’s comments.
Though questions around the 35-year-old’s long-term value are valid, there is no doubt that Harris’ departure was a heavy blow to Winnipeg’s once idealistic idea of veteran continuity. Many, including Jefferson, still took less to stay with the champs, but their Canadian centrepiece wasn’t alone in finding a new home.
Receivers Kenny Lawler and Darvin Adams, defensive tackle Steven Richardson and defensive back Alden Darby cashed in with other CFL franchises, while offensive lineman Drew Desjarlais, defensive end Jonathan Kongbo, and defensive back DeAundre Alford all found NFL landing spots.
Jefferson is happy for his former teammates, but seeing key pieces depart will always be difficult.
“At the end of the day we all want to get paid,” he acknowledged. “And we all can’t. That’s pretty much the rule of the game. You want to keep everybody, but sometimes you can’t. It sucks.”
In the case of Harris, it sucks more than most and the star back is sure to be plenty motivated for a revenge tour with the Argos.