The Blue Bombers made it a priority to re-sign most of their own pending free agents and Winnipeg still managed to make a major move by signing Kenny Lawler to a contract that saw the star receiver take a hometown discount to return to the Manitoba capital after one season with the Edmonton Elks.
The 28-year-old made $305,000 with the Elks in 2022 a year after leading the CFL in receiving yards with the blue and gold. Inking an in-his-prime star for less money than he commanded the year before came down to one factor.
“Kenny kept in contact with the players on our team and the players always came to me and said: ‘Kenny wants to be back with the Bombers.’ I said: ‘Yep, I get that.’ But then agents get involved,” general manager Kyle Walters told 3DownNation.
“It sounds to me that Kenny had told the agent: ‘Get me in Winnipeg, figure it out, I want to be in Winnipeg.’ The agent listened to his client and we were able to figure something out.”
The six-foot-three, 197-pound native of Pomona, Calif. was instrumental in helping the Blue Bombers win back-to-back Grey Cup championships. Winnipeg became the third team since the CFL went to an 18-game schedule to win back-to-back championships and the first since the Montreal Alouettes did it in 2009 and 2010.
“Not to take anything away from the negotiation process, which I’m not a part of, but I think it’s really more a credit to the Bombers teammates he had,” head coach Mike O’Shea told 3DownNation.
“The time that they spent with Kenny, the vets that helped develop him when he was new to our league, the relationships that were forged in that locker room, I think a lot of the credit should go there, too.”
Getting Lawler back in blue and gold for the 2023 season nearly happened sooner. Walters said the Bombers had a deal in place to reacquire Lawler from the Elks last season at the trade deadline but it was never finalized.
“The injury for Kenny, remember he had a broken collarbone and Edmonton with the way the playoffs were going they still had a chance. It was (about whether) was Kenny going to be able to come back and play, was he not going to be able to come back and play, their playoff positioning was still there, so it just didn’t quite shakedown,” Walters said.
“I believe we had a trade agreement agreed upon but it was just with the injury and wanting Kenny to play still because they were fighting for a playoff spot. The deal didn’t quite get closed, it was close though, I thought.”
Lawler played 16 games in 2019 and led Winnipeg with 637 receiving yards on 41 receptions with four touchdowns to earn the team’s nomination for Most Outstanding Rookie. He started three playoff games, adding eight receptions for 126 yards and one touchdown as Winnipeg won the 107th Grey Cup.
The two-time all-star recorded 64 receptions for a league-best 1,014 yards and six touchdowns in 13 regular season games in 2021, helping Winnipeg win the 108th Grey Cup. He averaged 78 yards per game, 15.8 yards per catch and had a league-best 10 plays of 30 yards or more while catching passes from franchise quarterback Zach Collaros.