It’s still unclear as to whether there will be a CFL season this year, and of course, it will largely depend on determinations made by public health officials, but assuming that some football will be played, we wanted to get an idea of how the roster for the defending Grey Cup champions shapes up.
As all teams did, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers went through a somewhat hectic period prior to and during the CFL free agency.
Of course, when we look at rosters, one of the main things we focus on is whether a team has kept its key players and in Winnipeg’s case, it’s fair to say that for the most part, they have done so.
Without question, the biggest signing of this offseason was that of Canadian running back and Grey Cup MVP Andrew Harris.
He is arguably the best ever running back in CFL history and the club went out of its way to keep him. Harris was set to become a free agent in February, but the Bombers agreed to a one-year extension to retain the homegrown football celebrity.
Determining who is a team’s highest priority can be subjective, and for the Bombers, it can be argued that retaining the services of quarterback Zach Collaros by restructuring his contract was equally as pivotal.
The guy did nothing but win after signing with the team late in the 2019 season. When he came over from the Argonauts in an 11th-hour trade undoubtedly there were fans who questioned the move, but he proved his worth by leading Winnipeg to its drought-breaking Grey Cup triumph.
The term ‘playmaker’ is used in rugby league to describe the go-to guy on a team who has a football brain and consistently makes plays, which are often the difference between winning and losing. Both Harris and Collaros fall into that category.
Another big-time player Winnipeg did well to re-sign is guard Pat Neufeld. The veteran told the Bombers website that it was “a super easy decision,” to put pen to paper.
I had the privilege of interviewing Neufeld in the lead-up to the Banjo Bowl in 2018. He struck me then as being a total professional who takes the game very seriously. Turns out he has a rugby background, which is why I interviewed him in the first place, but that’s another story.
Other offensive linemen who are staying with the team include Stanley Bryant and Canadians Michael Couture, Jeff Gray and Drew Desjarlais. On top of that, stud fullback Mike Miller will be back again.
The Blue Bombers have also bolstered their stocks on the defensive side of the ball by keeping outstanding Americans Jackson Jeffcoat and Willie Jefferson. Not much needs to be said about their stellar efforts in 2019 when they ran riot against all offences.
Linebackers Adam Bighill and Canadians Jesse Briggs and Shayne Gauthier are all staying in Winnipeg too.
Bighill had a brilliant year in 2018, his first season with the team, when he set the bar very high defensively, while the experienced Briggs and Gauthier were phenomenal on special teams in 2019.
One of the highlights of free agency was the signing of former Edmonton receiver Bryant Mitchell. He played with the then Edmonton Football Team in 2018, before signing with the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals in 2019 and Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2020. The Bucs cut him, however, so he missed out on their Super Bowl championship.
What makes his signing noteworthy is that he brings added impetus to what was already a pretty hot receiver corps including Nic Demski, Darvin Adams, Kenny Lawler, Drew Wolitarsky, Rasheed Bailey, Charles Nelson and Janarion Grant among others.
Very often, CFL fans pay scant attention to a position like long snapper. They’re kind of like, meh, anyone can snap a football. Maybe, but what they tend to overlook is the fact that a long snapper is an integral cog on special teams because whether it’s setting up a crucial punt to gain territory or slotting a potentially game-winning field goal, getting the ball to the punter or holder fast and accurately is critical.
That’s why inking the experienced Mike Benson was another smart move by the Bombers.
A Winnipeg boy, Benson has been with five CFL teams since 2012. He says growing up in the ‘Peg made him a lifelong Bombers fan, which is why he was excited to sign with the reigning champs.
On the flip side of all these positives though, was the release of several players, in particular fullback John Rush and receiver Daniel Petermann. Both are young Canadians who’ve got game.
Rush was used mostly on special teams, although when he was given opportunities to carry the ball on offence he excelled.
And similar accolades can be given to Petermann. He’s big enough, nimble enough and has safe hands when utilized out wide.
All in all, the positives outweigh the negatives and despite being given odds of 7-2, the Blue Bombers have put together an enviable roster that looks more than capable of defending their title.