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Friday, February 5, 2016

BOMBERS EXPECT TO BE ACTIVE

WINNIPEG -- Kyle Walters expects to be busy Tuesday.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers GM said he'll be active when CFL free agency begins at noon ET. Walters restructured a number of contracts with his current players in December to free up money for the free-agent period.

"Yeah, we've got some plans,'' Walters said in a telephone interview Friday. "It's interesting when you go through your salary cap and budget and then have Plan A, which is spend this quantity of money and target this player or this player.

"The interesting thing becomes when they don't pick you and you're left with that money and then you move to the next list. We'll definitely be active. It's just a matter of just how far down the list do you go?''

Walters' hope is to land playmakers for quarterback Drew Willy and new offensive co-ordinator Paul LaPolice. As of Friday, more than 140 players were scheduled to hit the open market, including Canadian running backs Andrew Harris - a Winnipeg native - and Jerome Messam as well as receivers Shamawd Chambers, a native of Markham, Ont., who was the top Canadian in Edmonton's Grey Cup win over Ottawa, Chad Owens and Jeff Fuller.

"We need our offence to be more productive,'' Walters said. "I thought our defence near the last half of the year was a solid, middle-of-the-pack defence, they were just on the field too much.

"I think the trend will be, certainly in our organization, to spending your money on offence.''

Winnipeg (5-13) missed the playoffs last year for the fourth straight season. And with Walters and head coach Mike O'Shea in the final year of their deals, there's a sense of urgency to fix that immediately.

"Every year is obviously important but you can't hide the fact in our line of work when you're not winning jobs are lost,'' Walters said. "That's a reality we really don't need to talk about but it's understood and that's just what you sign up for.''

Winnipeg was 3-3 last year before losing Willy to a season-ending knee injury. Robert Marve and Brian Brohm both started games after Willy was hurt before veteran Matt Nichols was acquired from Edmonton in September.

Nichols finished 149-of-248 passing (60.1 per cent) for 1,757 yards with 10 TDs and seven interceptions with Winnipeg before re-signing last month rather than become a free agent.

Last season, Winnipeg was last in scoring (19.6 points per game) and net offence (291 yards) and second-last in passing (231.4 yards). The Bombers also didn't have either a 1,000-yard receiver or rusher in 2015 but signed Weston Dresser, a five-time 1,000-yard receiver, after he was released by Saskatchewan.

Harris (1,039 yards) and Messam (1,006) were two of the CFL's three 1,000-yard rushers and Walters expects both will draw free-agent interest.

"Anytime a quality Canadian starter is a free agent, they'll get a lot of attention across our league, for sure,'' Walters said.

But like all CFL GMs, Walters has financial guidelines to stick to, namely the CFL's $5.1-million salary cap, up $50,000 from last year.

"I think the belief that everybody is going to get this financial windfall is just unrealistic,'' Walters said. "And that ($50,000 cap increase) is gone because I guarantee you the returning players' salaries have all bumped up way more than $50,000.''

Walters believes an abundance of players testing free agency is the new norm in the CFL with the advent of one-year contracts and elimination of the option year for veterans. The biggest advantage of a short-term deal is a player coming off a big years can cash in and Walters said top-end performers will always command top dollar.

Trouble is, that leaves less for mid-level performers gambling on hitting it big in free agency. And Walters predicts the CFL's economic landscape will keep GMs up at night.

"I think you're going to see some very difficult decisions over the next couple of months when it comes to veteran CFL players,'' Walters said. "If they're making good salaries and even if they're productive players, there's going to be many cap hits in our league moreso than in years past.

"I think it will take a year or two to sort itself out.''

(Canadian Press)

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