Wednesday, September 14, 2016
INSIDE THE DREW WILLY DEAL
When that didn't happen, and Willy's agent refused to renegotiate his pricey contract, the Bombers general manager traded Willy to the Argonauts on Sunday, taking advantage of Toronto's quarterback crisis.
In exchange, the Bombers got international rookie defensive back T.J. Heath, a first-round pick in the 2017 CFL draft and a third-rounder in 2018. Walters then switched trading partners and acquired former Bomber and 16-year quarterback Kevin Glenn from the Montreal Alouettes for Winnipeg's fourth-round pick in next year's draft.
"Ideally, you'd hoped by surrounding him with an improved offensive line, on paper, some more receivers, that we were able to give Drew more tools to have success,'' Walter said at a press conference.
That wasn't the case.
Despite several moves to make Willy work in Winnipeg, he was never a good fit. Willy, who was coming back from last year's season-ending knee injury, only guided the Bombers to a 1-4 record under new offensive co-ordinator Paul LaPolice's system.
Backup Matt Nichols replaced Willy and has Winnipeg (7-4) on a six-game win streak and sitting third in the CFL West Division as the club tries to end a four-year playoff drought.
"Certain guys click with co-ordinators a little bit better than others,'' Walters said. "Matt just seemed to be a better fit for what Paul wanted to accomplish.''
He spoke to Willy's agent Brian Mackler about renegotiating the five-year veteran's contract, which reportedly is just over $400,000 with bonuses this season. He was also signed through next year.
It was a "quick conversation'' as Mackler expected the team to honour the contract or release Willy, Walters said, adding the team could have absorbed the money this year, but next season's salary wouldn't have worked if Nichols remained the starter.
Talks with Toronto (5-6) became more "substantial'' when Argos starting quarterback Ricky Ray fractured a rib and suffered a partially deflated lung in a Sept. 5 loss to Hamilton and is out at least a month. Dan LeFevour is currently the starter and expected to be under centre when Toronto visits Winnipeg on Saturday.
But the key was swinging a deal for Glenn, whom the Alouettes demoted to backup last week in favour of Rakeem Cato.
"The way it went down (Sunday), I think wanting to get a veteran quarterback as part of this was paramount,'' said Walters, who has no quarterbacks under contract for next season.
Glenn, 37, spent five seasons (2004-08) in Winnipeg before being released by then-head coach Mike Kelly in March 2009. He's third on the club's all-time passing yardage list at 18,116 yards and fifth on its all-time passing touchdowns list (103).
He started nine games for Montreal (3-8) this season, completing 222 of 314 pass attempts for 2,547 yards with 13 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
Glenn and Heath are expected to be on the field Tuesday when the Bombers begin preparing for Saturday's home game against, coincidentally, the Argos.
Nichols was asked last Friday about a trade rumour involving Willy.
"Definitely if it happened it would be a big loss for this team and for me,'' he said.
Winnipeg acquired the 29-year-old Willy in February 2014 from Saskatchewan and anointed him their starter for the future. Willy had success when he was standing in the pocket, whereas Nichols, 29, gets the ball away a bit quicker, Walters noted.
"Paul and all of us wanted to keep Drew standing, reduce the hits on him,'' he said. "That was the mandate organizationally, whether by improving the offensive line, let's get this system set up.
"It sounds great, but it's not that simple.''
Walters said the new draft picks were important, but Heath will give Winnipeg's defence depth and is already showing his talent.
The six-foot, 190-pound Heath led the Argos with five interceptions in 10 games, tying him for tops in the league with Bombers linebacker Maurice Leggett. The product of Jacksonville State also has 37 defensive tackles.
In Toronto's 33-21 victory over Hamilton Sunday, Heath celebrated his 29th birthday with two interceptions and then learned of the trade.
He signed with the Argos in May after a much-travelled five-year stint in the NFL, where he mostly spent time on the practice rosters of eight clubs. He did get into some games with Jacksonville and Miami.