The Winnipeg Blue Bombers lost four starters, but gained one of the more dominant defensive ends in the CFL on the opening day of free agency.
After staying quiet for the first four hours of free agency, the Bombers managed to sign Saskatchewan Roughriders defensive lineman Willie Jefferson, who was a thorn in the club’s side last season.
Jefferson finished tied for fifth in the CFL in sacks, with 10 in the 2018 season. But the 28-year-old also had two interceptions for touchdowns and a pair of forced fumbles. In four games against the Bombers, Jefferson recorded an interception for a touchdown, three sacks, and one forced fumble.
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Probably no one is more happy about this signing than Bombers quarterback Matt Nichols, who will no longer have to go up against him.
Jefferson will replace Tristan Okpalaugo in the Bombers lineup. Okpalaugo is currently a free agent after playing two seasons in the blue and gold. The addition of Jefferson gives the Bombers three starting-calibre rush ends, with Craig Roh and Jackson Jeffcoat already under contract.
But the Bombers also lost the services of offensive lineman Sukh Chungh, defensive back Kevin Fogg, safety Taylor Loffler, and linebacker Jovan Santos-Knox, who is coming off a breakout season.
Santos-Knox signed with the Edmonton Eskimos, but the Bombers had already prepared for him to move on after they re-signed linebacker Kyrie Wilson as insurance just last week.
Loffler is headed to the Montreal Alouettes after three all-star seasons with the Bombers. Loffler had three interceptions in 2018. He was selected by the Bombers in the third round of the 2016 CFL Draft. In 50 career games, Loffler has eight interceptions and one sack. If the Bombers can’t address the opening in free agency, Jeff Hecht and Derek Jones are options to start at safety.
Fogg signed with the Toronto Argonauts after three seasons in Winnipeg. With the departure of Fogg, the release of Chris Randle, and Taylor Loffler not expected to come back, the Bombers have only two of their five starters in the secondary under contract. Halfback Brandon Alexander re-signed at the last minute and Marcus Sayles was already under contract. The Bombers will probably look to move Anthony Gaitor to one of those openings in the secondary after he spent the majority of last season lining up at the strong side linebacker position.
Chungh will reportedly earn $250,000 per season on his new contract with the B.C. Lions. That was way too rich for the Bombers’ blood, who have several options to replace him. Former Manitoba Bison Geoff Gray signed with the Bombers late last season and could fill the hole at guard. But the club could also start three internationals on the offensive line.
Manase Foketi suffered a season-ending injury in week 12 last season, but could be the Bombers’ answer to fill the spot vacated by Chungh. The Bombers also lost centre Matthias Goossen to retirement and have yet to address that vacancy. Cody Speller and Michael Couture could be left to battle it out for the starting centre job in training camp.
The Bombers failed to land a big name receiver on day one of free agency. Weston Dressler is now on the open market, but they did re-sign Winnipeg product Nic Demski. If the Bombers opt to start three Americans on the offensive line, they may look to start three Canadian receivers with Drew Wolitarsky, and sophomores Daniel Petermann and Rashaun Simonise all solid options.
If the Bombers can’t plug their holes through free agency, they do have two first round picks in the upcoming CFL Draft.
The Bombers still have 10 free agents looking for new deals.
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