As free agency opens Tuesday morning we don’t expect a lot of action on the Bombers front. And after a 15-win season plus a third straight Grey Cup appearance, why would you change much?
The Bombers will add one of the top free-agent receivers in the CFL in Kenny Lawler. And they are expected to lose centre Michael Couture and defensive tackle Casey Sayles. Other than that, 20 starting spots on offense and defense appear to be the same as they were in 2022.
Let’s go position by position and see where the Bombers are heading into Tuesday. And then we’ll talk about the kicking game.
Pending Free Agent(s): Dakota Prukop
Zach Collaros is signed through 2025 for $600,000 per season, according to 3DownNation. Last year’s number two Dru Brown remains under contract.
Dakota Prukop provided value as a backup last season. He had nine touchdowns and had the highest success rate in the league on QB sneaks (94 per cent). Plus, his skills allowed Offensive Coordinator Buck Pierce to diversify the Bombers run game. Prukop also appeared in some two-quarterback sets, taking advantage of the CFL’s new rule.
Pending Free Agent(s): Rasheed Bailey, Greg Ellingson
The big thing that happened is that the Bombers re-signed Nic Demksi for three years. The big thing about to happen is the expected signing of Kenny Lawler after a year away. The big thing that didn’t happen (yet?) is that Dalton Schoen didn’t sign in the NFL. That means on opening day the Bombers can have these five starting at receiver:
Demski, Lawler, Schoen, Carlton Agudosi and Drew Wolitarsky.
That will rival the best starting receiver groups in the CFL.
Ellingson’s big plays and instant connection with Zach Collaros were the story of the first six weeks of 2022. But Ellingson suffered injuries for the first time in his career, limiting him to 10 games including the playoffs.
Bailey had a career year and had one of the plays of the year with his Superman dive into the end zone vs Saskatchewan. If he doesn’t return Agudosi should take that wide receiver spot. Bomber fans certainly remember how he popped with a two-TD game vs. Calgary.
Pending Free Agent(s): Michael Couture
The Bombers had Stanley Bryant, Jermarcus Hardick and Paddy Neufeld re-signed with a month to spare. Geoff Gray continuing under contract means they have four starters returning.
Couture reportedly has agreed to a contract with the BC Lions—a move that the Bombers probably saw coming. The team signed Tui Eli to a 3-year contract in January. He and Chris Kolankowski both have experience at centre and as the sixth offensive lineman. Second-year man Liam Dobson made 18 appearances last season and can play just about any position.
Pending Free Agent(s): None
Brady Oliveira went over 1,000 yards in the regular season and drove the offense in the West Final vs. BC. He and Johnny Augustine are both under contract through 2023. Mike Miller and Konner Burtenshaw return at fullback/special teams.
Pending Free Agent(s): Keion Adams, Casey Sayles
Another group where the stars were quickly re-signed. Willie Jefferson, Jackson Jeffcoat and Jake Thomas all agreed to one-year deals for this season.
It appears the Bombers will lose defensive tackle Casey Sayles to the Ticats (3DownNation reports a 2-year deal for $200,000 per season). Sayles gave the Bombers roster flexibility by being able to play defensive end in spots. Now that will fall to Ricky Walker (1 sack in 12 games in 2022) and probably some rookie Americans.
Manitoba Bisons DT Cole Adamson returns to the Bombers after playing his final university season.
Pending Free Agent(s): Les Maruo
Adam Bighill signed a two-year extension that takes him through 2024. He was a West All Star last season. Kyrie Wilson re-signed and will try and return to form after an Achilles tear in July.
Malik Clements can fill in at either linebacker spot. Shayne Gauthier and Jesse Briggs played as the extra linebacker when the Bombers went to packages of three defensive lineman.
Les Maruo played 19 games and got his first sack in 2022. He gave the Bombers nice value from their Global roster spot.
Pending Free Agent(s): Mercy Maston, Nick Taylor
Deatrick Nichols was a CFL All Star at halfback and could have been a Defensive Player of the Year nominee. Safety Brandon Alexander stabilized the middle after his mid-season return from injury. After that come some questions.
Winston Rose struggled and dealt with early injuries in 2022. The Bombers actually moved him to the wide side for eight games before Demerio Houston’s injury. Yet the Bombers re-signed Rose in mid-December, committing to the 29 year old for another year.
Demerio Houston didn’t play after his mid-season injury. He can play cornerback or halfback and should start.
The Bombers extended Alden Darby earlier this month. He took over the Dime defensive back spot after a deadline trade. With Jamal Parker and Desmond Lawrence back, that makes seven players for six defensive back spots. The Bombers could try to upgrade here. But will they want to spend the money when they have players with experience on minimum salaries.
Maston didn’t play in 2022 after an Achilles injury in training camp—the third Achilles injury of his career. Taylor suffered his own Achilles injury in September.
Pending Free Agent(s): None
Bombers fans will be watching intently this off-season. Marc Liegghio is coming off one of the worst placekicking seasons in the CFL. He finished last in scoring when you adjust for the kicks he attempted. He missed three converts in the playoffs and the Argos blocked his field goal attempt that might well have won the Grey Cup. But…I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention he drilled a 55-yarder that ended up as the game winner in the Labour Day Classic.
Liegghio’s punting was above average, and his kickoffs were good. While almost all teams use two players to handle the kicking, punting and kickoffs, Liegghio allows the Bombers to use that extra player elsewhere on the roster.
The Ticats Michael Domagala is the only pending free agent and unlikely to interest the Bombers. So, we wait to see what the team will do.
Returner Janarion Grant was a star in 2022 and is back on a one-year contract. He had five return touchdowns last season, including one each in the West Final and Grey Cup. His toughness belies his 5’9, 160-pound listed stature.
Long Snapper (and Winnipegger) Mike Benson is under contract through 2023. Ali Mourtada finished the season on the practice roster and became a free agent at season’s end.