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Bombers feeling pinch after signing Oliveira, Schoen to lucrative contracts

Bombers feeling pinch after signing Oliveira, Schoen to lucrative contracts Article Image 0 Bombers feeling pinch after signing Oliveira, Schoen to lucrative contracts Article Image 0 - The Canadian Press

WINNIPEG — Kyle Walters suddenly realized that the cupboard was almost bare after convincing the two most coveted free agents to return to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

The Bombers general manager signed both running back Brady Oliveira and receiver Dalton Schoen to lucrative contracts on the same day last Tuesday.

Even Walters was surprised that he was able to get both back, but he is now feeling the effects. Both players signed pacts that will pay them around $230,000 each in 2024.

"It was interesting because, on that day, it was such a high of 'Holy, I just really can’t believe that it just came together,'" Walters said at a media conference on Wednesday. "But then, it was quickly the next day, when you add the dollar to those, the reality of (it).

"So, it went to a high of feeling pretty good on Tuesday and not feeling good on Wednesday when you saw the domino effect of what we’re talking about. So, it was short-lived."

That domino effect mean that Walters did not have enough money left on the $5.6 million salary cap to attempt to re-sign six starters — defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat, offensive tackle Jermarcus Hardrick, defensive backs Demerio Houston and Winston Rose, receiver Rasheed Bailey and guard Geoff Gray.

Walters does have a few bucks to left to offer free agent placekicker Sergio Castillo and kick returner Janarion Grant. Those negotiations are continuing, he said.

But Walters will not pursue any other teams' free agents.

"We just don’t have any money," he said. "The spots that are available are going to be for training-camp battles for young players, for first-year players. If somebody wants to come in on a minimum contract, we might kick the tires on that.

"Any sort of high-name signing, you won’t see us doing. We’re comfortable with the way the roster is right now, in regards to setting up where the battles are going to be in training camp with some of the first-year players and younger guys."

Walters said Jeffcoat — who was upset with the lack of communications with the GM — and Hardrick will be the two most difficult to replace.

"Jackson’s been an unbelievable player here, helped us win championships," Walters said. "Unfortunately in situations like this where there can be a lack of communication and there can be a disagreement on dollar values until there’s certainty in the organization, I understand the frustration."

Jeffcoat has since announced his retirement. Hardrick signed with the Saskatchewan Roughriders and Houston signed with the Calgary Stampeders.

Other Bombers backups have also signed elsewhere as free agents.

"I think just losing anybody (hurts)," Walters said. "We’ve had such a good championship group and those guys have been part of it — particularly Jermarcus and Jackson have been here for an extended period. I’ve been saying this almost every year here that we’ve been up here a few years that, at some point, there has to be some turnover and this was the year.

"It was challenging. It’s never easy to lose guys. We're trying to be positive. That we’ve brought back 18 of the 24 starters from the Grey Cup, is a positive.”

Walters added that some of the players who had been either backups or on the practice roster last year look promising as replacements for those who left. The club’s Canadian depth also looks good, especially with two extra draft picks this year, he said. Defensive back Tyrell Ford will also return from his NFL stint and is still under contract.

“On top of bringing the 18 of 24 starters back, an influx of young Canadians at training camp will be good for the organization as well,” Walters said. “And (quarterback) Chris Streveler is a big one, too. When it was clear Dru (Brown) was moving on, we kind of focused our attention on Chris and bringing him back was one that is critically important to our organization and what he can bring.

"It hurts losing some guys but we’re optimistic that we’ll be able to put a competitive group on the field next year.

Walters did manage to re-sign such stalwarts as offensive linemen Stanley Bryant and Pat Neufeld, defensive end Willie Jefferson and defensive backs Deatrick Nichols and Brandon Alexander as Winnipeg looks to advance to its fifth straight Grey Cup final.

"I believe we’ll put a roster out there that will be able to compete again for the Grey Cup,” Walters said. "I’m confident of that."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Feb. 14, 2024.