Bombers acquire veteran DB Johnson from Esks

Kyle Walters had the smallest to-do list among his peers heading into Day 1 of CFL free agency Tuesday and, once the dust finally settled, little noise was made by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ general manager.

The Bombers signed just one free agent, inking defensive back Josh Johnson to a one-year deal. The only other action was a one-year extension given to linebacker Thomas Miles just before free agency opened.

The lack of activity was in stark contrast to what’s been a busy off-season for Walters and his staff. Indeed, much of the heavy lifting came before the player market opened, as Walters worked hard to retain much of the roster he had a year ago.

A significant number of the pending free agents from last year’s Grey Cup win are back. In fact, of the 24 players that were on expiring contracts — the fewest in the CFL, for those counting — more than half (14) signed extensions. Of the 10 that didn’t, only four were bona fide starters, with two of those players gone after signing NFL deals.

Quarterback Matt Nichols was issued his release and has since signed with the Toronto Argonauts. The decision to release Nichols came after the Bombers committed to Zach Collaros, inking him to a two-year deal. With Collaros locked up, all 12 offensive starters from the Grey Cup victory will be back in 2020. The other unsidgned player, defensive tackle Drake Nevis, hit free agency and remains unsigned.

“That’s the type of organization you want, where the culture is there and the players want to stay,” Walters said during a media conference on Tuesday.

“We want guys to stay, be part of this and you’re seeing that. Guys are choosing to come back, versus leave, which feels good organizationally that the players want to keep building on this and try to go get another Grey Cup.”

The biggest loss for the Bombers came in the defensive secondary, with halfback Marcus Sayles (Minnesota Vikings) and cornerback Winston Rose (Cincinnati Bengals) headed south of the border. Walters believes the addition of Johnson should help minimize the damage, given his years of experience in the league.

Johnson will join his fifth team in five years after stints with the B.C. Lions, Ottawa Redblacks, Hamilton Tiger-Cats and, most recently, the Edmonton Eskimos. In 17 games last year with the Esks, Johnson had 43 defensive tackles, two interceptions and one sack. He was particularly strong in the playoffs, hauling in three interceptions in an East semifinal win over the Montreal Alouettes.

The fact the Bombers were quiet Tuesday is also a testament to how far this group, which also includes president and CEO Wade Miller, as well as head coach Mike O’Shea, has come. In previous years, when Winnipeg was struggling just to make the playoffs, the Bombers used to have to beg players to sign.

“It’s night and day now,” Walters said. “We’ve come the full 180, where we want to keep our guys. It’s much easier and more cost effective to re-sign your own guys than go out and try to sign free agents.”

Twitter: @jeffkhamilton

Jeff Hamilton

Jeff Hamilton
Multimedia producer

After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.

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