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© 2023 CFL. All rights reserved.
© 2023 CFL. All rights reserved.
One of the winter’s biggest questions has been answered. Future Hall of Fame offensive lineman Stanley Bryant has decided to return for an eighth season with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and 13th CFL season overall. Knowing he’ll be 37 in May, Bryant’s fate was somewhat up in the air, at least from the outside. But the Bombers, and Bombers fans, are absolutely thrilled with where he landed.
Of course, it was a pretty cut and dried decision for Bryant: he was either going to retire or return to Winnipeg. And despite how the 2022 season ended for the Blue Bombers, the chance at a fourth straight Grey Cup appearance would be enticing for a veteran like Bryant who can still very much play at the highest level.
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And make no mistake…Bryant is still that guy. He didn’t win his fourth Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman award in five years by fluke in 2022. Last year Bryant anchored a line that allowed just 29 sacks and helped Winnipeg to the second-best rushing attack in the league. For every year people question whether Bryant is poised to take a step back, he responds with an All-Star nod.
And now, with Bryant back in the fold, there’s no doubt about whether the Blue Bombers are running it back with the same core. And honestly, we probably already knew that prior to Bryant’s decision…but it’s now crystal clear. This superstar group of players has already accomplished so much and isn’t interested in altering their focus.
As of this week’s publishing, Winnipeg has a solid portion of their core under contract for the coming season. That now includes Bryant along with reigning Most Outstanding Player Zach Collaros, reigning Most Outstanding Rookie Dalton Schoen, and tailback Brady Oliveira.
On the other side of the ball, perennial All-Stars Willie Jefferson and Adam Bighill are back for 2023. Joining them is career Bomber Jake Thomas and defensive backs Winston Rose and Desmond Lawrence. The latter DB fit very nicely after being brought in from Hamilton late in the season.
Knowing all that, it seems reasonable to expect a good chunk of the remaining Winnipeg mainstays to agree to new deals before free agency begins in just over a month. Still with expiring contracts are names like Alden Darby, Nic Demski, Jermarcus Hardrick, and Jackson Jeffcoat.
The question all of the above will be asking in the next few weeks is fairly simple: if a return to the Blue Bombers is in the cards, why go anywhere else?
We’ll see how it plays out.
The missing piece
Somewhat lost in the fervour of Toronto’s thrilling win at the 109th Grey Cup was what that victory meant for one of the league’s most recognizable names in recent vintage. After three unsuccessful championship game appearances, Brandon Banks finally got his title as a member of the Argos. Regardless of what happens next, I’m really happy for the guy.
Toronto and Banks announced they would be parting ways last week, rendering the four-time All-Star and 2019 Most Outstanding Player a free agent with February’s signing season approaching quickly.
“Brandon arrived here as a bitter rival,” said Toronto general manager Pinball Clemons. “(He) leaves as a member of the Argos family. We thank him for his contributions on the field and his veteran leadership in the locker room.”
I still think Banks brings something to the table. Now 35 years old, we’re no longer talking about him being the CFL’s most explosive player. But his lone season with the Argos showed Banks could still contribute with a less prominent role. He finished 2022 with 37 catches for 522 yards and four touchdowns.
I could see Banks having similar success in the right situation this season. Sentimentally, I really like the idea of a return to Hamilton, especially if Bo Levi Mitchell ends up signing there after being acquired in November. But that’s not the only spot that could make sense for Banks, especially if he’s cool with a similar role to the one he had in Toronto.
Of course, Banks could also opt to call it a career and get the rare privilege of going out on top. With a Grey Cup ring added to the resume, there’s not much more for Banks to accomplish. We’re talking about a guy who already has an MOP award to his name, multiple All-Star nods, and plenty of success south of the border.
Banks has had an outstanding career in football. Selfishly, I’d love to see him back for another year because I still think he’s got lots to give, and I believe there are a few good fits available for him.
And if he decides to hang up the cleats…what a career.