Defence first for Blue

TED WYMAN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 11:08 AM ET

It's no secret the Winnipeg Blue Bombers are in the market for CFL free agents, and it doesn't take a genius to figure out who they will go after.

In fact, Bombers general manager Brendan Taman summed up his team's greatest need with one word.

"Defence."

More specifically, the team needs to fill gaping holes at linebacker and defensive back. The Bombers had perhaps the worst defence in the history of the CFL last season, setting records for yards and passing yards allowed.

So, when the CFL free agency period begins tonight at 11 o'clock, Taman is expected to be one of the busiest GMs, pursuing the handful of elite players available in a mediocre market.

That means the team will be going hard after B.C. all-star middle linebacker Barrin Simpson, who has said he will not re-sign with the Lions and is interested in joining any of six teams, including the Bombers.

He won't come cheap, but with Taman in charge of righting a ship that has been listing badly for a couple of years and the Bombers hosting the Grey Cup this year, there should be money available for such a high-profile signing.

Simpson, 28, was 10th in the CFL with 71 tackles last season and added six quarterback sacks and two forced fumbles.

"We'd love to get a guy who will substantially help us and one or two guys who can fill roles," Taman said.

The Bombers will almost certainly go after Montreal safety Richard Karikari, a non-import who was second in the league with nine interceptions last year.

Karikari, 26, had 188 yards in interception returns, scored one touchdown and was also among the league leaders in forced fumbles with three.

After that, the pickings are somewhat slimmer, although the team could go after Toronto Argonauts import linebacker Antonious Bonner and, more likely, non-import LB Ray Mariusz.

"The other thing we need is Canadian depth," Taman said.

To that end, the team signed non-import linebacker Neil McKinlay yesterday and will now try to re-sign non-import receiver Jamie Stoddard. If it fails to sign Stoddard, there are a couple of suitable replacements available, including Saskatchewan WR Jason French and Calgary WR Mike Juhasz.

Although the Bombers offensive line improved drastically over the course of last season, the team will look to beef up in that department through free agency.

Perhaps the best of all available players is Ottawa OL George Hudson, but he will cost somebody a small fortune. It has been reported that Hudson recently turned down an offer from the Renegades that would have made him the highest-paid non-quarterback in the CFL.

Hudson and Renegades running back Josh Ranek -- who would be of no interest to the Bombers because they already have Charles Roberts -- are rumoured to be heading to Hamilton.

Another O-lineman the Bombers would love to have is B.C.'s Bobby Singh, but it would be difficult for the team to pry him loose, considering he is involved in politics in his hometown of Richmond, B.C.

Among the higher-profile free agents the Bombers are not likely to pursue are Edmonton receiver Jason Tucker, Toronto linebacker Mike O'Shea and Edmonton defensive backs Malcolm Frank and Shannon Garrett.

While Tucker would look great in Blue and Gold, he's likely out of the Bombers' price range. If the team does decide to go after an import receiver, it will more likely be Saskatchewan's Elijah Thurmon.

The team could still re-sign import receiver-kick returner Keith Stokes, but he is intent on testing the free-agent waters. Another player the Bombers will try to re-sign is non-import receiver Gilles Colon.


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