Cashing in

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 9:04 AM ET

Money talks, the old saying goes.

When it comes to this year's version of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, it's virtually screaming to high heaven.

Or, at least, to the upper echelons of the CFL East Division.

Yes, the Bombers managed to unearth some promising new talent in the off-season, as players like receivers Andrae Thurman and Canadian draft pick Arjei Franklin are making contributions.

It was also a great move getting former Bombers Ron Warner (DL) and Albert Johnson III (WR/KR) back from the NFL.

Not to mention the astute choice of giving Doug Berry his first opportunity to be a head coach.

But when looking at the Bombers' return to respectability, don't underestimate their willingness to spend some money.

The community owned organization, which carries a reputation as one of the most frugal, if not the most frugal, in the CFL, is spending more on players this season than the current regime ever has.

"No doubt about it, we are," GM Brendan Taman said. "Which is scary, because you always have to get the revenue."

Taman insists he's never been hamstrung in his ability to sign top players.

At the same time, the purse strings were loosened this past off-season.

One of the main reasons: it's never a good idea to field a bad team in a year you're hosting the Grey Cup.

"Plus, quite honestly, I wanted to win," Taman said, alluding to his own shaky status going into the season (he's since signed a contract extension).

"There were a few reasons. The board and Lyle (Bauer, team president) were very supportive with what we were gonna do. They gave us the leeway to go do it. I don't think a lot of teams would have put a lot of money on us getting

Barrin Simpson at the start of the off-season."

Signing the free-agent linebacker away from the B.C. Lions, and keeping him out of the hands of East rivals Toronto and Hamilton, is probably the best player move the Bombers made this year.

It's also the best example of the team's more aggressive approach.

It used to be Winnipeg, unable to compete with richer clubs like Edmonton, Toronto and Montreal, went after second-tier free agents.

Simpson, though, is a blue-chipper still in his prime (28), and his arrival -- on the first day of free agency, no less -- gave the Bomber defence, and the team in general, instant credibility.

"We did things we hadn't done in the past to get him to come here," Taman said. "By hell or high water, we did it. Offered him big money. That was a message to Doug and the fans, I hope, that this was serious. We weren't going to be a doormat, here. We're gonna go after it, and go after it hard."

Either that, or lose him to a rival.

"If Barrin wasn't playing in Winnipeg, we knew damn well he was going to be playing in the East, either with Hamilton or Toronto," Taman said. "They can deny it all they want. Everyone was screamin' how much we paid him. Well, we'll run our salary cap the way we want to run our salary cap. You run yours the way you want."

The CFL's salary cap this season is $3.8 million per team. It's believed the

Bombers spent some $3.4 million a year ago.

Nobody has to spend the league limit, but don't be surprised if Winnipeg winds up doing just that.

Because nothing talks quite like the almighty dollar.

Yes, it helped to have players like Milt Stegall and Chris Brazzell lobbying

Simpson to come here. But eventually the bottom line rears its head.

"You pull out every kind of angle you can when it comes down to that stuff,"

Taman said. "But if I got on the phone with Barrin and offered him significantly less money than Toronto or Hamilton ... he wasn't comin' to Winnipeg. Let's be honest. The recruiting aspect is great, and it helps. But when you talk money, money's where it's at. We made a statement that way, off the field, back in February."

And don't think other players didn't hear it.

Suddenly, coming to Winnipeg wasn't seen as such a bad idea. It seemed the team was serious about putting a contender on the field.

"From that point on, we started to build up a pretty good team," Taman said.

"Barrin's been the quarterback of our defence. There were some pieces here, already. We just needed to re-tune it, refine it with some speed."

As Taman said earlier, he's never been forced to pinch pennies to the point where he can't do his job properly.

But, looking back, he says he might have opened his wallet a little farther to hang onto players like receiver Arland Bruce III and linebacker Brian Clark, whom the Bombers lost to Toronto and Calgary, respectively, the last two years.

"With Arland and Clark, those are two guys, if I could look back, I'd maybe go the extra mile," he said. "But you can't win 'em all. If you can get the right guys and get the right chemistry ... that's the main thing."

Chemistry, though, doesn't come cheap.


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