Major stepping-stone

Blue Bombers quarterback Kevin Glenn said bringing playoff football back to Winnipeg was an...

Blue Bombers quarterback Kevin Glenn said bringing playoff football back to Winnipeg was an important step in the right direction for his team. (Winnipeg Sun/Brian Donogh)

KIRK PENTON -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 9:07 AM ET

For the 16th year in a row, it was a quiet garbage bag day in the Winnipeg Blue Bombers locker-room.

It wasn't all doom and gloom, though, because the Blue and Gold believe they are climbing the CFL ladder, not tumbling down it.

The Bombers bounced back from a dismal 5-13 campaign in 2005 to post a 9-9 mark this year under new head coach Doug Berry. They lost a heartbreaker on Sunday, giving up 14 unanswered points to the Toronto Argonauts in the final eight minutes of their 31-27 loss in the East Division semifinal.

There were plenty of wouldas, couldas and shouldas dancing in the Bombers' heads yesterday, but there was none of that when they spoke about the season overall.

"We did some good things," quarterback Kevin Glenn said. "We brought playoff football back to Winnipeg."

"It was a major stepping- stone," running back Charles Roberts added. "We were horrible the last two years, and we found ourselves a playoff team. We were one catch or one touchdown from the Eastern final. You can't be mad at that.

"But at the same time, it gives us a lot of momentum and confidence going into next year if we can keep the team together."

Keeping the team together is going to be tough. The CFL's new salary management system, which includes a $4.05-million cap, kicks in after the Grey Cup. The Bombers have 17 potential free agents, including defensive tackle Doug Brown, defensive backs Anthony Malbrough and Kelly Malveaux, and placekicker/punter Troy Westwood (see Page 42).

"I'd love to keep it intact, but the reality is it isn't going to happen -- to a degree," Bombers GM Brendan Taman said. "You're not going to keep all (17) guys. It's physically and financially impossible ... the turnover could be significant."

Several potential free agents told Taman during exit meetings yesterday that they will test the market in February. Middle linebacker Barrin Simpson, who was Winnipeg's pivotal signing last winter, hopes the key cogs decide to return.

"It's more important to keep the core guys here," Simpson said. "There's always going to be free agents that leave, and there's a salary cap in place now, so we're going to lose some guys.

"I know Brendan's going to do a great job of keeping the core guys on offence and defence and keeping the key special teams guys."

Taman, Berry and the coaching staff will spend the next few weeks ranking their players in terms of importance to prepare for what promises to be the most intriguing CFL off-season in years.

"I still think we're in good shape compared to other teams," said Taman, whose payroll this year was in the neighbourhood of $4.4 million.

"Whatever changes we make, we'll set our goals and our standards higher for next year," Berry said. "We will not be satisfied with just making the playoffs next year.

Malveaux, who was acquired just before the season began, echoed the sentiment that there is plenty of hope on Maroons Road.

"It was a great season, especially coming to an organization that wasn't supposed to be worth squat," he said. "Even with the disappointing ending, we did turn some heads throughout the league, just to let people know that Winnipeg is going to be a force to be reckoned with."


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