Is their best enough?

KIRK PENTON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:30 AM ET

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers are less than a day away from potentially losing 60% of their starting offensive line, but the team's brass is not concerned.

"Nope," player personnel director John Murphy said yesterday. "No we're not."

Left tackle Alexandre Gauthier, centre Dominic Picard and right guard Kyle Koch -- all Canadians -- are slated to become free agents at 11:01 tonight when CFL option-year contracts expire.

While most GMs would be in the fetal position and calling for their mommies at the thought of that, Murphy and Bombers head coach Mike Kelly are calm, cool, collected and sticking to their plan.

Each potential free agent the Bombers want back received the team's "best offer" last week and had a loose deadline of Friday to accept. If the players want to chat before tonight's deadline, the Bombers would be willing to listen, Murphy said.

'WHERE WE'RE GOING'

But make no mistake: Winnipeg will move on without them if that's how it pans out.

"We've explained to these guys that this is the best offer, this is where we're at and where we're going," Murphy said. "If you then go all over the ship and start blowing up their phones 10 minutes before free agency, you may get some deals done late, but it will probably be at the expense of your organization.

"And that's not something we're prepared to do in that situation."

Some will argue the Bombers are playing the violin while the Titanic sinks when it comes to Canadian O-linemen, who are a valuable commodity in the CFL. The more homegrown hogs a team starts, the more imports they can play at positions where Canucks don't normally excel.

There is only one situation that will have Murphy sweating tonight, and it's unlikely to occur.

"If Mike and I were going to be locked in the room with our staff, with no phone and no outside access to communication and you said you were going to lose (Picard and Gauthier), well then sure (I'd be concerned), because now we're two down," Murphy said. "But it's not who you lose. It's who you sign.

"... There are some other dynamics available, there's some other ways to go with things, there's some other places you can invest and spend some money and improve. So all of those are options that are and have been available to us and will continue to be."

Three other Canadian O-linemen set to go free tonight in Edmonton's Joe McGrath, and Saskatchewan's Mike Abou-Mechrek and Steve Morley. A CFL source said the Bombers aren't interested in McGrath.

Winnipeg's other potential free agents are linebacker Ike Charlton, fullback Graeme Bell, defensive tackle Jon Oosterhuis and linebacker Cam Hall.

The Bombers want Charlton and Bell to return, while there are rumblings Oosterhuis could be done after seven seasons in Winnipeg. Hall won't be asked back.

kirk.penton@sunmedia.ca


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