The Winnipeg Blue Bombers signed arguably their two most valuable Canadians to contract extensions yesterday.
Doug Brown's deal likely signifies that the star defensive tackle will end his career in Blue and Gold, while Brendon LaBatte's extension means the Bombers will be able to hold on to their left guard a little longer before he takes a shot at the NFL.
Both players signed contracts for two years and an option, which also fulfils new head coach Mike Kelly's mandate to lock up key players going into their option years. Kelly made the declaration last month after the Bombers lost O-linemen Alexandre Gauthier, Dominic Picard and Kyle Koch via free agency.
"With a player especially like LaBatte here, that's something you don't want to take a chance on," Brown said at a press conference yesterday.
Former Bombers offensive line coach Bob Wylie, who spent 10 years coaching hogs in the NFL and tutored LaBatte last season, believes the 22-year-old has the footwork to play down south.
LaBatte thinks so to, but not yet.
"In a few more years I'll be 24 years old. (The NFL) is something I'll address then," said LaBatte, who was responsible for only one or two sacks allowed during his rookie campaign. "Really, in order to be able to do anything (in the NFL), I thought I needed two more years to really solidify myself."
There's a chance LaBatte would have spent his rookie season soaking up information in the film room instead of on the field, but Matt Sheridan was hurt the entire year. That enabled the Weyburn, Sask., native to start every game but the one he missed because of a concussion.
"The whole situation, how it unfolded last year, that's a lucky break," he said. "It really was."
Winnipeg's director of football operations, Ross Hodgkinson, yesterday called Brown a "cornerstone of the organization." He hopes LaBatte, who was the team's first-round draft pick out of the University of Regina last spring, becomes one as well.
"We believe that Brendon is a player that will be a long-standing star in this league," Hodgkinson said. "... He potentially is the next Doug Brown. That is the hope and the belief of this organization."
Brown, 34, has never reached free agency since joining the Bombers eight years ago, and rightly so. The longest-tenured Bomber is a five-time CFL all-star and last season was Winnipeg's most outstanding player and the East Division's top defensive player.
The New Westminster, B.C., native will be 37 when his contract expires at the end of the 2011 season, and the 6-foot-8, 290-pound nose tackle figures that could very well be the end of his career.
"I've played pretty well for them, and they've treated me outstanding," Brown said of his relationship with the Bombers. "So I'm very fortunate to be one of those players that has his entire career go down with one ball club.
"To start over anywhere else, that's exciting and everything, but I've never really wanted to be anywhere else."