WINNIPEG - Left tackle Alex Gauthier is proud to proclaim that he didn’t give up a single sack for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 2010.
And that, he pointed out, included four games against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and their dangerous defensive end duo of Phillip Hunt and Odell Willis.
“I’m still a young buck, and even if I’m getting more experienced I feel great,” Gauthier said over the weekend from Regina, where he was doing work for his off-season job in the oil and gas industry. “I feel like I’m 20. OK, I wouldn’t say 20, but I’ve been lucky throughout my career. I had a bunch of little injuries, but I haven’t missed one offensive snap in the last six years.
“I’m still in good shape. I love football, and I honestly still think that I’m getting better year after year.”
Gauthier, 34, was Winnipeg’s starting left tackle when the Bombers made it to the 2007 Grey Cup. He continued his solid play in 2008 before leaving for Hamilton via free agency in February 2009. He wanted $150,000 per season, and the former Bomber regime had no interest in retaining him.
The Ticats released him last week, two weeks before he would have become a free agent again, when, according to Gauthier, they realized he was going to be too expensive for them. Gauthier also believes the Tabbies might go with an American tackle this season.
So is a return to Winnipeg possible? Both sides say they’re not opposed to the notion.
“I would love to come back,” said Gauthier, the first overall pick of the Ottawa Renegades in the 2002 CFL draft. “When I left there, that were lots of different reasons. Nothing against the team, nothing against the city.
“I would be more than happy to go back there. My daughter was born there, and there’s a good French community.”
The other question is this: Do the Bombers want him or need him at the price he’s going to command? Winnipeg needs to upgrade its Canadian talent, and Gauthier would certainly do that.
The Bombers also went with two American tackles last season — Kelly Butler and Andre Douglas — and still allowed a whopping 47 sacks, the third-worst mark in the league. Douglas, the team’s rookie of the year, was on the left side and his play dropped off down the stretch.
Gauthier and the Ticats, meanwhile, allowed the fewest sacks in 2010, surrendering just 26 quarterback drops. They gave up six in the season-opener against the Bombers, but Winnipeg managed just two in the teams’ next three meetings.
Gauthier, always a straight shooter, admitted he’ll go to whatever team is willing to pay him, but he said part of the reason he went to Hamilton two years ago was to be closer to his home province of Quebec. He now realizes Quebec is still a plane ride away whether you’re in Hamilton or Winnipeg. His immediate family is now based in Calgary, and Winnipeg is only a two-hour plane ride from Cowtown.
Most importantly, he believes he still has the ability to help a team win.
“I’m still learning, and I see the game developing slower in front of me,” Gauthier said. “I do believe I have some good years in front of me.”