Bombers optimistic about LaBatte, Pierce

PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:44 AM ET

WINNIPEG - Brendon LaBatte’s agent figures his client is one of the top O-linemen in the CFL, and should be paid like it.

If the Winnipeg Blue Bombers can do that, LaBatte could sign a new contract before hitting the free agent market, Feb. 15.

“He’s had a couple of outstanding years,” Tim Fleiszer told the Sun from Montreal. “He’s played a couple of different positions. You always hope guys are able to find the best situation. We’re hoping that’s in Winnipeg.”

LaBatte heads the Bombers’ list of potential free agents, along with quarterback Buck Pierce.

Fleiszer says the 6-foot-4, 304-pounder from Weyburn, Sask., has once again attracted some interest from the NFL, but he hasn’t fully explored that avenue, yet.

Last year, LaBatte worked out for several teams, getting himself on the radar down south but not attracting an offer worth leaving what he had guaranteed in Winnipeg.

That guaranteed money will have to increase, and Bomber GM Joe Mack knows it.

“We’ll have to see what kind of numbers,” Mack said, Wednesday. “We’re going to make him a very good offer for an offensive guard in the CFL. That’s all we could do.”

Mack says based on his discussions with LaBatte, the odds are good of re-signing him. However, the Bombers have yet to make his agent an offer.

Mack says he did speak to Pierce this week, and likes what he hears from his starting pivot.

“Buck is an experienced guy that understands his resume and what he means to the team,” Mack said. “I think we’ll be able to get that done. Hopefully it won’t become an issue. I think we’re both going to strive for a fair deal that compensates Buck as the starter but also protects the club.”

Again, Mack has yet to deal with Pierce’s agent, but those talks will heat up in the coming weeks, as will negotiations with the agents for backup quarterbacks Alex Brink and Joey Elliott.

Pierce’s and LaBatte’s signings, if they occur, will trigger negotiations with the rest of Winnipeg’s potential free agents, as the Bombers divvy up the salary cap pie.

Don’t expect the team to leave room to take a big bite from the open market.

“As everybody probably realizes, I’m not a big proponent of making a big splash in free agency,” Mack said. “A lot of times maybe some folks get caught up in the atmosphere of trying to get that done. History shows a lot of times people overpay because that market gets overheated.”

Once he’s re-signed as many players as possible, Mack will address players going into their option years.

Corner Jovon Johnson, for example, the league defensive player of the year, has publicly expressed his desire for a reworked deal.

“With all due respect to Jovon, he is one of the highest paid defensive backs in the CFL right now,” Mack said. “So it’s not like he’s being underpaid. It makes strategic sense to focus on the free agents, first. Anything we do there will have implications for our salary cap.”

Mack wouldn’t comment on the contract status of himself or head coach Paul LaPolice.

Going into their third years with the Bombers, both are in line for contract extensions after the team reached the Grey Cup last season.


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