|His name is Buck and he's here to chuck for the Bombers. (Marie-Claude Forest/QMI Agency)
WINNIPEG - As expected, Buck Pierce is back in Blue and Gold.
The more important question, however, might be this: Will Winnipeg’s best offensive lineman be back to protect him?
The re-signing of Pierce, who was slated to become a free agent on Feb. 15, was not surprising. The Bombers needed him, and he needed the Bombers. The gritty quarterback gets more base salary than he did in his first two seasons with the Bombers, and everyone’s happy with the three-year deal.
“I feel great with the terms that we agreed to. I’m very happy,” Pierce said during a press conference Thursday in the Bomber locker-room at Canad Inns Stadium. “As a player that has just turned 30 and has been in this league for a while and has proven that I can get a team to the Grey Cup, I’m happy with what we settled on.”
The player the Bombers really need to sign, though, is left guard Brendon LaBatte, who will be a free man in 12 days. Privately, the Bombers are more than worried they will lose their top offensive lineman from the past three seasons. Everybody and their dog thinks LaBatte’s bolting for his home province of Saskatchewan. Publicly, both the Bombers and LaBatte’s camp keep saying they are hopeful a deal will get done.
“We’ve been talking with the Bombers quite a bit, and they are very good conversations,” LaBatte’s agent, Tim Fleiszer, said Thursday. “I like dealing with (GM) Joe (Mack). Joe’s great to deal with. I’d just say the discussions are productive thus far, and it remains Brendon’s first choice to return to the Bombers.”
The Bombers are going so far as helping LaBatte with his off-field passion of stock car racing. In December Mack said LaBatte wanted to wait to sign a new deal in 2012 due to tax purposes, but that doesn’t appear to be the case five weeks into the new year.
“He knows that we’re willing to make him a really well-paid Canadian offensive linemen,” Mack said. “We’re trying to help him out in regards to some other things with his race team. We’ll do all we can do.
“It’s going to come down to a personal decision for Brendon. He tells me that he really, really likes it in Winnipeg and would like to stay.”
It’s evident Pierce knows how crucial it is for the team to re-sign LaBatte and a few other potential free agents. On more than one occasion Thursday he said he will now play a role in getting players to re-sign before going on the market.
“We still have some big pieces to put together,” Pierce said. “Coach (Gary) Crowton and myself and Joey (Elliott), those are key pieces. But also we have a lot of other guys that are free agents that we need to get done now, and those things hopefully will get done, and I’ll do everything in my power to get those guys back here.”
The Bomber offence was one of the CFL’s worst last season, when Pierce threw 14 touchdowns and 18 interceptions, and the team rode its defence to the Grey Cup. Now that Pierce has a fat starter’s contract for the second time in his career (he signed a $300,000-a-year deal in B.C. in 2009), he knows he needs to elevate his game.
“I’d like to see [the offence] carry the load a little bit more,” said Pierce, who is 10-8 as Winnipeg’s quarterback of record. “I’d like us to be a bit more consistent. I’d like myself to be a bit more consistent, and those things are going to come.
“We’d like to be a bit more explosive. With the running game we had at the end of the season along with some new concepts that we’re going to be installing in the pass game, things are going to be great.”