Bombers can't let homegrown players go

Defensive lineman Don Oramasionwu (celebrating after sacking Toronto quarterback Dalton Bell in the...

Defensive lineman Don Oramasionwu (celebrating after sacking Toronto quarterback Dalton Bell in the dying seconds of Winnipeg's 33-24 victory over the Argos in Toronto on July 24, 2011) signed with the Eskimos on Feb.15, 2012 as a free agent. (JACK BOLAND/QMI Agency file photo)

PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:11 PM ET

WINNIPEG - It’s turning out to be the Winnipeg way. Football or hockey, the last thing we want to do, it seems, is overpay for a free agent.

That old adage about this being a wholesale town? It’s alive and well in the boardrooms of our sports franchises.

We’re seeing it with the Winnipeg Jets in their first year back in the NHL, and we’ve seen it with the Joe Mack and Paul LaPolice regime of the Blue Bombers.

And I’m not necessarily condemning it as the wrong way to do business, either.

Being prudent might eventually produce a champion, who knows? Lord knows it’s not always the big spenders who take home the big prize.

But in the just-add-water age of instant everything, not to mention the cover-it-live aspect of social media, it’s not the sexiest approach, that’s for sure.

The Jets loped into free agency last summer and emerged with names like Randy Jones, Kyle Wellwood and Tanner Glass.

Sure, that was a new franchise just finding its legs. But you get the impression that’s going to be the norm, that the Jets free agent philosophy will have as much in common with a team like the Rangers as the North End does with Manhattan.

Wednesday, it was the Bombers’ turn, Day 1 of the CFL’s off-season signing frenzy, and the silence from the soon-to-be-torn-down bunker on Maroons Road was deafening.

Oh, they re-upped with O-lineman Glenn January, a solid import tackle and Winnipeg citizen, but that was about it.

Not that we expected a big splash.

It’s the homegrown fish the Bombers are letting go, though, that are the big concern.

This is a team that says it prizes Canadian talent, and has acknowledged it’s thin on that front. Has even blamed previous regimes for leaving the cupboard bare.

Yet on Wednesday it allowed a promising, young one to get away, and appears on the verge of losing one of its best Canadian starters.

Let’s start with the case of O-lineman Brendon LaBatte, the starter drafted and invested in by the Bombers the last four years.

Allowed to reach free agency, LaBatte appears on the verge of signing with the rival Riders, of all teams.

It’s hard to blame Mack for this green feeding frenzy — word is the bidding for LaBatte’s services topped out at around $200,000, per.

That’s a pretty ridiculous amount for a hog, and if the Bombers offered $170,000, as the Winnipeg Sun reported, then they have nothing to be ashamed of.

But did they try hard enough to keep LaBatte from getting to this point? That is the 6-foot-4, 300-pound question.

A bird in the hand is worth two in the Saskabush, as they say. If LaBatte’s offer had been on the table, say, around Christmas, maybe he’d have taken it.

Even a hog needs to feel the love once in a while. But the Bombers seemed to drag their feet.

Then there’s Donnie Oramasionwu, a Winnipegger who’s backed up Doug Brown the last couple years.

Just 25, he didn’t waste any time signing with Edmonton, Wednesday, and don’t be surprised if he becomes an instant starter on the Edmonton D-line.

The Eskimos are certainly paying him like it.

And the Bombers?

“They haven’t made me an offer this whole time ... since the last regular season game,” Oramasionwu said. “It’s always tough to leave home. But if your hometown team doesn’t appreciate you ... then it’s time to move on.”

I’m no scout, but people who’ve forgotten more about football than I’ll ever know are convinced Donnie-O is on the verge of becoming a starter. A ratio breaker.

So, to recap the current off-season: the Bombers have lost a Canadian starter in Brown (retirement), are on the verge of losing another in LaBatte and, potentially, a third in Donnie-O.

Why does that not feel like progress?


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