On Friday morning, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers Twitter account sent out a public service announcement.
Following the announcement, a highlight montage of former Bomber and Super Bowl XLIX star Chris Matthews, was some expected breaking news: general manager Kyle Walters has locked up Matthews for three years. The dollar amount of the contract has yet to become public.
The 2012 CFL Most Outstanding Rookie spent two seasons in Winnipeg before departing for a four-year NFL career. He recently won the 106th Grey Cup with the Calgary Stampeders.
Now, the 6’5 230 lbs. receiver will become a staple in the Bombers passing game.
What Chris Matthews Brings
The return of Chris Matthews to the ‘Peg was somewhat predictable, as the Bombers needed an upgrade at receiver prior to Week 1 of the 2019 season.
As mentioned, in his first year with Winnipeg, Matthews put up 81 catches for 1,192 yards and seven touchdowns. Keep in mind this was a year where Joey Elliott and Alex Brink combined for 78 per cent of Winnipeg’s passing yards.
First off, Matthews is the deep-ball threat that has been missing in Winnipeg’s lineup for years. He’s also someone who’s familiar with Paul LaPolice, who was the Bombers head coach during Matthews’ first tenure in Winnipeg.
Matthews is someone who will win 50-50 balls. He’s someone who will be a reliable option in the end zone, and he’s someone who can change the outcome of football games.
But Matthews will also provide benefits to those around him.
It’s no secret the Bombers have lacked a physical, field-stretching receiver. Darvin Adams has been the closest thing to such, but at times took the brunt of double coverage, limiting his effectiveness.
Now, Adams has someone to take the attention off him.
Adams can also move around in the passing game. Since Matthews is best suited at the boundary receiver position, Adams will likely move to a slotback position. And he’ll potentially make a move to the strong-side of the field with more space.
While Matthews will draw the attention of opponents, he’ll also draw the attention of quarterback Matt Nichols. Nichols doesn’t shy away from the deep ball and throws an underrated, accurate one.
Nichols often threw that ball to Adams at moderate success, but now he’ll have a new toy to test out the home run shot to.
Bombers Starting Receivers
Prior to the Chris Matthews signing, Winnipeg had three of their five starting receivers cemented. The previously mentioned Adams as well as Nationals Nic Demski and Drew Wolitarsky are no brainers.
For the two remaining spots, a two-person National battle is brewing, and a slew of International returnees and free agents will try to prove why they should be starters.
The Bombers have their fourth starters now; Matthews will join Adams, Demski and Wolitarksy as starting receivers in Paul LaPolice’s offence.
Now it’s about the choice to address the ratio with the final starter or choose one of the many adept Internationals to occupy it.
The Final Starting Reciever Spot
If the Bombers choose to fill the fifth starting spot with a National, it’ll be Daniel Petermann or Rashaun Simonise, with Petermann having a slight edge. If this is the case, Winnipeg will have their seven National starters set, and will avoid having to start either three Canadian offensive linemen or Jake Thomas at defensive tackle.
This decision could be favouring, given the Bombers may not trust Geoff Gray as a starter yet, especially since Manase Foketi, a third-year International, has held his own in several starts at the guard position.
It would also make the difference of starting both Internationals Drake Nervis and standout rookie Brandin Bryant at defensive tackle instead of Jake Thomas, who is more a depth piece.
The pool of potential International starters is much deeper, and perhaps more talented.
Returnee Kenbrell Thompkins would be the early favourite of the crop, and Thompkins could have an edge over Petermann and Simonise too. Charles Nelson, primarily a kick returner, and Corey Washington, someone who’s shown glimpses of promise, are the other two returning options.
But like any other CFL team, Winnipeg will have around 20 receivers in training camp next week.
The Bombers have already signed eight more International receivers, with Kenny Walker, Tim Wilson and Lucky Whitehead highlighting the group.
The Last Word
The Chris Matthews signing is massive for Winnipeg. Matthews is an extremely talented player, but he’s also the specimen of someone who the Bombers have desperately searched for, and someone who knows the city more than the average American receiver.
And while he’ll take some pressure off Darvin Adams, I’m sure he and Matthews will have a friendly competition regarding who will collect more receiving yards and touchdowns in 2019.
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