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Winnipeg Blue Bombers agree to terms with veteran receiver Greg Ellingson

It didn't take Kyle Walters long to move on from Kenny Lawler. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers GM confirmed Tuesday the club had agreed to terms with veteran American receiver Greg Ellingson on a one-year deal.

It didn't take Kyle Walters long to move on from Kenny Lawler.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers GM confirmed Tuesday the club had agreed to terms with veteran American receiver Greg Ellingson on a one-year deal. The move came after Lawler accepted a reported $300,000 offer from the Edmonton Elks that made him the league's highest-paid non-quarterback.

The six-foot-three, 197-pound Lawler had 64 catches for six TDs and a CFL-high 1,014 yards last season as Winnipeg captured a second straight Grey Cup title. The 27-year-old spent two years with the Bombers, registering 107 receptions for 1,651 yards and 10 touchdowns in helping the franchise record consecutive championships.

"Once we realized what was going on with the Kenny Lawler contract status and his agent was very open and honest with me throughout the process … we started looking at various other options," Walters told reporters during a conference call. "Greg brings a veteran presence, we know him and Zach (Bombers starter Zach Collaros) have a relationship and we expect him to come in and provide some stability and play that slotback position

"Good for Kenny for getting the payday. He played very well for us, that's for sure."

Ellingson, 33, had 47 catches for 687 yards and a TD in 10 games last season with the Edmonton Elks. The six-foot-three 197-pounder has appeared in 117 career CFL games with Hamilton (2013-14), Ottawa (2015-18) and Edmonton (2019, '21), registering 549 catches for 7,952 yards with 42 TDs.

Ellingson and Collaros were teammates with Hamilton in 2014. The Ticats went to the Grey Cup that year, losing 20-16 to the Calgary Stampeders.

The Ottawa Redblacks kicked off free agency Monday evening, signing veteran quarterback Jeremiah Masoli to a two-year contract. Masoli spent eight seasons with Hamilton but became expendable once the club signed Dane Evans to a two-year extension last month.

Masoli was slated to become a free agent Tuesday but Hamilton released Masoli on Friday, allowing him to sign with Ottawa early.

A number of CFL teams were busy on the opening day of free agency. They included:

— The B.C. Lions signed veteran Canadian kicker Sean Whyte, a 36-year-old native of White Rock, B.C. He began his CFL career with the Lions (2009-10) before spending time with Montreal (2011-14) and Edmonton (2015-19, 2021). They also added American defensive backs Loucheiz Purifoy and Delvin Breaux, American defensive lineman Steven Richardson, Canadian quarterback Michael O'Connor and Canadian defensive linemen David Menard and Mathieu Betts. Beaux, Breaux, a two-time CFL all-star, retired before the '21 season. The addition of O'Connor is interesting given Nathan Rourke, a Victoria native, enters camp as the starter.

— Edmonton was busy, making 11 moves. In addition to Lawler, the Elks signed American defensive back Ed Gainey, linebacker Deon Lacey and Canadian offensive lineman Mark Korte. The five-foot-11 193-pound Gainey has 309 tackles, 36 special-teams tackles, one sack and 23 interceptions in 126 career CFL regular-season games with Saskatchewan (2016-19, 2021), Hamilton (2014-15) and Montreal (2012-13). The six-foot-two, 293-pound Korte, of Spruce Grove, Alt., spent his first three CFL seasons with Ottawa (2018-19, 2021) after playing collegiately at Alberta. Lacey returned to Edmonton after spending the '21 season with Saskatchewan, where he registered 54 tackles in 13 regular-season games. The six-foot-two, 229-pound Lacey spent three years with the Elks (2014-16), helping the franchise win a Grey Cup in 2015 before spending four seasons in the NFL (2017-2020) with the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins. The Elks signed linebackers Deon Lacey Tobi Antigha, Adam Konar and Nakas Onyeka, defensive lineman Mak Henry, receiver Jalin Marshal and rookie linebacker Quart'e Sapp while releasing linebacker Keishawn Bierria.

—The Hamilton Tiger-Cats re-signed Canadian defensive tackle Ted Laurent and American defensive backs Richard Leonard and Jumal Rolle.

—The Saskatchewan Roughriders signed American linebackers Darnell Sankey and Derrick Moncrief. Sankey had a CFL-high 97 tackles with Calgary last year, while Moncrief recorded 23 tackles and four sacks in nine games with Edmonton. Moncrief began his career in Canada with the Riders in 2017. The club also signed Canadian offensive lineman Josiah St. John to a contract extension 

— The Toronto Argonauts agreed to terms with American defensive lineman Ja'Gared Davis, Canadian offensive lineman Justin Lawrence ad American defensive back DeShaun Amos. Davis had five sacks and a forced fumble in Hamilton's three playoff games last year and has played in the Grey Cup in all five of his CFL seasons with Calgary and Hamilton, helping the Stampeders win in 2018. Lawrence spent the last three seasons with the Stampeders. Amos, 27, spent three seasons with the Stampeders, recording 79 tackles, six special-teams tackles, five interceptions and one forced fumble in 32 regular-season games.

Canadian running back Andrew Harris, who helped anchor Winnipeg's recent success, hit the open market after he and Walters couldn't agree on a new deal. Later on Tuesday, Harris, a Winnipeg native, agreed to terms with Toronto.

 "Andrew and I spoke a few days ago," Walters said. "He represents himself, which is an interesting element to all this, and we couldn't agree on a contract.

"I don't have a crystal ball, I don't know how this is going to end up. I know Andrew has done nothing but good things for this organization … and been part of the success over the last few years as we've built this up the way we did. It's obviously a very difficult situation."

Since Winnipeg's second Grey Cup win in December, Walters has been busy re-signing key pending free agents. The Bombers began with 41 players slated to hit the open market but now have about 17, including Harris, Lawler and American kicker Sergio Castillo, who joined the club late last year.

Walters said there's been little talk between the Bombers and Castillo and given the number of players who've already re-signed, he doesn't see Winnipeg being active in free agency.

""We don't have much left to spend, we'll be quiet (Tuesday)," Walters said.

Another hole Winnipeg must fill is backup quarterback. But Walters cautioned Bombers fans against expecting Chris Streveler, who was with the franchise for its '19 title before signing with the NFL's Arizona Cardinals, to return to Manitoba.

"His agent has made it perfectly clear to me, 'I wouldn't hold anything aside with the hopes of Streveler coming back any time,'" Walters said. "Which works out well because we certainly don't have any money to hold aside."

Walters said he expects American defensive back Brandon Alexander to remain with the club. Alexander suffered a knee injury in Winnipeg's 33-25 overtime Grey Cup win over Hamilton and became a free agent Tuesday.  

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 8, 2022.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press