By Judy Owen, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG – Adam Bighill says he will put his family first when deciding his football future.
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ most outstanding player and top defensive player is one of a number of the team’s upcoming free agents.
There’s little doubt the club will want to re-sign the talented middle linebacker after its Grey Cup drought moved to 28 straight seasons following Sunday’s 22-14 loss to the Calgary Stampeders in the CFL West Division final.
Players hugged each other and shook hands in the locker room Monday, knowing the league’s expiring collective bargaining agreement (CBA) and reality of the tight salary cap may play a role in who returns.
“It always starts with my family. What’s going to be best for my family,” said Bighill, the father of a three-year-old son and 18-month daughter.
“From there, you just kind of weigh in the other factors, but most important is family.”
He and wife Kristina have a home in Surrey, B.C., and her parents live in nearby Port Moody. They rented a place in Winnipeg after he joined the team during training camp following his release by the NFL’s New Orleans Saints.
Bighill played for the Saints in 2017 after six seasons with the B.C. Lions. He turned down another NFL offer before signing with the Bombers and will talk to his agent “to see what may be in front of us.”
The 30-year-old competed Sunday with a cast on his left hand because of a fractured thumb. He said it didn’t affect him and he was happy with the defence’s effort.
“We played a pretty decent game,” he said. “It’s just a few more turnovers would have helped our offence. At the end of the day, it just wasn’t good enough.”
Winnipeg finished the regular season in third place in the West with a 10-8 record. It won five of its last six games and beat Saskatchewan in the division semifinal, sparking hope among fans that it could defeat the Stampeders and make it back to the Grey Cup for the first time since 2011.
Bombers quarterback Matt Nichols said the team is getting better and he echoed players’ views that they formed a special bond this season.
He’s signed through next season and doesn’t think the CBA and potential changes to the roster means the team’s window of opportunity to win a championship has closed.
“I know the core group that’s kind of been here the last few years is getting better and better every year and getting closer and closer,” Nichols said.
“I think that those guys want to be a part of what we have going here so I’m fully confident that most of this team will look the same as it was this year.”
One of his favourite targets, 11-year receiver Weston Dressler, wants to return if the team feels mutually.
“Most of the time it’s not up to the player to make those decisions,” he said. “I want to play and, hopefully, there’s enough people that want me to be a part of the team.”
Winnipeg’s pending free agents also include starting offensive linemen Sukh Chungh and Matthias Goossen, defensive lineman Jackson Jeffcoat, defensive backs Brandon Alexander and Chris Randle and kicker Justin Medlock, who said he wants to be back.
Head coach Mike O’Shea said he wasn’t thinking or worried about free agency as he prepared for exit meetings with players after an ending none of them wanted.
“Obviously there’s disappointment, and great disappointment, because there was great expectations,” O’Shea said.
“And there should be great expectations. We had a good football team. I feel we could have been hoisting the Grey Cup next Sunday.”
He also empathizes with fans who yearned for an end to the championship drought.
“For the five years I’ve been here, we’ve been trying to deliver what they want and the players have been, too,” O’Shea said.
“We haven’t gotten it done so it’s not easy.”