Justin Goltz is the Bombers’ new QB hope, but that decision carries both risks and rewards
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers' decision Thursday to demote Buck Pierce and promote Justin Goltz to starting quarterback wasn't entirely unexpected. Pierce's injury problems have been a long-running issue, preventing him from consistently staying on the field for the Bombers, and he hasn't exactly lit the league up when he has been starting. Meanwhile, Goltz did decently well in his first CFL start against Calgary last Friday, throwing for 194 yards and two touchdowns (albeit with an interception, a 54.3 per cent completion mark and being completely outclassed by the game's other rookie starter), and he looks like a much better solution for the future than Pierce. Winnipeg has been looking to develop a new quarterback for a while, so it's not all that surprising that the Bombers are taking Goltz's performance as something to build on and anointing him as the starter going forward. However, that approach may create problems as well as benefits.
The rewards for the Bombers if this works out are obvious. Goltz is just 25 (he turns 26 later this month), and he could be their quarterback for years to come. Pierce is 31, and while that isn't necessarily an indication that a CFL quarterback doesn't have much playing time left (starters in this league include 40-year-old Anthony Calvillo, 38-year-old Henry Burris and 33-year old Ricky Ray), he's almost six full years older than Goltz. Moreover, Pierce's injury history (including concussions, shoulder problems and leg problems) is extensive enough that he's not necessarily someone a team wants to build around going forward. His career stats aren't that great, either: he has a 64.3 per cent completion mark, but just 73 touchdowns against 61 interceptions, and in last season plus this season thus far, he's completed just 60.3 per cent of his passes for 1,796 yards and five touchdowns with eight interceptions. Pierce is a reasonable option as a CFL starting quarterback, but he doesn't have a tremendous upside, and his injury concerns are significant enough that you probably don't want him as a long-term solution. Meanwhile, Goltz is still very much a blank slate, and he didn't overly impress in his debut, but his long-term potential is much higher than Pierce's.
One key risk here is that Winnipeg could further damage their already-fragile chances of doing anything this season, though. Adjusting to the CFL game takes time, especially for American quarterbacks (who have to relearn much of the game thanks to 12-a-side football, three downs, bigger fields and the CFL's other quirks), and while Goltz has been with the Bombers since late 2010, he only had 14 regular-season completions heading into this season. On the year, he's completed just 32 of 50 attempts (60.9 per cent) for 364 yards with two touchdowns and an interception, so he may be playing slightly better than Pierce, but he's certainly not outclassing him significantly (and last week's showing, while okay, was worse than a typical Pierce outing). If Goltz struggles to adapt to Canadian football, what was already looming as a difficult season for the 1-4 Bombers may get even worse.
This season shouldn't be considered entirely as a rebuilding year just yet, either. While the Bombers have struggled so far, they're currently tied with Hamilton for the last playoff berth in the East, and they're just one game behind Montreal for second place. Moreover, while rolling the dice on Goltz carries substantial upside, it also increases risk on the long-term front: if he isn't quite ready for a starting role, this could shatter his confidence and force the Bombers to start over in their search for a new franchise quarterback. The move has also obviously aggravated Pierce, and that's not insignificant: if Goltz seizes the reins and does well as a starter, fine, but if he fails or gets injured, it's going to be tougher to go back to Pierce. This is a reasonably logical move by the Bombers overall, and it's a chance to see what they have in Goltz, but while the potential rewards are high, there are substantial risks involved as well. We'll see if their decision turns out to be worth it.