What do you do with a league all-star who tied for the leaguewide sack lead last year and was a crucial part of getting your team to a Grey Cup game? If you're the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, the answer is apparently "ship him to your fiercest rivals for a couple of poor draft picks". This offseason's already seen some bizarre trades, including Ricky Ray heading to Toronto for a bag of spare parts and the Stampeders and Tiger-Cats swapping Henry Burris and Kevin Glenn, but Winnipeg's decision to trade Odell Willis to Saskatchewan Thursday is perhaps the most lopsided of the lot. Pass-rushing defensive ends are always at a premium in this league, and Willis has proven to be one of the best, but the Bombers have not only elected to jettison him, but to ship him to a rival for second- and fourth-round picks in this year's draft and a swap of conditional picks in 2013. Now he'll be facing off against the Bombers in the Banjo Bowl and terrorizing quarterbacks around the league, and Winnipeg really hasn't picked up much in return. Willis could be a huge acquisition for Saskatchewan, but it's tough to see why Bombers general manager Joe Mack would want to make this deal.
It's no secret that Canadian talent is on the rise, both from a calibre and a depth perspective, and draft picks are more valuable than they have been in the past. However, it's hard to see them being this valuable, especially when the picks are this late; for Willis, a proven CFL star, Winnipeg received the 8th overall pick, the 23rd overall pick and the chance to swap conditional picks in 2013. For reference, the players taken at those spots last year were kicker Brody McKnight (Montreal) and offensive lineman Philip Blake (also Montreal): neither's played in the CFL yet, and they aren't necessarily locks to ever do so. McKnight may have a tough time cracking the league at the moment given the numbers of solid kickers already out there, and Blake's drawing substantial NFL interest. Both could turn out to be good CFL players, as could whoever the Bombers select with these picks, but there's substantial risk involved here and not a great chance that they'll wind up with a dominant player like Willis.
It's difficult to understand what Mack is going for here. Sure, rebuilding Canadian talent is important, but a second-round and a fourth-round pick aren't guarantees of anything, and they certainly don't seem like fair compensation for a player of Willis' talents. Sure, he's created a few stirs off the field (including one during Grey Cup week with some odd tweets), and there were rumours that he was potentially being shopped, but that still doesn't necessarily make it a logical move for the Bombers. Willis was a perfect fit in Winnipeg's defensive system in 2011 under new coordinator Tim Burke, and he brilliantly executed the "Jack" hybrid end/linebacker role the Bombers picked up from an offseason meeting with Green Bay Packers' defensive coordinator Dom Capers, tying Hamilton's Justin Hickman (since departed for the NFL) for the league lead with 13 sacks. Willis is one of this league's premier pass-rushers, and his level of talent is worth putting up with the occasional Twitter headache. It doesn't seem the Bombers share that opinion, though.