The Winnipeg Blue Bombers' decision to release veteran running back Fred Reid Monday wasn't entirely unanticipated, as the Bombers' ground game improved in the final six games and the playoffs last year after Reid suffered a season-ending ACL injury. Reid led the CFL with 1,396 rushing yards in 2010 and had picked up 759 yards and four touchdowns in 2011, but only averaged 4.2 yards per carry this past year. After his injury, Chris Garrett came in and recorded 576 yards and four touchdowns in just six games with an impressive 6.3 yards per carry average. Given that Garrett just turned 24 and likely comes with a substantially lower cap hit, picking him (and perhaps promising young Canadian Carl Volny) over the 29-year-old Reid was probably a pretty easy decision for Winnipeg general manager Joe Mack, and it fits right in with this offseason's pattern of axing veteran running backs: B.C.'s Jamal Robertson retired, and Hamilton's Avon Cobourne, Calgary's Joffrey Reynolds and Saskatchewan's Wes Cates have all been cut. However, this decision has already been criticized by teammate Jovon Johnson, and while Mack's move is understandable, Reid may still have something to offer another CFL team.
While Mack's decision could be anticipated given the presence of the younger and cheaper Garrett, this still represents the Bombers cutting a long-time locker-room presence who was only one year removed from a league rushing title. Thus, while Mack's move is somewhat logical, it's also reasonable that some Bombers' players are upset to lose a long-time colleague and friend. The move already has proved unpopular with Bombers like reigning defensive player of the year Jovon Johnson, who criticized the move using his protected Twitter account. He's since deleted his first tweet on the matter, but I retweeted it before he took it down; here's a screengrab:
That sparked an interesting follow-up from Bombers' director of media relations Darren Cameron, perhaps notable considering that the team has reportedly been unhappy with players' criticism of management this offseason:
And here's a tweet Johnson sent in response to Cameron and a Bombers' fan who endorsed the move:
It's understandable if the Bombers are sensitive about player criticism these days, but they really shouldn't be worried. Mack and the rest of the Bombers' administration will be judged on how their personnel moves turn out, not on what other players think of them, so why not let players express their opinions? Just as a case can be made for why Mack would cut Reid, one can also be made for why Johnson and other long-time Bombers would be upset about the move. Neither's necessarily wrong; it's a move that looks at least somewhat logical for the team and may give them some cap flexibility, but it's also one that's abandoning a long-time player who's had a lot of success recently. There undoubtedly will be differing opinions on that, and Mack obviously gets to express his in prepared statements and media interviews, so why shouldn't players be able to do the same?
Beyond all that, though, lies the question of whether Reid's CFL days are done. It's not a particularly easy one to answer. Most CFL teams appear to have a strong starting running back lined up for next season, so Reid's unlikely to get a starting role anywhere, and the tendency of teams to try and go young at running back doesn't work in his favour overall. It does put him ahead of the group of Reynolds, Cates and Cobourne, though, as they're all 32 and Reid is just 29. His 2011 season may not have been impressive from a yards-per-carry perspective, but that isn't always on the running back; it also has a lot to do with the team's system, their offensive linemen and how effective the passing game is. Reid also has a very impressive career resume, with two 1,000-yard-plus seasons and yards-per-carry averages of 6.8, 7.0, 5.8 and 6.6 before this past season. We'll see if anyone decides to take a chance on him, but if they do, or if Garrett regresses from his impressive performance (which carries a small sample size caveat), Johnson's criticisms may yet prove prescient.