It seems highly appropriate that we used The Weakerthans for this year's Winnipeg Blue Bombers preview, as one of the team's top off-season acquisitions has already left and may in fact be leaving. That would be defensive back/linebacker Korey Banks, who was expected to bring a veteran presence to their defence when the team acquired him via trade in January. Banks, a five-time league all-star and eight-time divisional all-star, was still a big part of the B.C. Lions' defence last year at age 34, but was traded so B.C. could move on with someone bigger, younger and cheaper; he looked like a good fit for a rebuilding Winnipeg team, though. However, that hasn't worked out; Banks has fallen out with the team, being placed on the one-game injured list ahead of their season opener last Thursday (a 45-21 win over Toronto) and asking for his release shortly afterwards. According to TSN 1290's Darrin Bauming, Banks has been suspended by the team and has gone home to Atlanta:
#Bombers announce Korey Banks has peen placed on the suspended list.
— Darrin Bauming (@DarrinBauming) June 30, 2014
I'm hearing Banks has left the city.
— Darrin Bauming (@DarrinBauming) June 30, 2014
Head coach Mike O'Shea told Ed Tait of The Winnipeg Free Press that Banks' reaction to not starting wasn't what the team hoped for:
Korey came into Kyle's (GM Kyle Walters) office today, spoke to Kyle and I and asked for his release," said head coach Mike O'Shea. "We don't have to make any decisions about our roster until 48 hours before the game (this Thursday). The focus right now is preparing for Ottawa.
"He wasn't willing to accept the role that we had for him for this week." ...
The Bombers, meanwhile, don't want to mess with a lineup that got them a win in the opener, so Banks was likely destined to spend another week on the one-game injured list. In the meantime, they have been trying to shop him around the league to gauge any interest before deciding whether to grant his wish and release him outright. Another factor: Banks has already received approximately $50,000 from the Bombers.
"I think there was still a role for him on our team," said O'Shea. "Johnny Sears played very well, so did Teague Sherman. He wasn't the only player to play that position."
Asked if Banks' reaction to his status wasn't the kind of leadership they were seeking, O'Shea added:
"I don't think he was willing to accept that type of leadership role. He believes leadership comes in a different way. I believe leadership comes from being out there on the field. My utopian idea is that when a player says, 'What's your goal? What do you want to do this season,' the answer is 'Anything I'm asked of by the organization to allow us to win a Grey Cup.' That's the answer. That's my perfect answer I like to hear; it's not the answer everyone gives."
While Winnipeg's certainly justified in going with whatever lineup they feel will give them the best chance to win, and in suspending Banks when they felt he wasn't contributing (and wasn't going to contribute), it's hard not to also see Banks' point here. He's been a great player in the CFL for so long, and was a league all-star as recently as 2012. Keep in mind that the Bombers sounded intent on making him a big part of their team this offseason. Here's what Walters said after the trade:
Korey Banks is a leader of men. He exudes confidence and leadership. He's a winner. The best thing about the trade was -- and we can debate his on-field play -- is what he's going to bring to that locker-room. We need some guys to come in here and say, 'This is not acceptable. This is the way you practise. This is the way you prep, this is the way you watch film. If you guys want to be winners, follow me.' That was the primary point to making this trade.
It seems odd to bring a prominent (and well-paid) veteran like Banks in, one who was once seen as a potential face of the franchise, and then not play him, but that's Winnipeg's decision to make. Keep in mind it's not just the Bombers behaving differently from what they once said, either, as Banks once sounded like he'd be willing to do anything to help this team, too. Here's what he said at the time of the trade:
"[A]t the end of the day I’m grateful that Winnipeg wants me and I want Winnipeg. ... This is a great marriage together and I’m going to do everything in my ability to make it work. This is a great fit for me and even if I was released I probably would have ended up in Winnipeg, anyway, because I felt a rapport with (GM) Kyle Walters and (head coach Mike) O’Shea that I haven’t felt in years. It’s a great fit. It’s a hungry city... they love their football, I love football. They have a lot of great key pieces and all I can do is help bring what I can bring and help this thing come together. I’m just a guy that’s going to do my best every day to help this team get to the ultimate goal, like everybody else."
What's next for Banks? The Bombers clearly believe he still has some value, either to their organization or (more likely) as a trade chip. That's why they suspended him instead of releasing him. Will anyone be willing to bite, though? The Ottawa Redblacks seem like a potential destination, as they could use some veteran leadership on defence, and it would be a perfect closing of the circle for Banks, who really started his CFL career in Ottawa with the Renegades from 2004-05 after briefly being on Edmonton's practice roster. Other squads could be interested as well. Teams may want to wait and see if the Bombers will actually release him rather than trading assets for him, though, and this well-publicized falling out won't enhance his value. It's quite possible that Banks could even wind up playing for the Bombers still; they've already invested $50,000 or so in him, and if he's willing to compete for a job, he might prove a valuable piece. That seems unlikely compared to a release or a trade elsewhere, but in a league where Khalif Mitchell can return to B.C. after an even more public falling-out, there aren't many bridges that are permanently burned.