His contract was scheduled to expire Feb. 16, but Buck Pierce never expected he'd be testing CFL free agency this off-season.
The veteran quarterback opted to stay put Thursday, re-signing with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Contract terms weren't made available but Pierce reportedly received a three-year deal.
And Pierce, who is entering his eighth CFL season and third in Winnipeg, said there was never a question in his mind regarding where he'd be playing football in 2012.
“No, there really wasn't because both parties wanted to make this work,” Pierce said. ‘We didn't expect it to take so long . . . but we both wanted it to get done the right way that would work best for both of us.
“There was never any doubt in my mind that it wouldn't get done. It's a good day for both me and the organization.”
It was also a good day for Bombers GM Joe Mack, who signed a contract extension that will keep him with the CFL club through the 2014 CFL season.
Pierce, 30, registered career highs in 2011 in starts (16), completions (261), attempts (411), yards passing (3,348) and yards rushing (324) in leading Winnipeg (10-8) atop the East Division standings after posting a league-worst 4-14-0 record in 2010.
But there would be no fairy tale ending for the Bombers. After dispatching Hamilton 19-3 in the conference final, Winnipeg lost a 34-23 decision to the B.C. Lions in the Grey Cup.
Winnipeg hasn't captured a Grey Cup title since 1990, leaving Pierce feeling he and the Bombers have some unfinished business in the Manitoba capital.
“We've set a benchmark for ourselves and that's something that's not been around here,” Pierce said. “We're going to continue to work towards our ultimate goal, and that's the mark now.
“We came off a 4-14 season (in 2010) and had a great year last year. We know how to win, we know what it takes to get there. Now we just have to do the little things that will get us over the top.”
With contract talks done, Pierce can concentrate on touching base with Gary Crowton, who was hired earlier this week as Winnipeg's new offensive co-ordinator.
Pierce and the Bombers won't have the element of surprise working for them in 2012. Also, conference rivals the Toronto Argonauts and Hamilton Tiger-Cats have re-loaded this off-season while the Montreal Alouettes — the 2008-'09 Grey Cup champions — will have both head coach Marc Trestman and GM Jim Popp back after both were interviewed for positions with the NFL's Indianapolis Colts.
Not only do Toronto and Hamilton have new offensive-minded head coaches in Scott Milanovich and George Cortez, respectively, they'll also have proven veterans under centre. The Argos acquired two-time Grey Cup-champion Ricky Ray from Edmonton while the Ticats landed '08 CFL MVP Henry Burris from Calgary.
And once again Montreal's offence will be led by veteran quarterback Anthony Calvillo, pro football's all-time passing leader who will return for a 19th CFL season.
Pierce admits the arrival of both Ray and Burris into the East Division will make repeating tougher on the Bombers, who also won't have the element of surprise heading into the 2012 season. However, Pierce modestly added that Winnipeg will be more concerned this year about what it controls — like it's preparation — than what other teams are doing or have done.
“We have to win the East, no matter what, to get to where we want to be,” he said. “For us and myself, it's worrying about what we do and I think everything else will take care of itself.”
Mack is in the third season of his second go-around with Winnipeg. He served as the Bombers' player-personnel director from 1984 to ‘87, earning a Grey Cup ring his first season with the CFL club.
Mack also captured a Super Bowl ring in ‘91 as the Washington Redskins pro-personnel director. Mack also served with the Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers and Cleveland Browns as well as the XFL's New York Hitmen. He worked as an independent sports consultant before returning to Winnipeg.
Like Pierce, Mack said he never questioned whether the extension would get done.
“The people and fans of Winnipeg have been great to me and I can't say how much I appreciate the support I've received from the board of directors of the Winnipeg football club,” Mack said. “I feel very grateful.”
Mack is also grateful to have defensive co-ordinator Tim Burke back with the club in 2012 after he was a finalist for the Ticats' head-coaching position. Burke was the architect of a Bombers' rugged defence that wreaked havoc on opposing quarterbacks last year and anchored the club's amazing transformation.
Mack said the wait for Burke did result in contract talks with Pierce extending a little longer than originally anticipated.
When healthy, there's no questioning Pierce's ability to lead an offence. Trouble is, he has battled injuries throughout his CFL career, something Mack says was addressed in contract talks.
“I gave consideration to what Buck has meant to the organization overall, the fact he's been extremely tough, he's been a leader and I anticipate him continuing that,” Mack said. “I acknowledged that and factored that into the contract while Buck also acknowledges there's that medical history so I think it's a balancing act between the two.
“I wanted to acknowledge the contributions Buck has made while he and I both acknowledged the fact that there was this other factor that at to be at least some component of the balancing act in regards to the contract.”
However, Mack doesn't have the luxury of time to sit back and enjoy the added job security. A number of Bombers players — notably backup quarterback Alex Brink and starting offensive linemen Brendon Labatte, Steve Morley and Glenn January — are all poised to become free agents later this month.
Mack feels he's close to reaching a deal with Brink and same he's had “fruitful” discussions with Labatte. Mack is hopeful he'll have Brink and possibly two key offensive linemen under contract before the start of free agency.
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