Kyle Walters took a flyer on Geoff Gray in the CFL draft Sunday night with economics and patience in mind.
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers GM selected Gray in the first round, eighth overall, despite the Manitoba Bisons offensive lineman having signed with the NFL's Green Bay Packers. The move was somewhat surprising as three other top CFL prospects who garnered NFL interest were taken long after the six-foot-six, 315-pound Gray was.
Mississippi State offensive lineman Justin Senior of Montreal was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks before UCLA defensive lineman Eli Ankou of Ottawa, Gray and Laval tight end Antony Auclair of Notre-Dame-des-Pins, Que., signed as free agents with Houston, Green Bay and Tampa Bay, respectively.
Ankou went in the third round of the CFL draft to Ottawa, Auclair was selected in the fourth round by Saskatchewan while Edmonton took Senior in the fifth.
Walters came into the draft with two first-round picks (first and sixth overall) as well as No. 15. He dealt the No. 6 selection to Calgary for the Stampeders' spot at No. 8 as well as their fourth-round pick (No. 34).
Calgary used the sixth pick to take Gannon defensive lineman Randy Colling. Then after B.C. selected Montreal defensive lineman Junior Luke, Walters announced Gray's name.
"We chose to take that risk and multiple factors went into why," Walters said during a CFL conference call Tuesday. "The main ones being if we chose someone else how on earth do they fit into this roster and how does it fit into the salary cap?"
Taking Gray at No. 8 gives Walters two benefits. First, he doesn't have to pay another player first-round money — the Bombers selected Iowa defensive lineman Faith Ekakitie at No. 1 — while giving Winnipeg Gray's rights should he return to Canada.
Winnipeg can afford to be patient with Gray. The Bombers (11-7) were third in the ultra-competitive West Division last season to end a four-year playoff drought and are expected to contend again in 2017.
Walters said he tried trading down a little further in the draft but wasn't willing to wait until the second round to select Gray.
"You saw us trade down from No. 6 to No. 8 and there were attempts by me to move a little bit further down but I wasn't prepared to gamble on waiting for Geoff Gray at No. 15," Walters said. "I just wasn't sure there was a guy who was going to fit into our big plans from a cap standpoint and roster standpoint.
"Nothing was able to get done to move down . . . a little bit lower so we were happy with the decision where Geoff fell and that's why we picked him there."
The Packers showed their interest in Gray this off-season. They were one of eight NFL teams to take in Gray's pro day, then invited him afterwards for a visit.
Gray was certainly on the CFL's radar, finishing third in the league's final top-20 draft prospect list. Gray was a Canadian university first-team all-star as well as a Canada West all-star and its top lineman last year.
He never missed a game at Manitoba, starting 30-of-32 regular-season contests plus six playoff encounters, lining up at both guard and tackle.
Walters doesn't expect to see Gray any time soon.
"The Green Bay Packers don't sign him to go in there and play this year," Walters said. "They see a project they want to develop over the next couple of years so they're not just going to give up on him in my opinion."
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press