VANCOUVER — A day after signing his marquee player, B.C. Lions general manager Wally Buono began revamping the CFL club’s roster.
The Lions released former all-stars Arland Bruce III and Byron Parker on Friday. The moves came after the Lions awarded quarterback Travis Lulay with a new three-year contract.
Buono said Bruce and Parker were released as part of the team’s effort to give young players more opportunities to play, build for the future, get better as a team and manage the salary cap. However, Buono denies that Lulay’s new deal would restrict the team financially.
“We paid those players last year,” he said. “If (the salary cap) was an issue this year, it would have been an issue last year.”
But Buono said a benefit of releasing Bruce is the freeing up of more money with which to re-sign receiver Shawn Gore, who led the Lions in receiving in 2012 with 61 receptions for 720 yards and five touchdowns.
Buono hopes to get Gore under contract before he becomes a free agent on Feb. 15.
Unfortunately, said Buono, a move towards younger players and team-building comes at the expense of older players. The GM noted the Lions brought back most players from the 2011 Grey Cup squad and took a chance on a veteran like Parker in hope of repeating as CFL champions.
“That didn’t occur,” said Buono, whose team finished in first place in the West, but was upset by the Calgary Stampeders in the Western Final.
“Now, we have to start building for 2013.”
The Lions acquired wide receiver Bruce in a trade with the Hamilton Ticats midway through the 2011 season. He was part of the Lions’ Grey Cup victory that year after arriving with a reputation as a player who did not always get along with management and coaches during his previous stops.
But Buono and coach Mike Benevides viewed Bruce as a model professional who was extremely dedicated to his craft. Bruce was also an extremely popular figure in the B.C. dressing room.
“He came with a big reputation. (But) he was fun to be around,” said Buono, adding Bruce helped younger players.
Buono also praised Bruce for giving Lulay confidence as the club overcame a 0-5 start to win the 2011 Grey Cup.
“I just took it as another opportunity for me to play professional football,” Bruce said last fall about his move to the Lions in 2011. “I thought I did extremely well for making it to the playoffs, making it to the championship game (in 2011.)”
But Bruce missed the final five games of the 2012 regular season with a concussion before returning for the Western Final that B.C. lost to Calgary.
Bruce has spent 11 years in the CFL with Winnipeg, Toronto, Hamilton and B.C., generating more than 10,000 yards receiving and 89 touchdowns. His departure appears to clear the way for slotback Geroy Simon to return to the Lions.
B.C.’s receiving corps has trended younger in the past two seasons, and observers felt the club was likely to keep either Simon, 37, the CFL’s all-time leading receiver or 35-year-old Bruce, whom Buono hopes can catch on with another club.
Simon, who is entering his option year, indicated after the season he might be willing to restructure his contract, if requested, in order to stay. Buono said Bruce’s departure and Simon’s return are not inter-related.
The Lions want to sign Simon to a new deal if the two sides can agree on financial terms and the receiver’s role with the team.
In Parker’s case, said Buono, the Lions took a chance on the cornerback but it did not work out.
Meanwhile, Parker, 32, took his release gracefully, thanking Buono, Benevides and Lions fans on Twitter for their support in his single season with the club.
“Anybody have room on their roster for me?” Parker asked in a tweet.
The defensive back was acquired as a free agent last year and appeared in all 18 regular-season games for the Lions, recording 38 tackles and one interception.
He has 236 tackles and 29 interceptions over nine seasons with Toronto, Edmonton and B.C.
“I don’t know what tomorrow brings, but I can’t wait to find out,” tweeted Parker.
After hearing about Parker’s tweet in praise of the team and fans, Buono said: “Byron’s a class guy. That’s why I’m not (releasing him at training camp) in June.
“I hope, for Byron’s sake, that somebody gives him a chance. If Byron goes to a team with a bunch of young guys, I think he can help them. What we need to do is give our young guys a chance.”
Buono said he also hopes Lin-J Shell, another former Argo who joined the Lions last summer, gets to play more as a result of Parker’s departure.
Parker, a native of Madisonville, Ky., and Bruce also played together with the Argonauts.
“Looks like (Bruce) and I are always attached at the hip in some way,” tweeted Parker.
Lions defensive back Ryan Phillips was sorry to see Bruce and Parker go, tweeting that they were both “class acts” and he “loved every moment” with them.