When Ed Hervey hooked the biggest fish out of the CFL free agent pool in February he knew signing quarterback Mike Reilly would cause waves on the BC Lions’ roster.
Reilly was a big-ticket item, costing around $725,000 a season for the next four years. Room would have to be made for him under the league’s $5.20 million salary cap.
“You take from Peter to pay Mike,” Hervey joked at the time.
But the Lions’ second-year general manager wasn’t finished. Among the other free agents making their way to the West Coast were offensive lineman Sukhn Chungh; receivers Duron Carter and Lemar Durant; running back John White; defensive back Aaron Grymes; and linebackers Terrell Davis and Maleki Harris.
The Lions biggest off-season move was signing free agent Mike Reilly (The Canadian Press)
“Things have to be scarified if you want to be great,” said Hervey. “That means some familiar names will no longer be with us. “
That list of familiar names no longer with the Lions includes quarterback Travis Lulay, the league’s most outstanding player in 2011, and Jovan Olafioye, the CFL’s Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman in 2012, both retired. Linebacker Solomon Elimimian, the CFL MOP in 2014 and a two-time Most Outstanding Defensive Player, was released along with nine other players.
Other players saw the writing on the wall and left before they were pushed, including quarterback Jonathon Jennings, wide receivers Emmanuel Arceneaux and DeVier Poser and linebacker Micah Awe.
Where Lions’ fans might see vacancies, Hervey sees a chance for new players to prove themselves.
“There is an opportunity on this team with some of the guys we lost through free agency,” said Hervey.
To make for some financial breathing room the Lions were prepared to shed some of their special teams players. Some like linebackers Bo Lokombo and Dyshawn Davies and defensive lineman Ivan McLennan signed as free agents with other teams. Others, like long snapper Mike Benson, were released.
“We had a lot of guys on our special teams that we felt were making pretty good money,” said Hervey. “If they weren’t starters or changing the ratio as a starter, then we had to re-evaluate where those resources could be allocated.”
That explains some of the choices the Lions made in Thursday’s CFL Draft.
“We felt on special teams this was a time to go young, this was a time to develop our special teams,” said Hervey. “Go find players within the draft that fit a skill set and give them time.
“Go in there and provide ourselves with depth and not be in a position where we are paying upwards of $130,000 for guys who play four or five snaps on two special teams.”
BC’s first pick wasn’t until the seventh selection of the third round where they took linebacker Noah Robinson 26th overall. The six-foot-four, 230-pound native of Barrie, Ont., split his college career between Memphis and Missouri.
“He addressed a need at the linebacker position,” said Hervey. “We felt we needed to get some size on the that side of the ball.
“We felt he could be very active. We felt in the third round . . . it would be good value if we could get him there. He was in our top 25 as far as players rated. We were quite fortunate to get him where we got him.”
Hakeem Johnson joins his brother Shaq on the Lions roster after being selected in Thursday’s draft (Johany Jutras/CFL.ca)
While Robinson is pencilled in on special teams, the door is open for him to challenge as a backup for linebacker Jordan Herdman.
“The window of opportunity is there for him,” said Hervey. “He has an opportunity to come in and has to be able to contribute on teams. We feel he can give us that.”
With their next pick the Lions selected Hakeem Johnson 33rd overall, a six-foot-one, 191-pound defensive back from the University of Western Ontario.
“We liked his skill set, we liked his athleticism,” said Hervey. “He is a long, rangy defensive back. We want to provide some depth on the back end.
“We needed somebody that could swing between corner and free (safety).”
Signing free agents can be an immediate fix. Write a cheque and a GM can improve a team.
Drafting players is more of a long-term solution.
“You hope the draft can provide depth for years to come,” said Hervey. “My philosophy has always been that when you go into free agency you are getting a guy that can play right away. You are not depending on the draft players to come in and play right now.
“Sometimes they can, sometimes they can’t but you can’t bank on that. The veterans you know can come in and bridge you until the rookie draft pick is ready. It’s also up to the player to come in and develop and put the work in.”
With their other picks the Lions took Jonathan Harke, an offensive lineman from Alberta 42nd overall; Charles Nwoye, a defensive lineman from UBC 49th; Mario Villamizar, a fullback from Laurier 51st; Brad Lyons, a defensive lineman from Simon Fraser 60th; and Jamel Lyles, a running back from Manitoba 69th.
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