The surface optics around the pending departure of Adam Bighill (above) to the New Orleans Saints is so much lollipops and rainbows it could turn out to become book of the month material.
An undersized walk on at a B.C. Lions tryout six years ago, Bighill became a true CFL standout because of his work ethic, marrying a local girl and starting a family in the Lower Mainland. It is exactly the kind of scenario the Lions can use to entice any wavering import free agent in the future who is thinking about heading north and unsure what to expect.
It didn’t have to be this way, however.
Wally Buono gambled and lost. B.C. has a huge hole in its defence that may prove to be difficult to overcome. B.C.’s salary cap strategy is certainly now open to additional scrutiny.
If the Lions struggle defensively this season, keep in mind Bighill could still have been part of the mix. Roughly a year ago, Buono was feeling a salary cap squeeze and asked Bighill to restructure a contract that was worth around $195,000 at the time.
The linebacker agreed, but in exchange asked to reduce his commitment to the Lions by a season. In essence, Bighill paid for his tryout chance that has proven to be successful. For the sake of around $35,000, the Lions may have to completely rework their defence when they already had one of their key cogs locked up through the 2017 season.
It’s the same gamble taken by the Lions with Solomon Elimimian with a slight twist allowing for age. Elimimian, 30, has had two unsuccessful tryout kicks in the NFL in the past and basically sought the money he surrendered when he agreed to a similar restructuring of his original deal. That manoeuvre has worked out well for the Lions, who now have Elimimian locked up for another two seasons.
At 28, Bighill was in a different position, young enough to think he had one last chance to make it in the NFL on special teams. Bighill works too hard not to think he won’t succeed now that he has a decent chance. Defensive coordinator Mark Washington is about to become much busier because of the nuances of the cap.
Same for Buono. “It’s the new CFL,” he said before leaving on vacation. “You can’t sign everybody because you can’t stay within the cap. The emotion of that has to be dealt with.”
In other words, deal with the loss, and move on, but the Bighill departure is only one of a handful of issues being contemplated by the man in charge while cooking steaks on the patio on Maui. Here’s a peek at the laundry list of the Lions, in no particular order:
— The signing of punter Richie Leone (above) by the Arizona Cardinals will be seen as a positive development by the Lions, who are back in a position to try to sign only one kicker to handle all three kicking chores.
Leone, quite naturally, is quite pumped himself about landing with Arizona, whose special teams was a train wreck. “Very happy and excited,” he said via text.
Finding the right multi-dimensional specialist, however, could be a difficult task for the Lions. Leone demonstrated that himself over his two seasons with the Lions, thriving as a punter, with a 49.4-yard average, but forcing Buono to sign Paul McCallum to gain reliability down the stretch last year on field goals.
Buono wouldn’t confirm or deny he had talked to former Toronto kicker Swayze Waters, who didn’t play last season after being cut in training camp by the Carolina Panthers, holding out hope he could make it in the NFL handling strictly kicking field goals.
Before Leone signed this week Buono said he was willing to use two roster spots next season if his punter returned but the plan has taken another turn. B.C.’s best free agent option took himself off the market last month when White Rock kicker Sean Whyte re-signed in Edmonton. Next-best move might be Victoria’s Quinn Van Gylswyk, who is under contract with Saskatchewan having been buried on the practice roster upon being drafted before last season.
— Pending CFL free agents trying to make it in the NFL face an uphill climb considering the limited signing bonus pool available, though some teams have become creative. If tryout workouts are your guide, the next player most likely to be lost by the Lions after Leone and Bighill is Mich’ael Brooks, who has worked out for seven clubs (Patriots, Vikings, Cardinals, Jets, Seahawks, Cowboys, Jaguars) so far. Bryan Burnham, Alex Bazzie, Anthony Gaitor and Bo Lokombo are other players who have made the rounds.
Brooks isn’t likely coming back to the Lions even if he doesn’t land an NFL deal, telling friends he was looking for a new contract in the order of $200,000 to play out of position if he came back. B.C. also isn’t expected to wave huge dollars at Bazzie, but increases the chances they will make a play at fellow free agents Bryant Turner and Jabar Westerman just to keep a portion of the defensive line intact.
— The Bighill departure is surely going to have ramifications that have the capacity to significantly effect how the Lions are reconstructed.
The two-year Elimimian deal, which came with another year added to his most recent contact, is great news for the backbone of the defence however before Buono left on vacation he strongly suggested the club would not have enough under cap to take on the salary of 12-year veteran Ryan Phillips. B.C. has, however, created a vacancy for a defensive coach and the only position not filled in Washington’s staff is for a defensive backs assistant.
Either way, B.C.’s secondary could look drastically different, hardly a stretch when no fewer than five players who have previously made starts are part of the group eligible to sign elsewhere.
Veteran cornerback Brandon Stewart was injured in the West Division final blowout loss which ended the season for the Lions in Calgary. Stewart not only won’t likely be ready for training camp but may not play at all in 2017 owing to reconstructive knee surgery. Small wonder why the Lions and Keynan Parker have agreed to a new contract prior to free agency.
Bighill’s loss, however, could mean the Lions will make a more determined effort to re-sign pending free agents who made a difference last season. At the top of that list would be Burnham, 26, who had 1,392 receiving yards last year and an obvious prime CFL free agent if he elects not to take the risk associated with breaking through in an NFL training camp.
— The signing of Jeremiah Johnson to a two-year deal may force a change in thinking with another free agent, Anthony Allen, who ended up playing the role of understudy in the Lions tailback tandem and may not be willing to recommit. The club recently confirmed that Allen is eligible to go elsewhere next month even though the CFL didn’t have him on its list of free agents.
— President Dennis Skulsky, who was hoping to take a less-active role in the club before owner David Braley took ill last year, told staffers at the Lions’ Christmas party that he will indeed be retiring, though offered no timeline for his departure.
— Quarterback Jon Jennings also has undergone a status change, posting on his Facebook timeline on the weekend that he has married the former Abigail Misch. The couple had scheduled a honeymoon on Maui.