Lions haven’t been big players in free agency under Buono

There’s a well developed principle when it comes to the B.C. Lions and free agency under Wally Buono. It’s like this: The less you expect, the less you are annually disappointed.

That’s not to say the Lions already haven’t had a good off-season in their eyes by re-signing four starters prior to the opening bell of free agency. It’ll be a very good recruiting class if their general manager gets a deal done with Travis Lulay before Tuesday and isn’t enticed by all the greenbacks Chris Jones and the Saskatchewan Roughriders will invariably be waving at the CFL.

A Family Day deal Monday struck between two of the most family-oriented folks in the organization? That’s p.r. gold. TSN is reporting a two-year deal is already in place.

For the most part otherwise though, the Lions view free agency the way a first-time homebuyer views the Lower Mainland housing market, which, when you think about teardowns worth $2.4 million that were in the news last week, might explain the team’s recent track record attracting players to this corner of the football world.

Buono’s big free agent foray last year was to sign Chris Rwabukamba, who may have been a serviceable add but not a month into the season had to be replaced at safety by another newcomer, Eric Fraser.

So, no, just because they kicked Andrew Harris to the curb does it follow that the Lions will be big free agent players this or any other year. Buono says he has a bigger shopping list, but forget about Ted Laurent or any of the bigger free-agency prizes.

In order to secure a starter, Buono said he would have to cut one and with a mere $50,000 bump in the salary cap there’s little room, proof of which comes with the confirmation Solomon Elimimian has had his deal reworked and will become available after this season. Elimimian had been locked up previously under 2017.

“You tell me, who would we cut?” he asked. “We’ll target more players but I haven’t been a free agent guy for a long time. I’d sooner find my own.”

It’s not like the Lions don’t have holes, with two defensive starters already gone, nickel back Josh Johnson on the verge of signing with the San Diego Chargers and yes, Harris. Expect less though and the letdown is easier. Here’s a Lions free agency primer.

 Offensive line – New year, new issues. B.C. will return to playing three non-imports, Buono said, and have some flexibility to get it done. But the Lions say they need to be assured they’re not taking on an injury risk. Josh Bourke (Montreal) is the free agent front-runner and said to be open to making a trip across the country but the Lions will only go so far.

Biggest hole is at centre. Matt Norman vanished after knee surgery last year and will be making a return elsewhere. (See: Injury risk, above). A better fit to address a need might be Jeff Keeping (Toronto), though 33, or Corey Watman (Saskatchewan)

 Returner – Chris Rainey has been offered a more prominent offensive role and a deal reportedly similar to what predecessor Stefan Logan took to stay in Montreal. That might still not be enough. Tim Brown (Calgary) is an option the Lions will consider, said Buono, if Rainey strikes gold elsewhere.

Tailback – While the signing of Mikel Leshoure (Detroit, NFL) holds promise, more stability will be needed with exit of Harris. Jeremiah Johnson (Ottawa), who had his only 100-yard rushing game last season against B.C., gets the most cyberspace love.

Defensive line – With the Lions finally weaning themselves off Khreem Smith, more change is in store, but it isn’t likely to come in the form of SFU product Justin Capicciotti (Ottawa), a natural fit ahead of an assortment of undeveloped Canadian talent already on the roster. Don’t look now though but the Lions have transitioned from one of the oldest position groups to one of the youngest.

Receiver – Arguably this might be among the more stable position groups but there’s no guarantee to the Lions that Austin Collie is returning to fill one of two non-import spots. That could put B.C. in the market at the right price, and with this team, you could say the same about every position on the field.


Eligible Lions free agents Tuesday: LB Rennie Curran, TB Andrew Harris, LB Alex Hoffman-Ellis, , KB Josh Johnson, ST Pascal Lochard, QB Travis Lulay, OL Matt Norman, CB Cord Parks, TB Chris Rainey, DE Khreem Smith, SB Courtney Taylor,


Lowell Ullrich has covered the Lions since 1999 and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2014. He is also a contributor to TSN1040.