Lions take the high road after Riders raid roster

Chris Jones might have had an entire team staring at their Grey Cup rings when he left the Edmonton Eskimos before the last piece of confetti had fallen last season.

He might have ticked off the Calgary Stampeders back in the day, when the Toronto Argonauts wanted him as their defensive coordinator and didn’t play by the rules seeking permission to sign him. He definitely got the attention of the CFL when he refused to line up his players prior to the national anthem.

But the black shirt and sunglasses routine is not appropriate garb relative to his latest caper as head of the Saskatchewan Roughriders, in which he is said to have violated unwritten code by plucking two non-import members of the B.C. Lions destined for their practice roster, rookie offensive lineman Dillon Guy (above) and second year defensive lineman Ese Mrabure, at the start of the season.

Lions coach/GM Wally Buono said Monday he had no problem losing either player to the Riders, who have spoken to the pair according to multiple reports but have yet to announce a signing and won’t likely until they complete an opening week bye.

Truth is, if Buono really wanted to keep either player he could have simply put them on an injured list and paid them a full salary. Instead, both were offered practice roster spots on the weekend but declined.

3DownNation reported Buono was livid with the Riders, who submitted an active roster two short of the 46-man limit in obvious anticipation of scouring the market. But anger wasn’t evident with Buono at all as the Lions took the field with the group they want to open the season with when facing the Calgary Stampeders Saturday.

“I think it’s both legal and ethical,”Buono said. “If a player can be on full salary I wouldn’t want that held over me. This is the whole reason why we have a practice roster. The players made no commitment to the B.C. Lions.

“They were never on the practice roster therefore technically there’s no ethical issue to this. I couldn’t care less if we lost the guys once we put them on the list to be honest.”

If the idea a fuss was being made over two non-imports who likely weren’t going to get playing time immediately was the biggest problem facing the Lions, Buono could already map out a Grey Cup parade route.

There’s a handful of other things more troubling, like the absence at practice of right tackle Levy Adcock to an ongoing knee issue, or the fact B.C. still has 12 defensive linemen under contract, a clear sign the Lions have yet to discover a pass rush.

If there’s a bigger issue to resolve one day, it’s the fact all teams have only around a month each year to determine the value of a Canadian draft pick who often isn’t pro ready. It’s no secret that teams would like more developmental time but are opposed by the CFL Players Association, who want members to have the chance to work elsewhere as needed.

Also, Riders fans are quick to point out it was only three years ago when the Lions used the practice roster procedure in similar fashion when they plucked long-snapper Jordan Matechuk in the middle of the season.

But the loss of Guy and Mrabure were top of mind instead at practice anyway.

Guy was a highly-touted pick by the Lions in this year’s Canadian draft who was being groomed slowly and bothered by knee trouble, according to Buono, in camp. Mrabure improved this spring but his departure makes him the new Lions poster child for the team’s inability to develop Canadian talent over the years.

B.C. overvalued Mrabure’s stock in last year’s draft, taking him fifth overall, spent the year gathering a game cheque on the injured list before being demoted by the Lions on the weekend. Small wonder he left. Lions officials admit they never gave him a chance prior to training camp this year. It’s as bad a draft mistake by the Lions since they took receiver Adam Nicholson with the eighth overall pick in the 2007 draft.

To the Lions though, draft placings are irrelevant once players sign. Buono said Mrabure and Guy weren’t disappointments so much as they were beaten out for jobs by two other CFL draft picks, Maxx Forde and Surrey product Jaz Dhillon respectively, proof the draft process really does work. Forde made this year’s roster despite being a seventh-round pick last season by the Lions. Dhillon, a UBC/Surrey Rams product, was initially selected by Toronto.

Out go two players, in come two more. B.C. will bring in another offensive lineman, recent Calgary cut Quinn Horton, formerly of SFU, and have offered the player they cut before losing Guy, T-Dre Player, a practice roster spot. Player, quite understandably, told the Lions he’ll examine his options before he accepts a chance to return. After all, in the last year Tommie Draiheim, Cam Thorn and now Guy are former offensive line teammates who have been coveted elsewhere; he may well find a better opportunity himself.

So the Lions will put Bryant Turner, Geraldo Boldewijn, Zach Minter and Anthony Allen on their injured list later this week, and could have done the same with their two Canadians, but chose otherwise and thus defined the value in their eyes between them and more experienced talent.

“We’re going to have 51 or 52 under salary and that’s probably over budget,” Buono said. Free market economics played out differently for two more examples of a draft process that doesn’t work, and the Lions aren’t blaming a division rival for losing players they say they didn’t want.

Must Read