Ullrich: Ed Hervey gives the B.C. Lions hope

One more turn to the final page on the calendar. Suddenly, it’s almost Christmas. Just as suddenly, it’s realistic to think there might eventually be some nice new presents under the tree with the appointment of Ed Hervey as general manager of the B.C. Lions.

The move by Wally Buono to hand over control of the top job in football operations after 15 years means there’s about to be a new way of thinking with the CFL team, and of course not a moment too soon after last year’s 7-11 tire fire.

It will take years to see the results of it all. Some things will happen sooner. First up for Hervey will be to settle on player development staffers, plus an assessment of which players the Lions will want to keep before the onset of free agency. With the recent deletion of starting right tackle Kelvin Palmer and practice roster defensive lineman Andrew Hudson, there’s 22 on that list at present.

But what suddenly becomes worth scrutinizing is the list of free agents who could make it onto the street that are under the employ of the Edmonton Eskimos, the team Hervey constructed before he was fired last April.

That group of 37 players was almost all recruited by Hervey, making free agency a much more interesting proposition this year for the Lions. Under Buono, free agency was a place to only find complimentary pieces, something Lions fans only watched from the distance, much like Labour Day rivalry games or in the case of this year, post-season play.

Here’s the Edmonton list at present, understanding that the Eskimos and all other teams have until the morning of Feb. 13 to fend off interested outside parties.

Offence – OL David Beard, TE John Delahunt, FB Alexandre Dupuis, OL Joel Figueroa, QB James Franklin, RB CJ Gable, OL Danny Groulx, WR Vidal Hazelton, OL Colin Kelly, RB Pascal Lochard, RB Kendial Lawrence, LB Doug Parrish, OL Simeon Rottier, KR Jamill Smith, FB Levi Steinhauer, FB James Tuck, RB Travon Van, WR Derel Walker, WR Cory Watson, RB John White, WR Brandon Zylstra.

Defence – DB Johnny Adams, DT Euclid Cummings, DB Aaron Grymes, DB Forrest Hightower, LB Alex Hoffman-Ellis, DL Philip Hunt, LB Korey Jones, DB Neil King, LB Adam Konar, LB Kenny Ladler, S Cauchy Muamba, DB Garry Peters, LB JC Sherritt

Kickers – Hugh O’Neill, Sean Whyte, Swayze Waters.

OK, so that’s not quite a list of the next Grey Cup winner. What does stand out, aside from the fact the Eskimos have three ex-B.C. kickers and wondering whether White Rock’s Whyte would like to finally come home, is that almost all that group have ties to Hervey, who already has admitted he’ll look at free agency much differently than his legendary predecessor.

“When I took over (in Edmonton) we didn’t have draft picks. We were looking for role players. Coming into this situation, there may be a player or two in free agency that we have to reach out and get. Are we going to be active? My intent is to make the BC Lions a place that every free agent wants to come.” Hervey said.

Perfect. All David Braley has to do is build a fabulous indoor fieldhouse practice facility like the one adjacent to Commonwealth Stadium and the transition will be well underway.

Buono is not apparently prepared to stand pat on his end, especially if Mark Washington makes it past being a finalist for the head coaching job with the Montreal Alouettes this time; even if all his 2017 staff of assistants is still available. That might be the biggest positive of the entire off-season if that comes to fruition, if you subscribe to the notion that coaching, not talent, held this team back last season.

Will Hervey and Buono play nice and get along? Jeff Tedford, back to making millions again at Fresno State, and Mike Benevides would be surprised to see the change in approach of Buono in the recent past. Believe it or not, but the man has mellowed. This marriage absolutely has a chance to work considering it only is now guaranteed to last less than a year.

Buono’s biggest parting gift might be if he can demonstrate to Hervey that the few folks who still cover his new team on a regular basis aren’t really a bunch of nitwits and some of his trademark openness rubs off and remains part of the culture.

But much more is now possible with the Lions now that they are in the hands of someone who has demonstrated a willingness to play like every other GM in the CFL sandbox. Imagine, just because it’s almost Christmas, if the Eskimos decided to re-sign a promising talent like Franklin and put Mike Reilly on the open market. Laughable, perhaps, but that suggestion was actually floated during last season.

It was the 2013 Reilly trade that cemented Buono’s opinion of Hervey as a guy who isn’t afraid to think outside the box. That move came just before Hervey’s initial foray into free agency that year, when he signed Odell Willis four minutes after he became eligible, which also earned the rookie GM his first CFL fine.

However, it’s Hervey’s eye for talent that is most appetizing and gives the Lions their best reason to think an on-field turnaround is possible. Off the field? That’s still on Braley. Though Hervey’s report card from the Canadian college draft isn’t flattering, owing in part to the absence of selections initially, you can’t help but acknowledge the list of unpolished import gems who have been developed in Edmonton.

It’s a list that includes Walker, Zylstra, Grymes and Ladler, all pending free agents and players who could help if it works under the cap. Sure, all of them could again try their luck to make it through the NFL tryout meat-grinder this winter. But hey, remember where we are on the calendar. After a few weeks where it was fair to question if they were still even in the league, the Lions at least have a reason for hope once Hervey stepped from behind the backdrop at his unveiling this week.

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