Left coast thinking works for Lions, Awe

It’s been noted at least more than once that folks on the left side of the Rockies think differently than the rest of Canada, which became apparent in a rather substantive fashion again Wednesday when the B.C. Lions agreed to release second-year linebacker Micah Awe so that he can sign with the NFL’s New York Jets.

This rare bit of CFL news from the left coast undoubtedly has not escaped the attention of the Toronto Argonauts and two highly-disgruntled players on their winter roster, James Wilder Jr., and Victor Butler, for their attack last week at 3DownNation for the club’s stand in making both players honor option years of their respective contracts.

Awe, a 24-year-old who had become a mainstay by the end of his first season with the Lions, also had an option year; in fact he was signed through the 2019 CFL season. By any definition, he is the type of player around which a club can be built, a dynamite hitter with a personality to match, even if he led tackles with the crown of his helmet more than the league liked.

You can question why a team would release a starter when he was under contract for two more seasons. Losing Awe represents the biggest setback so far in the off-season and the Lions let it happen. Truth is though, the Lions were merely honouring an agreement Awe had in place prior to the arrival of new GM Ed Hervey, who made it quite clear he’s not about to stand at his office door and let every player under contract who approaches him the ability to leave early.

“This is an agreement made by someone who is no longer here,” said Hervey, who also made it clear he was not referring to coach Wally Buono. “It’s not anything we will do in the future or anything I’ve done at all. Typically I prefer when a player comes to our team he’s willing to do the minimum two years. I personally gear towards those players who are willing to give that commitment. Our fans deserve a good product.”

The juicy, fact-free angle was that Hervey granted the release as a slight towards what Toronto colleague Jim Popp wouldn’t do for Wilder and Butler, who probably just exploded when the news by the Lions was followed shortly with more by the Saskatchewan Roughriders, who released linebacker Jeff Knox so he could sign an NFL contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the second straight off-season.

It’s just as convenient to conclude that by cutting Awe the Lions are just a bunch of nice guys who stand to benefit the goodwill created among free agents from their stance, much as they did last year when Wally Buono elected when he was in charge to let Adam Bighill go prior to his option year. Also not accurate.

That move went reasonably well for a linebacker who had earned one last chance when he put together multiple all-star seasons in the CFL. Bighill got into a handful of games with the New Orleans Saints and spent the rest of the year on the practice roster, which likely amounted to a financial wash.

But B.C. also got something out of that exchange in the form of a pay cut Bighill agreed upon for the 2016 season, minus the fine Buono’s team received from the CFL for being so up-front when they announced he would return, instead of going to free agency, if he didn’t last beyond training camp in New Orleans.

Hervey gets nothing for cutting Awe and doesn’t have an agreement to get him back in the event the linebacker doesn’t stick in the NFL on special teams this spring.

If you’re thinking it all speaks to a classic double standard and a whole lot of confusion, you’re not alone, which is probably why commissioner Randy Ambrosie told TSN last week he will try to make the case for uniformity and bring back the option-year window the CFL closed five years ago.

Hervey said he’d like to talk about the option-year again during CFL Week in Winnipeg but also made it clear his vote would be to maintain the status quo, because players like Awe represent the future.

“We have a fan base in this league who pay good money to watch our product and if we’re putting our resources into scouting, the last thing we want to do is to have entry-level players and leaving after a year,” he said.

“There has to be some understanding our league is an opportunity to play football. Not every player is good enough to go to the NFL and some should want to play and embrace playing in the CFL.”

Nonetheless, in the court of public opinion, the Lions again gave those on the wrong side of the mountains, not to mention two supremely-ticked hombres who spent last summer in Toronto, another example of the good life and how things roll out west.

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.