Neg list reveal has Lions’ Hervey thinking

It started out as a suggestive elbow by Ed Hervey to the ribs of Randy Ambrosie onstage at a recent town hall forum, and when the microphones drew nearer the new general manager of the B.C. Lions became more direct.

It was one way, he thought, to improve on good intentions.

Hervey didn’t have to guess whether there would be questions about the 10 players he was asked to reveal when the CFL took the unprecedented step of unveiling roughly a quarter of each team’s negotiation list Tuesday.

He also had a better plan to improve on the stated goal of the commissioner to increase off-season chatter which included the partial neg list reveal.

Make no mistake, though, Hervey isn’t the slightest bit interested in helping fans understand whether the players who are now aware which teams hold their CFL rights represent priority targets, or names who will be discarded for 10 new secret faces by the end of the business day.

It may say everything about the Lions, for example, that of the 10 names they chose to reveal Tuesday, eight are quarterbacks. Or it may not.

“Fill your boots,” Hervey said, with a wink of an eye, when asked to characterize the Lions list. He’d done as Ambrosie and the league had requested of all clubs. He’s not about to be any more accommodating for the time being.

He is, however, still trying to be helpful.

The commissioner was able to convince general managers and their respective club presidents that a partial reveal of a negotiation list that has been shrouded in secrecy for years would be helpful to engage a football fan base that for months each winter are forced to seek alternative entertainment options.

The plan calls for each club to divulge 10 names from their 45-man list twice annually, once around this time of year and the other just prior to NCAA bowl season. That means at the very least the 10 B.C. names identified Tuesday qualifies as hot stove league material, even if none of them ever walk onto the field at B.C. Place Stadium, or the players most coveted by the Lions still remain under their own form of lock and key.

The B.C. list:

Position College
Greg Ducre DB Washington
Ryan Finley QB NC State
Deondre Francois QB Florida State
Jake Fromm QB Georgia
Gage Gubrud QB Eastern Washington
Lamar Jackson QB Louisville
Najee Murray DB Kent State
Shea Patterson QB Michigan
Brett Rypien QB Boise State
Khalil Tate QB Arizona

Hervey said he likes the concept of a negotiation list, as it gives teams a measure of cost certainty when trying to sign first-year CFL imports, just not the fact that 10 names are now public.

Another quirk of the decades-old selective lottery is that any player who becomes aware he is on a CFL negotiation list can demand a contract offer within 10 days, a partial nod to keep teams from being subject to potential restraint of employment litigation.

It’s no secret, of course, that the Hamilton Tiger-Cats have derived more than a year of publicity, good and bad, for having Johnny Manziel on their neg list. Teams move players on and off their neg list all the time. B.C. once had Colin Kaepernick on their neg list, for example, dumping him when it became apparent he was going to find somewhat temporary work, as it turned out, in the NFL. Kaepernick is now on Montreal’s list. Ottawa and Hamilton each took a flyer and had sprinter Ben Johnson on respective lists once upon a time.

Hervey, who took some hits in Edmonton on behalf of his coaching staff for being too insular, sees the value in neg list discussion to a degree but suggested such talk is misguided.

He suggested, first by a playful nudge with Ambrosie when the commissioner came to Vancouver recently and then in a follow-up session with reporters, that the CFL give general managers the opportunity to make contact with potential free agents a week before the start of the annual free-for-all. If it’s off-season publicity the league desires, here’s a sure-fire cure.

“I think fans are more interested in players who are playing in this league rather than ones who may never play in the league,” Hervey said.

As the events of last week showed, free agency was nothing short of an all-out scramble, with the Lions setting what is thought to be a franchise record by signing eight players within the first 24 hours Tuesday. That number could have been higher, Hervey said, if agents could have been made aware of his intentions a few days before free agency got underway.

“In some instances where the players know (of teams’ interest) they are apt to make their decisions sooner,” said Hervey.

Yet as much as Ambosie is receiving much of the credit these days for looking at the league differently, he’s not the only one raising new concepts. Hervey said another topic that could get kicked around when the league holds its annual winter congress next month is to give greater clarity to the status of injured players during the season.

That idea, like allowing teams to talk to players in the run-up to free agency, is also policy in the NFL.

“Why don’t we start talking about big-picture items? said Hervey. “This is really about making sure the fan is engaged in the product.”

In an endless winter where dominant Vancouver talk show discussion still centres around an NHL team that is light years from playoff contention, even a small mid-winter look behind the tent like the one the Lions and CFL showed off Tuesday has merit.

LIONS TALES: The headliner of those revealed on the Lions list is former Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson of Louisville, an early-entry candidate for this year’s NFL draft. Also unveiled: Boise State pivot Brett Rypien. Calgary native and former Super Bowl champ Mark Rypien is an uncle of the 21-year-old from Spokane… With an understanding that the next edition of the Lions will bear little resemblance to the one that finished out of the playoffs last year, Hervey brought in free agent offensive lineman Joel Figueroa and recently-acquired defensive lineman Gabe Knapton to Surrey Tuesday. The implication from Hervey was a need to effect locker-room culture. “I was told it was an important thing we’re trying to build here especially with a little more help on the offensive and defensive lines,” said Figueroa, who’ll anchor the offensive line at left tackle. “They expect us to dominate like we were doing at our respective teams.”… Hervey and coach Wally Buono have also decided not to exercise the option of working out rookies for three days prior to the start of training camp this year and will place a greater emphasis on the three-day OTA the club will stage in Surrey in late April. That means the first camp session in Kamloops this year is set for May 20.

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.