Wally Buono has done a nice job with his free agent list so far this off-season. The club has locked up the some of the bigger names on their list early and extended a few other key players as well. Manny Arceneaux, Eric Fraser, David Menard, Ryan Philips, Kirby Fabien and Jovan Olafioye all have new deals, while defensive back Steven Clarke was released and signed in the NFL with the Tennessee Titans.
The Lions still have 12 players on their list to decide on so let’s take a look at each and predict whether or not they re-sign in BC, move on to another team, or even retire.
Andrew Harris – Running Back (National)
If you’ve read between the lines on both sides, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where one of the most popular BC Lions returns to the den in 2016. From Harris’ own end of the season comments to comments on ratio structure from Buono, to the fact that Harris’ young daughter lives in Winnipeg, there are many reasons to think that the national back may be moving on.
Harris’ frustration with the offence in BC has been evident the past few seasons and at his age this is a big contract for him. The Lions have made reference to the restrictions of starting a Canadian running back, and are at least considering the option of going with an import, simply because they are easier to find and generally cheaper than a Canadian back.
Harris grew up in the Lions system and he’s put down some roots here with a local business. Those are a couple of reasons there could be a change of a heart on both sides. The two sides have talked, but Buono recently stated he won’t be making a decision on Harris until after meeting with his coaching staff to see how they are going to approach the roster from a ratio standpoint.
But the biggest draw could be his daughter Hazel and if the Bombers are interested and make a solid offer, there is a solid chance Harris returns home.
Outlook: Harris likely signs with the Bombers.
Travis Lulay – Quarterback (International)
Simply put, the BC Lions want Travis Lulay back. At the same time, Lulay still has a desire to be a starter, or at least put himself in the position for a chance to be one somewhere in the CFL.
Lulay has been a huge face of the Lions for a long time now and has put down significant roots in the community. His love of the game, his experience and his commitment are qualities that are valuable in any organization.
With a 23-year old Jonathan Jennings about to be anointed the next starting quarterback for the club, Lulay would be an ideal backup. The two have an excellent relationship and it’s hard to see Lulay being anything but supportive and a source of knowledge for the sophomore. It’s always desirable to have a backup with CFL experience, never mind one that has been a league MOP and led his team to a Grey Cup championship.
When you look around the league you don’t see a lot of places where Lulay could jump right in as a starter, as most clubs are solid as they sit. With Ricky Ray extending with the Argos, Trevor Harris will also be on the market for any team looking for a QB.
When you take that all into account, unless a team makes him an offer he can’t refuse there’s a good chance Lulay stays with the Lions and perhaps starts to groom himself for a coaching career, following a similar path that Dave Dickenson did with the Stampeders.
Outlook: Good chance he re-signs with BC.
Chris Rainey: Running Back (International)
Rainey revived a lackluster Lions special teams unit last season showing his great speed and football sense returning kicks. He also voiced his opinion that he should be more involved in the offence and when he was he had some impressive production. He’s particularly dangerous coming out of the backfield if you can hit him in stride.
If Andrew Harris moves on and the Lions look towards more of an international backfield, Rainey would be a good option as a scat back type of runner, combining him with a more powerful running back when you need tough yards or blocking.
The kicker here is Rainey’s skill returning kicks. Field position is key in the CFL and it’s no coincidence the Lions offence was more productive after Rainey arrived and started giving them better real estate to start drives from.
Rainey likely knows this as well and may test the waters to see where he can get the best deal money wise but also in how he’ll be used.
Outlook: Good chance he re-signs in BC
Alex Hoffman-Ellis – Linebacker (International)
Hoffman-Ellis filled in nicely when Solomon Elimimian went down last season. He’s an aggressive linebacker that has great speed and a knack for being around the ball. He’s also a special teams demon so getting him back in the fold would likely be favourable to the Lions. They also have Bo Lokombo after he made great strides last year.
If teams are looking for a linebacker, Hoffman-Ellis could get a better offer to move and could likely be a starter on multiple CFL clubs. With Elimimian coming off a major injury to his Achilles, there is always concern about how that type of injury heels, so the Lions may be willing to pay to keep the talented player around.
While the Lions would likely love to have him back, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him sign with another club.
Outlook: 50/50 he re-signs with BC.
Josh Johnson – Defensive Back (International)
Johnson has been a solid find by the Lions in the Secondary. He’s an aggressive player, who at times takes bad penalties, but he certainly made strides in his last couple of seasons in BC. Johnson is getting NFL tryouts and according to a recent Lowell Ullrich tweet, could be the next Lion to sign an NFL contract, following in the footsteps of teammate Steven Clarke.
Outlook: Likely signs in the NFL
Cord Parks – Defensive Back (International)
One of the surprises of 2015 was that Cord Parks fell out of favour and became a healthy scratch for much of the season. After appearing in 26 games his first two seasons with the Leos, Parks played just 8 games in last year’s campaign.
Perhaps it was the emergence of the now departed Clarke that bumped him from the lineup, or maybe Mark Washington just wasn’t thrilled with his play. Regardless, Parks has shown he can play in this league but with little field time last season, it’s unclear how much attention he might garner on the free agent market.
With Clarke leaving and Johnson rumoured to be doing the same, the Lions may make an effort to re-sign Parks, and they may just bring in more DB’s from their free agent camps.
Parks was a solid teammate and didn’t rock the boat when he lost his roster spot. He could come back hungry to reclaim it.
Outlook: 50/50 he re-signs in BC
Khreem Smith – Defensive Lineman (International)
Khreem Smith has been a fixture on the Lions defensive line for 5 seasons now and even at the age of 36 he notched 6 sacks last year. Smith has been kept around because he’s a respected leader in the dressing room and he can still be an effective player. But at some point the Lions must get younger, and that’s likely this off-season. Smith isn’t likely to command much interest considering his age, and if the Lions don’t want to keep him around he may just retire.
At 36 Smith has already defied the odds on a Wally Buono built team. He’s a warrior though and may be open to a continued reduced role if the team decides they still need that veteran presence on the defence.
Outlook: Likely not re-signed by BC.
Matt Norman – Offensive Line (National)
2015 was a bust for Matt Norman. Heading into training camp there were rumblings that Norman was going to be replaced at centre and moved back to guard. An injury to his knee took care of any decision that had to be made and Norman never dressed for the Lions last season.
He was never comfortable at centre but did have a solid rookie year at the guard spot. He has to be ready to compete at camp and show that he can stay healthy. His birth certificate and the Lions current national o-line depth likely means the Lions will try and bring him back for another look. Whether Norman is looking to return back east could be another factor.
Outlook: 50/50 he re-signs in BC.
Pascal Lochard – Running Back (National)
Lochard has been a special teams player during his two-year tenure with the Lions. The Native of Montreal has appeared in 16 games for the Lions. With the club debating the Canadian running back option, whatever direction they decide to go could also determine the fate of Lochard. Eastern players often like to play closer to home as well, so if Lochard gets interest there, he could decide to jump. Either way he’s a role player for the team, and while he’s a Canadian, he could likely be replaced if Lions wanted to go in another direction.
Outlook: 50/50 he re-signs in BC.
Courtney Taylor – Receiver (International)
Taylor was returning from a foot injury in 2015 and never really got back on track, eventually losing his spot in the line-up to Bryan Burnham. He was the Lions most reliable receiver for a time in past seasons and is also a great team first guy.
The Lions have some solid receiving talent to work with and may be looking to add a younger option via free agency. I find it hard to see a situation where Taylor is back with the Lions.
Outlook: Not likely re-signed by BC.
Rennie Curran – Linebacker (International)
Curran was brought in for depth after Solomon Elimimian went down and saw time mostly on special teams in 2015. After some promising work in Edmonton, Curran took a gamble and tried his luck down south without success before signing with the Lions.
If the Lions re-sign Hoffman-Ellis I don’t see them bringing Curran back. If they don’t they may look at re-signing him as experienced depth.
Outlook: 50/50 re re-signs in BC.
Dean Valli – Offensive Line (National)
Valli has been a warrior for the Lions for seven seasons. He lost his starting spot in 2015 and told more than a few people that last season would be his last. He has a successful junk removal business which is growing and will likely announce his retirement prior to training camp.
Outlook: Likely to retire.