The planned formula for success for the B.C. Lions this year is addition by subtraction.
B.C. begins its attempt to return to CFL playoffs with a date against the Montreal Alouettes in the regular season opener for both clubs Saturday. It’s the first meaningful opportunity to assess the rebuilding effort of new Lions general manager Ed Hervey, which includes a controversial cost-cutting plan.
Hervey has brought in 33 new faces since the Lions missed the playoffs last season, ending a 20-year run. The majority of B.C.’s holdovers, meantime, were all asked by Hervey during the off-season to take pay cuts.
Contract restructuring is hardly new in the CFL, but a general manager asking for money mere weeks on the job could have been a recipe for training camp discord in Hervey’s first season in charge of the Lions.
However, some players say the request had an opposite effect. If the Lions defy the odds and pull off their seventh Grey Cup win in franchise history this year, veteran players say they will look at their decision as an investment in their own success.
Solomon Elimimian wasn’t in line for a reduction after setting a league record with 144 defensive tackles last year. The B.C. linebacker, also a vice-president of the CFL Players Association, was initially skeptical about the cut request and met for several days during the off-season with Hervey.
“I needed to know what we were going to do with the money,” Elimimian said. ”A year ago I probably wouldn’t have done it, but losing teaches you some bitter lessons. The way we lost, I kind of understood things had to be done.
“It’s one thing when a team wants a pay cut but it’s another when they explain what they want to do with the money. It’s a choice. Ed laid out his vision. Ed said ‘I respect you too much to force you to do anything.’”
Elimimian’s move had a snowball effect. Quarterback Jonathon Jennings, who led the CFL throwing 19 interceptions, took a restructured deal. So did Bryan Burnham, whose receiving yardage went down in 2017 though had more catches in fewer games.
“(The request) caught me off-guard at first but the more I thought about it I’ve always prided myself on being an unselfish player,” Burnham said.
“You got guys like Solly taking a pay cut. Who would I be to say no? What Ed’s trying to create here is something bigger than me. Right now I think it’s worth it. I think were going to have a pretty good football team.”
Hervey naturally thinks the same way, pointing to the Lions’ depth at the disposal of coach Wally Buono, who is heading into his final season.
“I (presented) the fact we’re going to put veterans on our team that are versatile and will help expand the number of players we could keep. I could get $100,000 from one guy by removing him from the team or I could get $100,000 from 10 players,” said Hervey.
“The reality is that without everyone taking a big hit to the pocketbook it allows them to invest a little bit in the team’s future and the season. With Wally returning I wanted to put ourselves in position to where we had an experienced team that could compete. If we were going to blow everything up, Wally doesn’t need to have that in his final year.”
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MONTREAL AT B.C.
Saturday, B.C. Place Stadium
HOSTS WITH THE MOST
B.C. couldn’t ask for a more favourable opponent to start the season. Since 2000, the Lions are 14-3 in Vancouver against the Alouettes.
CAN ONLY GO UP
Of 20 major offensive statistical categories last year, the Alouettes finished last in 14 of them, including plays from scrimmage, time of possession and points.
HAVEN’T WE MET BEFORE?
Both teams have used each other’s rosters liberally to produce their respective opening-night lineup. Seven Alouettes once played for the Lions. Als offensive co-ordinator Khari Jones directed the Lions offence last season, while defensive co-ordinator Rich Stubler also has B.C. ties. Five B.C. players formerly played in Montreal. Lions OLs Jovan Olafioye and David Foucault were involved in a trade for each other with Montreal prior to last season and will be B.C. starters.
The Alouettes’ travel season did not start well Friday. The team’s charter aircraft had mechanical problems in Montreal and a replacement aircraft had to make a refuelling stop in Winnipeg.
Lowell Ullrich, The Canadian Press