VANCOUVER — At first glance, it looks as if the B.C. Lions have been fleeced: A future Hall of Famer for a receiver who might turn out to be just a camp body, and a mid-round draft pick in 2014.
Indeed, the draft pick surrendered by the Saskatchewan Roughriders as part of Thursday’s trade with the Lions for Geroy Simon actually might turn out to be the more valuable piece.
But Lions GM Wally Buono knows that something is better than nothing. When he and Simon couldn’t agree on his playing role for 2013 -- a diminished one, at half the $205,000 Simon earned last season as the CFL’s highest paid non-quarterback -- other teams simply could have waited out the situation and scooped up Simon for the cost of an air ticket.
Impact receiver Chris Getzlaf, offensive lineman Ben Heenan, receiver Taj Smith, even Jock Sanders and Kierrie Johnson, two former Lions on Saskatchewan’s roster, might have softened the blow in the eyes of the B.C. faithful furious at Buono for dealing an icon and believing he’d lost his mind. But he was not dealing from a position of bargaining strength.
Justin Harper and a draft pick was the best Buono could do, and he was grateful to Saskatchewan GM Brendan Taman for being reasonably fair in the transaction.
“I have to believe that Brendan was being fair,” Buono said. “He could have said: ‘Wally, I’m going to wait you out.’ It’s not worthy compensation. But it’s based on the situation we were in. Look what happened last week. We cut Arland (Bruce) and somebody (Montreal) signed him right away.”
A seventh-round pick from Virginia Tech, Harper was drafted in 2008 by the Baltimore Ravens. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound wide receiver stayed on the Ravens’ practice squad for three seasons, then got released in September, 2011 after a make it-or-break preseason. NFL rules state that a player can only spend three years on a team's PR. After that, he must be placed on the active roster or released.
The Roughriders signed him in March, 2012. Harper had nine catches for 95 yards and no touchdowns in a limited role last season for the ‘Riders.
“Having another player strengthens you. Having another pick strengthens you,” Buono said. “We didn’t give away everything for nothing. What if Justin Harper turns out to be great receiver for us? People can say, ‘You’ve lost your mind.’ Or, maybe they should commend me for getting something of value. I look at it the other way. Because, when you pick up the phone and say, ‘I’m going to put Geroy on the market’ most people are going to wait you out so you get nothing.”
With Simon and Bruce gone in the span of a week, the Lions’ depth chart at receiver includes non-imports Shawn Gore, Akeem Foster, Marco Iannuzzi, Keith Godding, junior Bobby Davis, imports Courtney Taylor, Nick Moore, Ernest Jackson, and Harper, all of whom are between the ages of 28 and 25. D.J. Woods, a 23-year-old receiver from the University of Cincinnati, spent some time on the Lions’ practice roster last season and he is expected to receive an invitation to training camp.
The future of Paris Jackson, the 32-year-old veteran receiver, remains unclear. Jackson has been used sparingly over the past two seasons, during which he’s totaled 17 catches for 244 yards and one touchdown.
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