BC Lions make up for CFL free agency goals

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BC re-signs line, targets Bombers star receiver Kenny Lawler, but still has eyes on other positions

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Lucky Whitehead? To verify. ($200,000 CAD)

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Brian Burnham? To verify. ($165,000 and over)

Kenny Lawler? Big, big check. ($250,000)

The BC Lions have spent big this month retaining key players, and with the Canadian Football League’s “legal tampering” window opening Sunday before opening free agency on Feb. 8, they also made a big offer to Winnipeg’s Lawler, the only CFL receiver to rush for 1,000 yards last season.

With the retirement of quarterback Michael Reilly and the release of Lemar Durant (who signed to Hamilton this week) saving BC between $750,000 and $800,000 in salary, the Lions have now a stack of cash bigger than an Evander Kane social media post to spend.

“The first step for us is to keep our own guys, we’ve only got a few guys left. We’re trying to keep as many of them as possible,” said head coach and co-general manager Rick Campbell. the biggest thing to get started. Now that we’re in this open window where we can talk to other (players)…we plan to be very aggressive trying to add coins. Everything remains to be seen until to Tuesday, but we think we’ve made a lot of progress. We’re definitely throwing our hats in the ring to several guys who we think can help us out.

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With Canadian quarterback Nathan Rourke in the den on a cap-friendly rookie salary, the Lions are doing everything they can to give him an elite-level receiving corps. If Lawler signs, it would mean BC would have three of the top four yardage passers from 2021. The Leos also announced Wednesday that they have re-signed diesel-sized Jevon Cottoy, giving Rourke a 6- 5, 230 pounds NFL caliber target.

Cottoy’s news came following the retention of three other players in veteran cornerbacks TJ Lee and Garry Peters as well as offensive lineman Joel Figueroa. Veteran NFL receiver/returner De’Anthony Thomas was also added to the roster this week.

“We’re just in a situation with guys like Nathan Rourke and (linebacker) Jordan Williams, and having some flexibility…it allows us to distribute more money to our entire football team,” Campbell said. “So that’s what we’re trying to do. You’re hearing about receivers right now – which is great news; we’re all for having playmakers – but we certainly don’t neglect the O-line or the D-line or other positions. But all this remains to be shaken up. We’ll have to wait and see what February 8 looks like.

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Among the Canadian free agents pending on the Lions roster, seven-year veteran Hunter Steward is generating a lot of interest in the league while fifth-year Lions wide receiver Shaq Johnson has yet to be re-signed. Americans JR Tavai, Ryker Mathews and Anthony Cioffi are also set to become free agents next week.

Canadian offensive linemen tend to be what Campbell calls “high-priced guys” and he hopes to build a roster flexible enough to start three Americans on the offensive line while spreading the rest of the money elsewhere on the roster. . The top five have improved in 2021 from the previous campaign – 35 sacks, down from 58 – but it’s the defensive line that’s the most obvious place the Lions aim to improve and spend money on free agency.

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BC finished last overall in sacks (23) and allowed 101 first downs, just behind the Edmonton Elks’ 103 last season. Leos’ don’t bend but don’t break defensive scheme has kept opponents out of the end zone – they’ve given up 365 yards per game, second overall but fourth in offensive TDs (24) – but their lack of a pass rush was glaring.

  1. BC Lions wide receiver Bryan Burnham (right) shares a laugh with quarterback Michael Reilly during a practice at the CFL team facility in Surrey in August 2021. Reilly took his retirement this year, but Burnham will be back, committing to an eighth season in British Columbia

    Orange and black again: BC Lions re-sign Bryan Burnham

  2. BC Lions QB Nathan Rourke saw plenty of rookie action for the Leos last year, but with the retirement of Michael Reilly, he's now ready to be the new starter for the Leos. 'team.

    Life after Michael Reilly: Rourke reflects on his new role as BC Lions No. 1 QB

  3. Quarterback Mike Reilly played 168 CFL games, including 69 with the BC Lions.

    Lions quarterback Michael Reilly retires after 11 seasons

The Lions’ respectable plus-10 turnover ratio would have been higher with the ball-hawking secondary (17 pick, 1st) behind them if a pass rush had caused the QBs to throw harassed throws. That would have helped them on second downs, which they conceded the most conversions to overall, as the BC defense spent the second most time on the pitch.

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With that in mind, Campbell said they’ve made “strong” offers to the multi-impact defensive lineman since the window opened on Sunday. He didn’t offer any names, but there is a long list of eligible D-line players who could become available.

Roughriders defensive tackle Micah Johnson still hasn’t re-signed from Saskatchewan, Edmonton says defensive end Kwaku Boateng won’t be back in 2022, Hamilton’s Dylan Wynn is attracting a lot of interest in the league, while that David Menard, Stefan Charles and Shawn Lemon are other notable pending free agents.

“We try to be smart and add quality players,” Campbell said. “Our coaching staff is burning the phone lines. We are targeting a group of guys (who) we want to show how they would fit in and why we want them. Obviously money speaks the loudest, but you do your homework and also show the guys what the plan would be for how you want (to use them).

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