End of an era as Lions trade Geroy Simon 0
Geroy Simon (right) sits next to B.C. Lions general manager Wally Buono Thursday during a press conference in Surrey. (Carmine Marinelli, 24 hours)
At least Wally Buono and Geroy Simon could agree on one thing — that Thursday's shocking trade "had to happen."
But what led up to the deal that saw the B.C. Lions move their most popular player and a renowned figure across the CFL was a disagreement on the veteran slotback's future role with the team.
It led to the general manager pulling the trigger, and it spelled the end of Simon's days in the orange and black — a team he spent the last 12 seasons with.
Instead, the CFL's all-time receiving yards leader will now wear the green and white of the Saskatchewan Roughriders after being traded for import receiver Justin Harper and a 2014 third-round draft pick.
"This is a very tough day, but in the end, this is the decision we had to make," Simon said at a sombre press conference at the Lions' Surrey practice facility. "For me, moving forward, in order for me to exhaust my talents as a football player, I felt I had to move on.
"I have nothing but great feelings for this organization and this man sitting beside me. There's nothing negative when I leave here. I'm going to prove that I'm still an elite receiver in this league."
The unfathomable trade comes just days after the team released fellow veteran receiver Arland Bruce and a week after they signed quarterback Travis Lulay to a contract extension. But with a talented crop of young receivers in the Lions' fold, Simon would have been expected to play a diminished offensive role in 2013. That's where the disconnect was, the two-time Grey Cup champion said.
"This wasn't all about money, this was about the opportunity," said Simon, who was entering his option year with the Lions. "The cowardly thing to do, or the easy thing to do, would have just been to work it out and stay, but in the end I wouldn't have been comfortable with that. I wouldn't have been comfortable with what was offered to me.
"It gives the younger receivers an opportunity to spread their wings and step up, and it gives the organization an opportunity to move on. It gives those guys a chance to be leaders."
Currently, B.C.'s receiving corps features Shawn Gore, Akeem Foster, Nick Moore, Ernest Jackson, Courtney Taylor, Marco Iannuzzi, newcomer Harper, and the veteran Paris Jackson. Gore is set to become an unrestricted free agent but Buono is letting him do his "NFL thing" for now before talking contract extension with the 25-year-old. Last season, the Lions finished amongst the top three in many offensive categories, including points scored, net yards, passing touchdowns and highest percentage of passes completed.
"Hopefully everybody, and not just me, sees that we have good young players that need an opportunity to grow," Buono said. "Until you put the ball in their hands, it'll be tough for them to grow."
As for Simon, he leaves behind a legacy, and most likely one that will eventually see his No. 81 raised to the rafters at BC Place.
Over his 14-year CFL career — the first two with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers — the 37-year-old has recorded 15,787 receiving yards and is 29 catches short of breaking Ben Cahoon's CFL record of 1,017.
Last season, the six-time CFL all-star failed to reach 1,000 receiving yards for the first time since 2002 after being limited to just 13 games with hamstring issues. He finished the campaign with 700 yards and just two touchdowns — his lowest since the '02 campaign.
But even so, Simon stressed he can still play at a high level, just not with the Lions.
"I still think I'm a 1,500-yard receiver if given the opportunity, but I can't put a number on it," he said, adding he's willing to take the risk of playing in Regina. "This is a chance for me to move on and to give to another organization. (The Lions have) to move forward eventually and maybe the process has started and I tried to fight it, maybe that's the reason for the way things happened.
"I'm not disappointed at all, I'm excited."
In Harper, the Lions get a 27-year-old who is heading into his third CFL season. The Catawba, N.C. native had nine catches for 95 yards and no touchdowns in three appearances for the Riders last season.
Moving forward, Buono knows he'll face backlash from the loyals and the general B.C. fan base. But the long-time Leos boss — who admitted he woke up with a hollowed feeling Thursday — said he had to take emotions out of the difficult decision.
"We're going to get a lot of negative feedback from this which is fine. That's the passion of the fan … and that's understandable," said the CFL's coaching-wins leader. "The fans are going to look at it and they're not going to understand the implications of both what the player's decision is and the club's because they're not in our shoes.
"For us, our next step is to find the next, great Geroy Simon."