It certainly isn't common to see a CFL team release two former all-stars at once, but the B.C. Lions' decision Friday to cut ties with cornerback Byron Parker and wide receiver Arland Bruce III makes some sense. That's no reflection on Parker or Bruce: both have impressive CFL resumes (Parker was selected as a league all-star in 2006, 2007 and 2011, Bruce earned that same honour in 2006, 2009 and 2010) and were important contributors for the Lions last year. However, in a league with a limited salary cap ($4.4 million per team in 2013), you often have to make tough personnel decisions, and it's quite probable that the Lions' stockpile of young talent combined with the expensive extension they announced for quarterback Travis Lulay this week convinced them Parker and Bruce were expendable. It's a decision that may or may not work out for B.C., but the rationale behind it makes sense. From ace beat reporter Lowell Ullrich of The Province:
Do the math. Adding salary for Travis Lulay means the B.C. Lions had to drop salary somewhere else — and Byron Parker and Arland Bruce found out the hard way.
The two import starters Friday were released by the Lions a day after Lulay’s contract extension was announced.
Ullrich adds that neither shone as brightly as expected for B.C. in 2012, and that's partly fair. However, from this corner, neither's play would be deserving of replacement in and of itself; yes, Parker only had one interception, but he seemed to do a solid job as a cover man for most of the year, and Bruce's 603 receiving yards would be higher if he hadn't been out with a concussion for a significant portion of the year. With Bruce in particular, though, four issues come into play: age (he's 35), injury history (the concussion last year's particularly troubling), salary (likely pretty high) and replacements. The last one may be the most crucial. B.C. has so many young, talented receivers (Shawn Gore, Marco Iannuzzi, Akeem Foster, Courtney Taylor, Ernest Jackson, Nick Moore) that Bruce would have faced stiff competition in camp this year. It's tough to get everyone snaps, and it makes plenty of sense for the Lions to try and develop their younger, cheaper talent instead of keeping Bruce.
The Parker case is a little less clear-cut, as he's younger (he turns 32 in March) and there aren't as many clear potential replacements, but money may well be the main issue here. Josh Bell, a cornerback out of Baylor who signed with B.C. last year but only recorded one tackle, might be the team's replacement candidate; he was the only backup DB listed on B.C.'s final depth chart last year. However, it's also possible that Lin-J Shell could see more time as a strict defensive back rather than in a rotation in the nickelback/linebacker role; Shell's known for his positional versatility and has been an excellent player when used. Whatever path they choose to go to replace Parker, the Lions have obviously lost a notable talent. However, they've also likely gotten younger and cheaper in the process, and if someone can fill Parker's role, they'll be just fine.
Releasing proven stars in favour of up-and-comers obviously carries risks, but it's a fact of life in a league with a small salary cap. There's a limited amount of money available to each team, and everyone has to be considered in terms of how much value they provide over a younger-and-cheaper replacement. It's an unfortunate side of the business, especially with players like Parker and Bruce that really seemed to enjoy Vancouver and were making key contributions in the community. That's how this league works, though, and if a general manager like B.C.'s Wally Buono thinks he has younger, cheaper talent that can fill those stars' places, he's likely to do it. We'll see if he proves to be right in this case.