The B.C. Lions' decision to let veteran slotback Geroy Simon gauge the interest in his services on the trade market follows in the vein of their recent release of Byron Parker and Arland Bruce (who have since landed in Montreal), as it's clearly an indication that they feel they can get Simon's production at a lower cost from other players. However, doing this with Simon is somewhat more questionable than with those other players. Simon will be 38 this September, and it's certainly possible that he may not be capable of serving as a top CFL receiver any more, in which case B.C. may be making the right call. There's also the very real chance that Simon can still be a dominant player, though, and that could lead to this being remembered as a significant mistake by the Lions. Either way, this might be one of the biggest stories of this offseason.
What suggests the Lions may be overplaying their hand here? For one, there's the off-field element. Simon has been with the B.C. since 2001 and is one of the biggest faces of the franchise. That doesn't necessarily mean anything from a perspective of maximizing the team's wins, which should always be the utmost goal for a general manager (and it is hugely to the Lions' organization's credit that they're not interfering with GM Wally Buono here for off-field reasons), but it does mean that any move that might let Simon leave will be seen with huge skepticism by many fans, adding to the risk here. Even more importantly, Simon could be a significant on-field loss as well. He became the all-time CFL leader in receiving yards this past season and posted 54 receptions for 700 yards despite battling injuries and fighting for receptions in a deep receiving B.C. corps. There's plenty to suggest that he isn't quite washed up yet, and there's also a lot suggesting that doing this with Simon isn't the same as it was with Bruce or Parker. This may well be seen as a cut too far.
There's a difference between being completely washed up and no longer being a team's top threat, though, and that appears to be the point the Lions are trying to make. Lowell Ullrich of The Province writes that it's not that B.C. necessarily wants to get rid of Simon, but rather that the Lions don't want him at his current salary and with his current expectations of being a top target:
If you look at the path being adopted by Wally Buono, much of which is outlined in the paper Thursday and undoubtedly will soon be online, what the Lions are doing with Simon is no different from how they handled the departures of Dave Dickenson, Jason Clermont and Rob Murphy. The difference: Only Simon has had a chance to trade himself.
The debate, then and now, is whether they are being asked to leave before their time. It’s a different kind of debate with Buono, who claims he has gone out of his way to try and make something work to keep Simon, but, according to the GM, is dealing with a player who will not accept any role other than that of a number-one receiver.
...It’s Simon’s right to believe he still has what it takes to be a prime producer, but it’s clear he will not receive it with the Lions. Buono appears to be standing his ground, saying he’s ready for whatever flak he’ll take in the local market. An impasse has ensued, and Wednesday it was learned the Lions had given Simon the chance to shop himself around, though what remained unclear was whether Buono has been trying to make his own deal for some time.
As Ullrich illustrates, Buono has walked this path before. However, he's never quite done it with a player with the league-wide stature of Simon, and he's never done it quite this way. Dickenson had obvious health issues near the end of his Lions' career in 2007 (and didn't play much with Calgary in 2008 before going into coaching), while Clermont wasn't consistently at Simon's level of production (and he caught less than 30 balls each year in his final three seasons with Saskatchewan). Murphy was still an elite player when Buono let him walk after the 2008 season, and he was named a league all-star with Toronto in 2010, but he never had the profile of Simon. Buono's following a similar strategy to what he's used before, but the stakes are higher this time.
Could this pay off for the Lions? Absolutely. Probably the best possible scenario for B.C. is that Simon finds only limited interest in his services from other teams and opts to remain with the Lions, take a pay cut and be used in a less-prominent role. If he shines there, that's great for the Lions, but if he doesn't, they have the cap flexibility to do other things (and they have tons of other receivers they can feature). That keeps him in town with only a few hurt feelings. Simon leaving for greener pastures (whether via trade or release) isn't necessarily catastrophic, either; they have people they think can fill his shoes, and if those players step up and provide Simon's production at a cheaper cost, that's a win for B.C. regardless of how many fans it angers. However, experience is often crucial in this league, and it can't just be taken as read that the Lions' youngsters can fill Simon's shoes. If he winds up elsewhere and stars there for several seasons while his replacements struggle in B.C., this might be another version of the Ricky Ray trade (albeit at a less essential position). However the Simon saga plays out, it's a high-stakes gamble by Buono, and one that will be extremely interesting to watch unfold.