The B.C. Lions' decision to let star slotback Geroy Simon explore the trade market produced results incredibly quickly, as Simon was traded to the Saskatchewan Roughriders Thursday in exchange for wide receiver Justin Harper and a third-round pick. The trade came less than 24 hours after the initial news that the Lions were shopping Simon, and it could leave shockwaves across the CFL landscape. In B.C., there will be long debates about if the Lions did the right thing with a franchise legend who just happens to be the CFL's all-time leading receiver. In Saskatchewan, though, this looks like a substantial upgrade to the Riders' receiving corps, and one that could make their aerial attack one to be reckoned with this season.
Of course, Saskatchewan had some impressive receivers before this, most notably the "Batman and Robin" slotback pairing of Weston Dressler and Chris Getzlaf (who put up 1,206 and 864 receiving yards respectively last year). Beyond those two, though, the numbers were less impressive last season; the team's third-leading receiver was Taj Smith, who put up 690 yards, and while running back Kory Sheets added 517, no other receiver had more than 228 receiving yards. There's potential with the Riders' other receivers, including Smith, Limas Sweed and Rob Bagg (who's trying to return from an injury that caused him to miss all but three games last year), but Simon is a proven top player who should give them an extra offensive dimension. Last year may have been a bit of a down year for him thanks to injuries and the Lions' depth at the position, but he still recorded 700 receiving yards, more than any Rider apart from Dressler and Getzlaf (and only 20 less than top B.C. receiver Shawn Gore). Put him, Dressler and Getzlaf out there at once and you present defences with some very difficult decisions on who to cover.
You have to get all of those players on the field to do that, but that may not be as difficult as it could seem at first glance. Yes, most teams typically go with two slotbacks and two wide receivers in their base formation (which also includes five linemen, a quarterback, a fullback and a running back), but we're seeing more and more five-wide sets lately, and it makes perfect sense to play three slotbacks in those (as three of your five routes are likely to be something over the middle, which slotbacks have more experience with). Beyond that, though, the most logical move might be shifting Getzlaf back to wide receiver in base sets (the position he played in the last dominant edition of the Riders' receiving corps) and pairing Simon and Dressler as slotbacks. That could present even more coverage issues for defences if they're sent to nearby areas.
The Riders have a new offensive coordinator, George Cortez, who's particularly good at working with a deep receiving corps, so it seems likely they'll find plenty of ways to utilize Simon. Of course, that all depends on him being able to fight off advancing age (he turns 38 in September), but experience is often vital in the CFL, and Simon has long been known for his intense fitness regimen. The view from this corner's that he'll likely be a significant upgrade for the Riders. This looks like a great move by Saskatchewan general manager Brendan Taman, particularly if reports that Simon has also agreed to take less salary are true.
For the Lions, though, while this move will be debated for months, it may not be disastrous for the franchise. The return they got here isn't bad; Harper's a former NFL receiver, and although he didn't do much last season in Saskatchewan, there's reason to believe he has potential. The third-round pick helps too. Most importantly for B.C., though, they already have an incredible collection of young receiving talent, and general manager Wally Buono clearly thinks some of those players are ready to step up and fill Simon's shoes. If he's wrong, he'll be in for heavy criticism for letting a franchise player like Simon go, but if he's right, the Lions may be able to get more cost-effective production out of their receiving corps. That's not going to please Simon's massive group of fans in B.C., but a general manager's job is about putting together a winning product, not keeping players people like. If Simon fails with the Riders, this deal looks good for the Lions; if he does well there but B.C.'s young guys step up, that also bodes well for the Lions. If Simon shines in Saskatchewan and B.C.'s receivers struggle, then criticism of Buono's actions here will be fully deserved. At the moment, though, this looks like a deal that could work out well for both sides.