The B.C. Lions got off to a fine start in free agency Friday, and their most crucial move may have been to sign two of their own players. That would be offensive tackle Jovan Olafioye, the CFL's offensive lineman of the year in 2012, and linebacker Solomon Elimimian, the league's 2011 defensive player of the year. Both had looked likely to leave B.C. for greener pastures, in the NFL or otherwise, but keeping them around should help set the Lions up for success in 2013. B.C. also brought back veterans Korey Banks and Paris Jackson while adding former Eskimo Julius Williams. Add those moves up, and it looks like the Lions should once again be a substantial threat in the West.
The Olafioye signing is particularly notable, as it may be a product of some curious NFL rules. On build, ability and age (25), Olafioye would seem to be a natural fit in the NFL, and he's received significant southern interest over the past two years. However, NFL medical protocols saw him fail a physical last year, and the Packers' medical staff reportedly vetoed signing him this offseason. It's very hard to understand why NFL clubs would think that Olafioye isn't healthy enough to play, as he's only played three 18-game CFL seasons without significant issues, but the southern reluctance to bring Olafioye in may well prove to be the Lions' gain. B.C. quarterback Travis Lulay is certainly happy to have one of his top blockers back:
— Travis Lulay (@TravisLulay) February 15, 2013
The Lions' decision to bring Elimimian back is also interesting. Of course, Elimimian was once their star middle linebacker, but when he left for the NFL in the 2012 offseason, Bighill stepped into that role nicely. When Elimimian returned to the Lions in September, he was shifted to outside linebacker. That role took some adjusting to, but he did seem capable there down the stretch; it was just thought that he might look for another chance to return to the NFL or one to play middle linebacker elsewhere in the CFL. Elimimian chose to remain in B.C., though, and that could be very positive for the Lions; he's one of the league's hardest hitters and showed promise in an outside role late in last season. With him and Bighill, the B.C. linebacking corps looks quite fearsome.
B.C.'s other moves are worth discussing as well. Locking up Banks is a smart move, as he's been a key component of their elite secondary, and he still seems to have plenty of playing ability at 33. What's particularly impressive with him is his ability to transition back and forth between a pure defensive back's role and a hybrid linebacker/defensive back position. Having players with that kind of versatility is always a good thing. Jackson's return also seems good, as he's been an important mentor for the Lions' younger receivers, and he can still make plays when called upon. Williams could help the team as well; he didn't do much last year in Edmonton, partly thanks to injury, but had five sacks the year before (under current Lions' defensive coordinator Rich Stubler), and he's just 26. There may be more offseason moves ahead in B.C., but the ones they've made so far look pretty impressive, and Lions' fans should be happy with the start they've gotten off to.