Olafioye, Melvin are southward bound: will the Lions be able to bounce back from losses again?

Over the last several years, the B.C. Lions have probably lost more talent to the NFL than any other CFL team. That trend continued Friday with the departures of star right tackle Jovan Olafioye and renowned defensive line coach Randy Melvin for the St. Louis Rams and Miami Dolphins respectively. Those departures will undoubtedly hurt B.C., as both Olafioye and Melvin were crucial parts of their 2011 Grey Cup championship team, and replacing them won't be particularly easy. Yet, if the past several seasons have shown anything, it's that the Lions have been able to find a great deal of NFL-ready talent, but have also been able to replace those players when they leave. Will they be able to keep that record up going forward?

The sheer losses the Lions have suffered over the years are astounding. Earlier this year, they lost star linebacker Solomon Elimimian to the Minnesota Vikings, and they came very close to losing top defensive tackle Khalif Mitchell to Miami. After the 2010 season, they lost receiver Emmanuel Arceneaux to the Vikings. They lost running back Martell Mallett and defensive end Ricky Foley to the Philadelphia Eagles and Seattle Seahawks respectively after the 2009 season, and defensive end/linebacker Cameron Wake and running back/kick returner Stefan Logan to the Dolphins and Pittsburgh Steelers respectively after the 2008 season. That's an incredible array of talent, as all of those players were key figures in B.C.'s lineup.

Yes, plenty of CFL teams lose players to the NFL every offseason, but it's rare to see one team lose so much top-drawer talent over several years. Furthermore, many of the guys who do try their luck south of the border don't catch on and soon return to the CFL with their old teams, as happened with Saskatchewan's Andy Fantuz and Edmonton's Mark Restelli this past season. Unlike those situations, the Lions' losses haven't been for short periods of time. All of the players mentioned above except Mallett and Foley are currently in the NFL (with Wake earning a Pro Bowl nod in 2010). Foley came back to the CFL with Toronto in 2011, and Mallett just returned to the CFL after two years south of the border and signed in Hamilton. Thus, all of the Lions' players who have tried the NFL since the 2008 season haven't yet returned to the orange and black.

That's a significant talent drain, but if there's one man capable of filling it, history would suggest it's B.C. GM Wally Buono. Buono has brought in a remarkable amount of top-drawer talent over that span, and he's a key reason why B.C. never missed the playoffs despite the attrition; he's also a crucial part of why the Lions claimed the Grey Cup this past season. Olafioye won't be easy to replace, as brilliantly-talented 24-year-old offensive tackles aren't exactly in abundant supply, and Melvin could also be an important loss; the supply of master motivators with Super Bowl rings willing to patrol the CFL sidelines as part-time assistants is also limited. Still, B.C. fans have seen this all before, and top-name departures haven't hurt the Lions as much as many would have expected. If Buono can maintain his excellent record of finding and nabbing talent, B.C. may be just fine despite the losses.