The B.C. Lions may have already retained one pending free agent somewhat unexpectedly, but they're inevitably going to suffer some attrition; that's the nature of the beast after you win a championship. The Lions' first major loss came Tuesday night with a tweet from linebacker Solomon Elimimian's agent Bardia Ghahremani that he had signed with the NFL's Minnesota Vikings. With the move, Elimimian joins another former Lion, receiver Emmanuel Arceneaux (who signed with the Vikings last January). He also leaves a potentially large hole in the B.C. defence.
Elimimian has been one of the most outstanding members of the Lions' defence for the last couple of seasons, and that's no small feat. After all, this is a defence that allowed a league-low 385 points in 2011 and was the primary reason B.C. hoisted the Grey Cup in November, and it's one that's packed with renowned players throughout. Still, Elimimian stood out. In 2010, he put up 77 tackles, five sacks and a forced fumble and was selected as the league's rookie of the year. Things got even better in 2011, as he recorded a team-high 98 tackles, second only to Saskatchewan's Jerrell Freeman (also off to the NFL with the Indianapolis Colts). He also added four sacks, two interceptions and a forced fumble and was selected as a league all-star. That kind of production isn't easy to replace, especially in a defence designed by former B.C. defensive coordinator/current head coach Mike Benevides that often relies on a 4-2-6 "nickel" look, requiring the two linebackers to be quick enough to cover a substantial area of the field and versatile enough to work effectively inside and outside. Here are some highlights put together by his agency that demonstrate his all-around skills:
Elimimian will be missed for more than just his speed and his ability to get to the ball, though. One of his most notable attributes has always been the brute force he hits with. At first, that resulted in plenty of penalties, but Elimimian soon figured out how to bring the pain while playing within the rules, and the league's players voted him as the CFL's hardest hitter in 2011. Here's one of his most impressive hits of the year, a bulldozing of Saskatchewan's Hugh Charles in August:
One interesting development with Elimimian is that although he was reportedly being courted by three NFL teams, his camp apparently asked the Lions to tender him an offer first, which they didn't. That probably doesn't amount to much, though. If Elimimian was receiving serious NFL interest, which it certainly seems he was, it's highly unlikely that any CFL offer would have been financially lucrative enough to keep him north of the border. He's only 25, so this is a prime chance for him to catch on in the NFL and cash in with a big payday if he does so (as another former B.C. linebacker, Cam Wake, may do soon). The CFL has a tough time competing against that.
Of course, the majority of CFL players who head south don't wind up having a lot of success, and many frequently return north of the border, so we may not have seen the last of Elimimian in three-down football yet. Still, we've seen two players (Wake and Calgary-turned-Seattle DB Brandon Browner) go from the CFL to the NFL's Pro Bowl in two years, and several more catch on with NFL teams, so Elimimian's odds may not be all that bad. Regardless of how he does south of the border, though, his departure will certainly leave a void that won't be particularly easy for the Lions to fill.