B.C. Lions' fans received some terrific news Monday with the announcement that defensive tackle Khalif Mitchell had signed a new deal with the team. The Lions' announcement that a key midseason acquisition, defensive back Tad Kornegay, has been released is less positive, but Kornegay announced on Twitter that it was just a contractual move and he'll likely be back. Mitchell's retention is a huge gain for the Lions, and if they're able to bring back Kornegay as well, their 2012 defence could be extremely formidable.
Mitchell was a key part of the Lions' dominant defensive line that led them to a Grey Cup victory this past season, recording six quarterback sacks, 33 tackles, numerous other pressures and swallowing up opposing teams' ground attacks. Not many players have Mitchell's mix of size (he's listed at 6'5'', 315 pounds) and agility, so he would have been extremely difficult to replace. It looked like he was headed to the NFL this offseason, as he worked out for the Miami Dolphins, and he would have been one of the most-coveted CFL free agents if he'd chosen to pursue that route. His decision to remain in B.C. is somewhat surprising, but it should be a massive boost for the Lions' line.
Kornegay was an important figure in the Lions' run to the Grey Cup as well. Saskatchewan cut him in July, sparking plenty of outrage from Riders' fans, and with good reason. Kornegay was soon picked up by the Lions and made a huge difference on their defence, providing solid pass coverage downfield, effective run support and an ability to blitz opposing quarterbacks. He made 36 tackles, recorded two interceptions and recovered two fumbles with B.C. down the stretch, and his veteran leadership also helped rally the team from their 0-5 start. He even invented the "Tading" movement along the way. It's unclear why exactly his contract needed him to be released here (perhaps it was for salary-cap reasons, or perhaps he had an agreement to restructure his contract), but he'd certainly be a worthwhile reacquisition for the Lions.
Mitchell's return does take away one of the key offseason questions in B.C., but there are still others out there. Right tackle Jovan Olafioye has drawn massive NFL interest, visiting at least 12 teams so far, and he may not be back with the Lions. Linebacker Solomon Elimimian is also drawing NFL interest, and there are free agents who could pick up interest from other CFL teams too, including defensive tackle Aaron Hunt. Still, the Lions have put together a solid coaching staff with new head man Mike Benevides, new defensive coordinator Rich Stubler, returning offensive coordinator Jacques Chapdelaine and returning special teams coordinator Chuck McMann, and their retention of Mitchell is a crucial step on the player personnel front. There's a long way to go yet this offseason, but the defending Grey Cup champions appear to be in pretty good shape so far.