Trading a popular player is one thing but moving a franchise player is a whole different beast. So did the Lions make the right decision? And how did Geroy Simon take the news when he got the call from his agent that it was a done deal?
While working with kids at the Jay Prepchuk QB/Rec football camp on Wednesday, one of many appearances in the community that the CFL's all time leading receiver makes, Simon got a message from his agent that the deal was official. The perennial all-star had been traded to the Saskatchewan Roughriders for receiver Justin Harper and a third-round pick in the 2014 CFL Canadian Draft.
The Lions released a statement on Thursday in which general manager Wally Buono was quoted as saying, "after many weeks of discussion with Geroy, we have reached a point where we believe it's in the best interest of both parties to move forward with a mutually agreed upon trade." And just like that, the Lions' franchise player for the last decade was no longer a B.C. Lion and not surprisingly, the debate began immediately.
Social media exploded on the topic and it seems that most of the Lions fans are disappointed, yet there are those who trust Buono and will put his resume as a GM against any in the league's history. For the most part, Rider fans are excited about the arrival of Simon in Saskatchewan, although a few on the TSN fan message board hoped that the team hasn't overpaid for the receiver.
Buono showed respect for Simon in the way he has handled what he admitted has been one of the toughest player personnel decisions he has had to make. But the Lions tweeted out a message saying, "@BCLions grant Geroy Simon's request for a trade," which is at best misleading.
Buono mentioned a "mutually agreed upon trade". It sounds like Simon did not request it, but when discussions about his salary and his role on the team in 2013 weren't going in the right direction, the receiver's agent was given permission to explore the trade market and Buono was going to do the same.
Over the next few days and maybe months, the debate will rage on and include discussions on money, salary cap management as well as past and future productivity and sports fans will again be talking about when an athlete, who is on the back nine of his career, should walk away?
Simon and the Lions have mutually agreed to part ways, and in the end, salary caps and money aside, this trade comes down to a difference of opinion. By his actions, Buono respectfully believes that Simon's best days are behind him but Geroy disagrees.
As one of the other guest coaches at the kids' camp, I could see firsthand on Wednesday that there were mixed emotions for Simon when he received the official news from his agent. In our discussion, he immediately talked about how great the fans have been to him in Vancouver, and how much he has enjoyed his time on the West Coast and all the great players he had played with. But as all great athletes have trained themselves to do, he but was quick to look ahead to the next step in his football journey. The play that just happened is over, now it is on to the next one, and the native of Johnston PA, quickly turned his focus to what was ahead, and started wondering aloud about his future as a Saskatchewan Roughrider.
In between requests for pictures and autographs from fans passing by our table in the restaurant, Simon talked about his family and the impact it would have on them, and then again looked ahead at playing football on the Prairies. He started talking about Darian Durant and Weston Dressler and then in the same sentence, asked if the head of the football camp would think about running one in Regina or Saskatoon or both, to which coach Prepchuk and I agreed would be a great idea.
As often is the case when you are talking about the best of the best in any sport, Simon is one of those athletes that trains relentlessly. As the news was sinking in, and with a thousand things going through his mind, he then pondered aloud about his training, saying, "well, my off-season workout program won't be any different this year, but it will feel different, that's for sure."
It was fascinating to watch and listen to one of the game's biggest stars go through a gambit of emotions just moments after he got the news, and it was also easy to see why Simon is such a great player and even better person. His immediate thoughts were about his family and preparing himself through training for another season of professional football, so he can best take care of that family. He showed his humility and how much he has appreciated and been humbled by how well he has been treated in B.C. by both the fans and the organization. Then, he shifted his focus to the new chapter in his journey that will take him to football-crazy Saskatchewan, and not just what lies ahead on the field, but what he can do in the community.
Buono has had to make tough decisions with veteran players like this before and, based on his track record, seems to have a sense for when it is time to make those tough decisions. But is he a year or two early when it comes to the team's franchise receiver? Simon, who had his 10-year streak of 1,000-yard seasons come to an end last year because he missed five games due to injury, is a true pro and takes care of himself and believes to the core he has lots of great football left. But is that not what all players believe when they find themselves in that situation?
Putting the money issue aside, this really comes down to a difference of opinion between player and GM and the real question fans should be asking is: When looking at the 2013 season, are the Lions a better team today than they were yesterday? The real answer will likely not start to show itself until around Labour Day of this upcoming football season.
For what it's worth, after following Simon for the last 14 years from the broadcast booth, I believe that he has a lot of great football left in him. He is a character guy that is a true pro, both on and off the field, and will continue to be a great leader in the locker room. Of course, that is one opinion and there are lots of opinions out there so let the debate continue, but you can bet that no matter what happens over the next couple of years, Simon will one day retire a B.C. Lion. Until then, whether it is reflected in the stats or not, the Riders will benefit greatly by the acquisition of Geroy Simon.