After being unwanted in Winnipeg, Joey Elliott did what many other veteran CFL free agent quarterbacks would not do.
He attended a B.C. Lions open tryout camp in Las Vegas in early May. The move paid Friday off as the Lions agreed to terms with him on a three-year contract.
“They didn’t know I was coming — I just showed up,” said Elliott from Indianapolis, where he has been working as a substitute teacher. “I just showed up.”
Lions general manager Wally Buono offered a slightly different version, saying the club asked Elliott to attend a camp after his representatives tried to negotiate a contract earlier in the off-season.
Regardless, Buono, was impressed that Elliott was willing to pay his own way for a flight to the gambling mecca and bet on employment with the Lions.
It took a special person to humble himself the way Elliott did, said the GM.
“It’s huge to get another opportunity,” said Elliott. “Whether you’re a quarterback, or as a professional, when you are released, you’re just looking for another opportunity.”
The 26-year-old Franklin, Ind., native spent the past three seasons with the Blue Bombers. During that time, he dressed for 33 games, including nine as the team’s starter. But the Bombers deemed him expendable after what was actually his first full season.
He joined the team in the fifth week in 2010 and was sidelined much of 2011 with a torn knee ligament that forced him to miss the Grey Cup against the Lions.
Last season, the Purdue grad had his most productive year as a pro as he threw for 2,101 yards and five touchdowns. Elliott is expected to battle for B.C.’s backup quarterback job following Mike Reilly’s departure to Edmonton as a free agent, but he must advance beyond the team’s rookie camp first before taking the field with veterans at main training camp, starting June 2 in Kamloops, B.C. .
Elliott believes he can provide a calming influence to a B.C. squad while lending experience to the Lions, who won the West Division title in 2012 but were upset by the Calgary Stampeders in the Western Final. Aside from starter Travis Lulay, the only other quarterback in the Lions’ den with CFL experience is second-year pro Thomas De Marco.
Lulay and De Marco are also the only B.C. quarterback holdovers from last season.
Buono said his main concern is that Elliott understands the team’s offensive system rather than opposing defences. While he has a strong, accurate arm and can pass on the run, “one of his issues is ball security.”
Meanwhile, one part of the Geroy Simon trade failed to pay off Friday when the Lions released Justin Harper, who was part of a package for the CFL’s all-time leading receiver.
Harper was out of shape when he came into a Lions camp for offensive players this spring. Coach Mike Benevides indicated he was impressed with Harper and was willing to give him more time to get fit.
However, Buono was not.
“This (release) was precipitated by me being disappointed with him coming into camp at almost 250 pounds,” said Buono. “I’m not blaming him, but when it comes to a first impression, I was disappointed.”
Buono said wide receiver Emmanuel Arceneaux’s return to B.C. earlier this week from the NFL factored into Harper’s release. But the GM was not sure whether Harper would have attended training camp if Arceneaux had decided to pursue another NFL opportunity.
The Lions also released defensive lineman Maurice Evans.
In another more positive move, B.C. re-signed receiver Courtney Taylor, who excelled late last season after a lengthy spell on the practice roster. Taylor, a 29-year-old Carrollton, Ala., native spent three years in the NFL with the Seattle Seahawks, but after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2009, he was released by the Seahawks in 2010 and did not get another opportunity until the Lions signed him in October 2011.
He spent the rest of the 2011 and most of 2012 on the Lions’ practice roster, but recorded 16 receptions for 264 yards and three touchdowns in five games late last season.
“I’m excited about Courtney Taylor,” said Buono. “When you think about this, Courtney was a starter in the NFL, and what prevented him from continuing to be a starter was his illness.”
Taylor has successfully managed his MS by taking daily medication that comprises just one pill, and has not experienced any symptoms since the diagnosis.
“He’s had another life to live — and now he’s back,” said Buono.