The long-rumoured move by the B.C. Lions to add free-agent offensive lineman Ben Archibald (pictured at right collecting his Most Outstanding Lineman award last year) from Calgary appears to be coming to fruition. TSN and Lowell Ullrich of The Province are both reporting that the Lions have agreed to a deal with Archibald and will officially announce it in the morning. Archibald becomes the Lions' second free-agent signing (after defensive tackle Eric Taylor), and he should be an impressive addition to their offensive line next year.
Archibald was a league all-star last season at left tackle and was a deserving selection as the league's top offensive lineman. He excelled in run blocking, leading the way for backs Joffrey Reynolds and Jon Cornish to rush for an average of 145.4 yards per game (tops in the league), and he also shone in pass protection, guarding Henry Burris' blind side and paving the way for the quarterback's memorable season that ended with the CFL's most outstanding player award. Much of Burris' success was at least partially due to the efforts of the Stampeders' offensive line, which only conceded 30 sacks all year (second-best in the league), and Archibald was arguably the critical piece there.
It says a lot about Archibald's calibre that B.C. went for him despite not having a particular void on the offensive line. Going into the offseason, there were plenty of other places where they had more noticeable shortcomings, particularly the defensive line and the receiving corps. Despite early-season struggles finishing last overall with 68 sacks allowed, the Lions' line actually looked reasonably good down the stretch with the addition of Jesse Newman at guard, the return of veteran centre Angus Reid to the starting lineup and Jovan Olafioye and Joe McGrath holding down the tackle spots. Still, Archibald is a considerable upgrade, as the Lions' Wally Buono told Ullrich when asked about the reasoning for the move:
"You mean, why am I going after the best player at his position?" the coach/GM of the CFL team replied, again succeeding at turning a conversation. "If we can land a player like this we have to re-evaluate our assets. If we can have a quarterback standing up more often than not, we're improving ourselves."
That's an interesting approach. Thanks to the size of the CFL roster and the restrictions of the salary cap, many teams prefer to spend their offseasons focusing on particular needs rather than jumping into the free-agent market to try to upgrade a position from solid to excellent. However, the left tackle in particular is a crucial position, and picking up the CFL's top left tackle looks like a great move from this vantage point.
The Lions also perhaps got Archibald at less than his pure market value. He's a native of Spokane, Washington, and still spends his off-seasons there, so B.C. is a natural fit for him, and the Lions were the only team he was prominently linked with this year. His departure will leave Calgary with a significant hole to fill, but he should be an excellent acquisition for B.C.. It's a move the Lions didn't necessarily have to make, but one they'll likely be happy they did.