Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Offensive lineman leaves Leos for Rams

There appeared to be a competition at times over the last two months for Jovan Olafioye, whether the amount of guaranteed salary he would earn with the NFL's St. Louis Rams would equal the number of frequent-flyer miles he gained to secure the next step in his burgeoning career.

It would seem as if the 24-year-old offensive lineman with the B.C. Lions did reasonably well when it came to upgrading on two fronts.

Olafioye agreed to terms on a minimum two year contract with the Rams on Friday, shortly before the Lions allowed defensive line coach Randy Melvin to take a surprise three-year deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

It wasn't a completely down weekend for the Lions though. An agreement to keep 31-yearold receiver Paris Jackson with the CFL team for his 10th season has been concluded and is expected to be announced at the start of the week.

Olafioye's mileage and bank accounts grew as a result of the thorough nature of his agent, Dan Vertlieb, who not only got him to 14 NFL workouts since leaving Vancouver Nov. 30, but creatively worked with the Rams on a deal which will pay him roughly $90,000 in guaranteed salary even if he does not make the roster. The strapping tackle was limited in collecting an NFL signing bonus, owing to new rules governing undrafted free agents in the league's new collective bargaining agreement.

The result was additional airplane pretzels and middle seats.

"We felt there was no reason not to go," Vertlieb said Saturday. "Jovan truly enjoyed the experience and it helped him understand the respective organizations."

It didn't curb his wanderlust. Olafioye was en route from his Detroit home to Ohio Saturday and couldn't be reached.

The loss of Olafioye maintains the Lions' distinction of losing more players to the NFL in the past four seasons than any CFL club (see chart) and will be more difficult to replace than Solomon Elimimian, who left Jan. 25 to sign with the Minnesota Vikings.

Coach Mike Benevides will start with tackle Nick Hennessey, who spent the majority of last season on the practice roster, but will look at other import prospects and won't likely invest heavily in free agency when the open market signing period opens Feb. 15.

"I don't see us changing the ratio," Benevides said.

First up will be to replace Melvin, who agreed to return for a second season and was flown in for a news conference last week only to be unexpectedly offered a three-year NFL deal.

Melvin twice previously has worked at Rutgers University with Greg Schiano, who was hired by the Bucs as head coach only nine days ago, and though the Lions had recently committed to making his position a full-time spot, the team didn't think it could stand in front of a more lucrative offer.

Olafioye, on the other hand, was destined to leave not long after the Lions made him a starter in his rookie season. He'll try to make a 2-14 NFL team that didn't have a coach when he worked out in St. Louis on Jan. 5, and still doesn't have a general manager.

But the Lions harbour no illusions as to their chances of getting him back soon.

"He's 24, and he's played two years already. It's a helluva find for [St. Louis]," Benevides said.

Just don't ask Olafioye to name the last 14 airports he visited to get there.

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