How did Lions, CFL keep Elimimian’s status secret?

Solomon Elimimian. (Aaron Lynett/CP)

The most outstanding player in the Canadian Football League officially remains a pending free agent, but at no point did the B.C. Lions and league office reveal that Solomon Elimimian had an expiring deal following his banner 2014 season.

Instead, in the lead-up to CFL free agency (which begins at noon ET on Tuesday), the CFL promoted a number of players that could hit the open market on Feb. 10, and Elimimian’s name was never part of the conversation.

But multiple CFL sources have told Sportsnet that the league’s most outstanding player last year absolutely had an expiring contract, and would have been a pending free agent — except Elimimian’s name was intentionally kept off the public radar ahead of free agency.

As Sportsnet first reported Monday night, the Lions have come to terms on a contract extension with Elimimian, also the top defensive player in the CFL. The announcement will likely come before free agency gets underway.

While the Elimimian deal — and the Lions being able to lock him up longterm — will draw headlines, the process leading to his signature on the dotted line is murky at the team and league level. That Elimimian’s name was at no point floated as a pending free agent is a disturbing revelation.

Some background: Shortly after the Grey Cup, the league office submits lists of players to teams that would be pending free agents. It is done to cross-reference with the organizations, and to eliminate the names of those recently retired or no longer in the league (but still under team control). The league also grants organizations some leniency with players close to extensions, so teams can execute a marketing strategy in announcing deals (in the days before and after Jan. 1) to get some off-season publicity.

Soon after, the league will send out an “official” free agent list to each team, and then will make that list public. The CFL actually began a “free agent tracker” on its web site on Dec. 9, monitoring the dozens of potential players who would be eligible to sign elsewhere as of Feb. 10.

Some have been released, others locked up, a few exploring NFL options. But at no point has the league’s MVP — and best defensive player — been mentioned. How someone of Elimimian’s calibre could be left off free agent lists distributed to teams requires an explanation — to fans and the other eight organizations.

The pending free agency of the best player in a professional football league is a big deal. The lack of transparency is about as significant.

Said one team executive: “What if I told you Aaron Rodgers was a free agent tomorrow, and nobody knew?”

Which all means you can expect the Lions to roll out a song and dance that they have signed Elimimian to a hefty deal. AM News 1130 in Vancouver reported fellow Lions linebacker Adam Bighill is also close to an extension. It’s likely the Elimimian extension was wrapped up long ago, that the signed contract has been “in the drawer,” for quite some time, but the team has waited to announce it.

The Lions did not immediately respond to Sportsnet about Elimimian’s contract status, but on Monday night did send a link to a free agent tracker on their website that did not include Elimimian’s name.

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