Joe Montford has become a cap casualty.
With a $3.8-million salary cap on the horizon, the Edmonton Eskimos have cut the stellar but expensive defensive end.
Loaded with young, talented and cheaper linemen, the Green and Gold believe they can repeat as Grey Cup champions without the future hall of famer and his reported $165,000 salary.
"If we didn't have anybody else here, you try to work around (the salary issue)," said Eskimo head coach Danny Maciocia.
"But we feel like we have some youngsters that are ready to step in and play."
The move stunned Montford.
"I was blindsided," said the 11-year CFL veteran, who actually signed a new contract with the Esks in December before the salary cap became a reality.
"I had every intention of going back to Edmonton and hopefully getting back to the Grey Cup.
"But it's kind of like a girlfriend and boyfriend. If she wants to break up, there's nothing you can do."
The decision by the Eskimo brass also surprised linebacker Singor Mobley, one of the team leaders.
"I am a little (surprised). Joe was a big part of our defence last year," said Mobley.
"But (being cut) is part of the game."
At 35 years of age, Montford forced four fumbles and led Edmonton with 10 sacks last year while being named the club's top defensive player.
With the harsh penalties for being over the cap limit not coming into effect until 2007, the Esks could have kept Montford's huge salary this season and released him in the fall without being reprimanded by the league office.
But that strategy came with a different price that Maciocia wasn't willing to pay.
"If you do keep (Montford this year), chances are you can't keep somebody else," explained the coach, "and then (you) face the possibility of playing against that player (you cut) or never seeing him again."
In other words, the club didn't want to lose a young talented player in order to keep Montford.
With Rashad Jeanty leaving for the NFL this winter, yesterday's move means the club will actually start the year minus its two most productive rush ends from last season.
But imports Charles Alston, who had two sacks in the Grey Cup, and Anthony Collier headline a long list of replacement candidates. In fact, Collier had more sacks than Montford in 2005 and was Edmonton's first pick in the Renegade dispersal draft. But Maciocia denies the claim that Collier's acquisition and his $66,000 salary sealed Montford's fate.
Tim Fleiszer, Antico Dalton, Cedric Scott and possibly Adam Braidwood will also compete for the jobs at camp.
MORE TO COME ...
The club will also soon announce two free-agent signings - one with NFL experience - to vie for the positions.
As for Montford, he has three weeks to find a new team before training camps open.
"I should get picked up," he said, "and (being released) gives me an opportunity to sign with another team versus getting traded and having to be somewhere that maybe I didn't want to be."
And showing his usual class, he didn't take the opportunity to criticize his old team.
"It has been a great blessing to be in Edmonton," he remarked. "I had a wonderful time."
FINISH LINES: Montford is fifth on the CFL's all-time sack list and could pass Bobby Jurasin for third with another productive year.