The Ticats released six players on Tuesday and there were a few mild surprises among them.
American defensive backs Cassius Vaughn and Travis Lee as well as defensive tackle Delano Johnson were all players with at least some degree of CFL experience and were thought to be candidates for starting spots going into training camp.
Vaughn started nine games last season after being signed in mid-August and registered 26 defensive tackles, one special teams tackle and five pass knock downs as well as 130 yards on five kickoff returns.
But there’s little question Vaughn struggled, getting beat on multiple occasions. He started his first game at the boundary corner on Labour Day, just a couple of weeks after being signed, but ended the season on the practice roster after losing his starting job to Cleshawn Page in the East Semi-Final.
Players on the PR automatically become free agents after the season but Vaughn re-signed in January – a move the Twitterati didn’t seem to like – and the move seemed to make sense, given that’s he’s played almost 70 NFL games over six season, including 23 starts. He’s got size (listed at 5-foot-11) and he can run (he’s also got a kickoff return TD in the NFL.)
Lee started six games early last season, made 24 tackles, got moved to the practice roster, then released. The Ticats re-signed him on Jan. 24.
Johnson played in six games last year, starting two, and has 18 games of experience over three CFL seasons. He can play both tackle and end and that kind of versatility is something the Ticat susually covet.
So what changed? A few things, actually.
- The Ticats held their mini-camp at the end of April and have a better sense of the talent they’ll be able to bring to training camp. Defensive tackles Davon Coleman and Claudell Louis, for example, could be candidates at the defensive tackle spot.
- NFL rosters are starting to take shape which means there will be neg list players and free agents coming to the realization that the invite they hoped was coming from the four-down folks may not materialize. All of a sudden, the CFL option looks a whole lot more appealing. I would expect the team to announce a number of signings before training camp begins.
- The ratio is a factor. With five Canadian defensive tackles on the roster – including two new draft picks – the team may be seriously considering starting two Canucks in the middle, with Ted Laurent and Mike Atkinson being the likely candidates.
- They have a new defensive coordinator. While Jeff Reinebold has been here all four seasons under head coach Kent Austin and former DC Orlondo Steinauer, he’ll have more influence over player personnel decisions now that he’s running the defence. Steinauer often preferred veteran players, sometimes to the detriment of allowing new talent to develop and Reinebold may be more willing to try new guys, especially early in the season.
The release of Canadian receiver Spencer Watt is less of a shock. A six-year CFL veteran, Watt tore his Achilles after signing with the Ticats in 2015 and missed the entire season. Last year, he registered just 21 catches for 211 yards in 18 games and the Ticats likely expect they can get similar production from veteran Giovanni Aprille – who can play solid special teams – sophomore speedster Mike Jones, former Laval standout Felix Flaubert-Lussier (who had a great mini-camp) and newly-drafted Jacob Scarfone. If Andy Fantuz re-signs and returns by Labour Day, so much the better.
Watt wouldn’t have been a big-ticket item but he was undoubtedly making more than the minimum and veteran players with a questionable injury history have been an endangered species in Ticatland this off-season with offensive lineman Peter Dyakowski as well as defensive backs Rico Murray and Johnny Sears getting caught up in the purge. Those three found work elsewhere – all in Toronto – and Watt will likely get picked up as well.
Watt’s release also gives another indication about the direction the Ticats are taking on the ratio. The team has started two Canadians at receiver for much of time since Fantuz arrived in 2012 but with his departure/injury, the release of Watt and cavalcade of American talent they have at the position, it seems more likely than ever the team will start just one national this season – at the field receiver spot where they can expect two or three targets a game.
Releasing veterans at this time of year is somewhat unusual but it will give the departing players an opportunity to catch on elsewhere before training camp rosters are fully set. And it tells us a little bit more about the Ticats’ plans for 2017.