Free Agency Analysis: Ticats banking 2017 squad can get it done this year

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats clearly believe the players (and coach) who sparked last season’s late run of success will continue their winning ways in 2018.

The Ticats continued to prioritize re-patriating their own players in the moments leading up to the opening of free agency on Tuesday, re-signing Canadian defensive tackle Ted Laurent, international linebacker Larry Dean and national linebacker Nick Shortill.

Laurent and Dean were expected to be two of the most sought-after free agents had they hit the open market and Shortill has potential as a ratio-breaking Canadian who plays mean special teams. Laurent is a two-time CFL all-star in his four years with Hamilton while Dean was the defensive captain the team’s nominee as outstanding player last season.

There were hardly alone in electing to stay put. So far this off-season vice-president of football operations Kent Austin re-signed a slew of pending free agents including quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, receivers Luke Tasker and Brandon Banks, offensive tackle Tony Washington as well as defensive end Justin Capicciotti.

The re-signings, coupled with the infusion of young talent that emerged last year, particularly receiver Jalen Saunders and defensive back Richard Leonard, and the Ticats will have a very familiar look to them. Of the 24 players who started the Week 20 game against Montreal last season, every single one is slated to return.

Which isn’t to say there won’t be changes. Fullback C.O. Prime remains a free agent and national linebacker Mitch Barnett, who played in all 18 games last season, signed in B.C.

And kicker will certainly be different.

The team’s biggest addition on day one came when the Ticats signed former Toronto Argonaut kicker Lirim Hajrullahu, who became a free agent on Tuesday. The Canadian was last seen kicking the Grey Cup-winning field goal, the culmination of a season in which the 27-year-old handled all three kicking jobs, hitting on 47-of-58 field goals (81 per cent) while posting a 44-yard punting average.

Born in Kosovo, Hajrullahu went to high school in St. Catharines and played his college ball at Western and his signing marks something of a departure for the Ticats who have held what essentially amounted to an open kicking competition in training camp the last two seasons in part to avoid paying big money to an established name.

While Hajrullahu’s reported $145,000 salary won’t break the bank on its own, the Ticats have spent some money to get last year’s team to become this year’s team. With the exception of Laurent – who went from a reported $275,000 to around $200,000 – players like Tasker ($175,000), Dean ($160,000) and Masoli ($235,000 plus $90,000 in playtime bonuses) – all got raises. So too did guys like Shortill, and earlier re-signings like Jay Langa and Brandon Revenberg.

All of which is the cost of doing business in the CFL but it may limit the Ticats in filling in the holes that remain. The team could likely use a veteran defensive back to solidify an inexperienced secondary and no team can ever have enough Canadian depth. Look for Austin to pick up some value in the coming days as prices drop after the initial flurry of activity.

The Ticats went 6-4 after June Jones took over as head coach on Labour – he’s also back – after the dreadful 0-8 start and were playing as well as any team in the league when the clock ran out on their season. To a man, they talked about missed opportunities and the feeling that they could have done so much more if given the chance.

Well, they’re going to get it.

Drew Edwards

Drew Edwards

Drew Edwards is into his eighth season covering the CFL and the Ticats for the Hamilton Spectator. He is the founder and editor of 3DownNation.
Drew Edwards
Drew Edwards
About Drew Edwards (1570 Articles)
Drew Edwards is into his eighth season covering the CFL and the Ticats for the Hamilton Spectator. He is the founder and editor of 3DownNation.

42 Comments on Free Agency Analysis: Ticats banking 2017 squad can get it done this year

  1. Excellent moves by the Cats. Depth all the way around. Gotta be favourites in the east. Need a good start against the west.
    Now trade Manziel’s rights for whatever they can get and go with this squad.

    • To be a healthy team the Cats need Heath,Tj to make an impact on the secondary and at the same time stop their Argo foe from improving.

    • Favorites in the East? why? they are basically the same team that finished out of the playoffs.
      They spent more money to bring back the same guys?
      They bring a new kicker but kicking was not a problem.
      Shorthill is just the usual Candian backup/special teams guy.

  2. I think KA has done a masterful job of securing the valuable pieces of the team puzzle, and creating a belief, along with Jones, that this team is a winner. There has to be legitimate reasons why such a high percentage came back. Castillo wouldn’t be back till next fall so an experienced national kicker that can do all three jobs make a lot of sense too. A few good FA pieces, like a SAM linebacker, then 4 top picks in a deep draft, and Cats are making a run for the Cup. Awesome job of managing a roster. Johnny Who?

    • Well said George! All this talk that guys hate Austin and wont resign in Hamilton has been put to rest. Kent may be intense but its because he wants to win! Players can see that. Jones is a good coach and will be better with what he learned last season.

    • Just get some DB help and sign Johnny Football and we will be set

      • DB help – especially someone who can fill the SAM LB spot is needed but they already have 4 QBs not including Golson who became a FA today!
        I like what the team did today – and in the past several days and weeks – getting back all of those key pieces who were starting to really get rolling as a team to win games. This continuity should help them to get off to a much better start in 2018. As for players not wanting to return – time away from the game to reflect seems to have worked wonders! These players are going to come back hungry and feeling like they have something to prove – Johnny or no Johnny!

        • Manziel is a lottery ticket..he is worth something to someone.

          we have 4 QBs I agree but we have one half year starter and three wanna be starters neither is a lock and in our starters case lets see him do it again.

    • Dundas dude // February 13, 2018 at 7:14 pm //

      When you say Castillo “won’t be back until next fall”, you mean fall of 2018 (not 2019)?

      I like what is happening in this offseason, with the draft and few free agents still to come. Nothing is certain, but the Cats are due a bit of “stay healthy” luck in 2018.

    • Same squad is not exactly securing valuable pieces.Same squad means same job and the Cats were bottom feeders last season.Bring in some new talent or this team will be in for a real struggle.

      • We’ll start seeing more free agents from outside the league being signed. Last year we did quite well with new faces who earned starting roles – Leonard, Coleman, Mathews, Green, Saunders… others like Aultman and Whitlock showed something too. Hopefully scouting staff uncovers more.

        Might be an immediate contributor or two in the draft as well, and the Cats are well positioned with 5 of the first 20 picks right now.

    • LOL – a “masterful job” seriously??
      Where are the changes?
      It’s the same team that finished out of the playoffs.
      A team is supposed to make changes after not making the playoffs. They end up paying more money for the same guys.

      • I guess you missed the last half of the season joe when to the Ticats became a MUCH better team under June Jones! Getting all of those players back gives them the continuity to keep building on the success that they had from Labour Day on. There wasn’t’ anything wrong with the talent – just needed a few changes to the systems which happened after some coaching changes.

        • Joe did not miss much when you consider you could subtract the two wins against Montreal making for a total of four wins which any practical fan knows is just too meagre a sampling to make any sound predictions about the future.It is time to get rational and ask Kent Austin what is the plan with few new players, and an aging coach with little CFL experience.

  3. Wise management of the Ti-Cat cap this year. Unloading Collaros,Gable, Cick, and Davis was nota popular with most Ti-Cat fans, but the cap HAD to be reduced, in order to resign the key FA’s from the last 8 games of 2017.

    Looking good and confident from this Ti-Cat fan, just hoping don’t encounter the injuries that experienced last year. Just sign Fantuz as a setback or as a coach, he’s we like in Hamilton.

    The secondary will.or might be the weakness,but have Leonard back, Washington, and Nations Mike Daley returning from injury. Looks like.It’s going to be very competitive in he East this year, after last year’s flop from all teams involved.

  4. Cats mgt has done an outstanding job….we in RNation are envious as our GM has no clue what he is doing. Cats walk the talk, signing key holdovers and bringing in new talent as needed. Drew, you’re worried about the cats filling a few backup spots here and there. We are worried about our entire patchwork, skilless defence. RBs claimed they would be looking for “game changers” in free agency. Well we just didn’t realise that when they said “game changers”they meant guys who would take the game from promising to losing. While doing so, They ran Tank Reed, Jerrell Gavin’s, both starting defensive tackles including Zack Evans, the backup QB and starting fullback out of town.

    Be thankful cats fans that you don’t have this mess we have in Ottawa. Montreal should easily bypass this bunch in the standings. Yikes!

    • Outstanding job? it’s the same team that finished out of the playoffs. They need a running back and some receivers, not sure about Masoli either.
      From that old saying “it’s offense that wins championships”

      • Peter North // February 14, 2018 at 9:01 am //

        @ Joe..From that old saying “it’s offense that wins championships”?? What? Pretty sure the ‘old saying’ goes something like..offense wins games,but defense wins championships.

        Did you watch guys like Tasker and Banks the second half of the season?

        Did you watch Alex Green run well behind an improved offensive line post Labour Day?

        Me thinks not.

        I’m not saying this team is championship caliber but they should get off to a much better start this year and overall be a better club. Let’s see how the rest of the offseason plays out but at this point, the Cats have done a pretty decent job retain their key FA’s.

        You don’t let guys like Tasker and Dean walk because the team missed the playoffs.

    • The RBs did some great moves, get rid of the non-producers – Zach Evans was overrated and couldn’t get any pressure on the QB, they picked up AC Leonard who will be a good pass rusher. Gavins injured and replaced by a better cover guy and all-star Purifoy.
      They get rid of an older expensive QB and get a much younger rushing QB.
      They traded for Beaulieua to go younger and signed the Hec Creighton winner Ilnicki so they are all set at Canadian RBs. They also have the Neg rights from BC
      It’s not over yet.
      I’m picking Ottawa to finish first, Argos second, Ticats third fighting for crossover

      • Peter North // February 14, 2018 at 9:04 am //

        Who cares about what Ottawa did. This article is about the Cats and what they have done after the initial day of FA.


    • The longer he takes to accept the offer, the more I tend to agree he’s going to be a detriment to this team. He doesn’t seem truly committed for his comeback season… just think how much more of his merchandise at this particular moment he could be selling if he was signed… but he probably has it in his head he needs a bigger stage. Has anything really changed?

    • yes trade Manziel to Montreal, he may sell tickets there.

  6. Very pleased w the signings, again, KA, ET, SM and JJ show that players were happy playing here. Canadian WR, upgrade at DB and SAM would be nice. Look for a trade or two at the draft to fill one these sports. Again, draft well, develop your own, and keep your own is the way to a championship.

    • They have Shamawd had Chambers and Mike Jones (if he can improve his game of course) at receiver to say nothing of quite a few draft picks in the early rounds. Plus they could still sign Fantuz who would be an excellent mentor to the younger players. I doubt they’ll be looking to sign a national there. I see SAM as the main position that needs to be filled.

  7. Just saying // February 13, 2018 at 8:43 pm //

    I see Hamilton slugging it out with Ottawa for second place in he east. The east is looking exiting……..minus Montreal

    • Where's Shultz? // February 13, 2018 at 9:43 pm //

      Toronto will be a contender too, unless their defense becomes terrible. With Ricky and S.J. on the offense you know they will get yards and TDs.

    • Ottawa first, Argos second, Ticats 3rd and battling for the crossover.
      I see improvements in Ottawa, the Argos weaker, the Ticats satus quo

  8. Maybe Laurent and Dean are good signings and maybe not… Ticats struggled at times to stop the run… that’s on the DL and MLB… and with the current roster we have yet to win a Grey Cup…

    Just saying that maybe some changes would be better than status quo…

  9. This should put an end to the JM cap room left unless he wants to sign for 100k

  10. Great moved by cats let’s get another deep threat rec and sign Messam bring in American pass rusher

  11. There’s a reason all these guys want to come back. Obviously, circus antics of late aside, they believe they can win it all. A winning attitude is what this team needs right from the hop to prevent being engaged in yet another disastrous start and playing catch up all season. Truly unfinished business and redemption…we’ll see how it all plays out!

  12. Freelasagnahunter // February 14, 2018 at 3:40 am //

    That, s your takeaway Drew ? Grousing about a veteran kickers salary?

    You wrote a story about a players revolt if Austin stayed with the team and now its clear players are more than happy to reamain here.

    Weak and obtuse.

  13. After Jones took over and Masoli had a few games to adjust, the Cats were simply the best team in the CFL, stats-wise. Why change a lot? 6 wins out of the last 8 games is a 75% winning percentage, which translates into 13.5 wins in an 18 game schedule, and 13 wins puts you tied with Calgary for first overall, and wins the East in a cakewalk. Cats management knows what they’re doing.

    • best team stats wise lol

      your post is weak and ridiculous unless of course free agency is put on hold and players dont age or heal or rest or are motivated or new coaches and scouts are hired and changes schemes etc etc

      all apples and oranges and a few pears and bananas..I bet you felt smart initially while hitting the send button

    • Totally agree George. Don’t know what the previous guy replying to you is talking about. He either must be into the Valentine’s Day schnapps…or an Argo fan. TC players saw the potential the team had when JJ took over and want to be part of that. Hence why their FA’s re-signed. I don’t know about cakewalk, but had they beaten the Argos during that 8 game span (like they should have) we might be talking about another GC scenario. That loss out of the two in the 8 game span was the dagger.

  14. North of 49 // February 14, 2018 at 9:27 am //

    Bring it on…. Season 2018.
    Let’s see if the Cats carry forward their 2017 late season push. I have my doubts.
    Let’s see the Stampeders are naked as they are now. 1st in the West? NO WAY
    Let’s see if the Bombers signing home town ex Riders make a difference. It Won’t Hurt!
    Let’s see if Collaros returns and tHugh’s & Evans to Jeffersons D-line terrorize QBs.
    Let’s see if Montreal’s QB and Head Coach who haven’t held a CFL ball work? Doubt it!
    Let’s see Toronto without their one man wrecking machine Wilder JR. Probably weaker

  15. JM is in the spring league now. Hooray!!!! Did Joe miss the last half of last years season????

  16. Where's Shultz? // February 15, 2018 at 8:35 am //

    The cats were a good team in the last half of last season. They were getting better each game too. The losses in the first 8 games and the losses in the last 10 games were wayy different. The cats were competitive in every game that June coached them in.

    The biggest issue from last year was special teams, not kicking, but covering. Defense could use some improvement too, hopefully they find a good db or two.

    I see no reason not to bring back as many parts of the offense back as possible. Offense was not the problem with June Jones cats.

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