Offseason of change coming in Hamilton

/The Ticats cleaned out their lockers Tuesday after their gut wrenching loss on Sunday to the Ottawa Redblacks and it is the last time that this team in this iteration will be together.

Kent Austin said he wants to re-sign every potential free agent, Simoni Lawrence said that Hamilton is the place players should want to be, Courtney Stephen said that he believes everyone wants to come back, and Zach Collaros said that the Ticats are the best organization in the league and that guys will want to be back.

Heck, both Collaros and Brandon Banks said they would pester some of the team’s soon-to-be free agents into coming back.

All of those things are great to hear if you cheer for the black and gold, but one thing is for certain: everyone won’t be back.

It’s the nature of the business of pro sports that guys will leave the team. No team stays the exact same year in and year out. The Ticats had remarkable roster consistency from 2014 to 2015, but to expect that same consistency with a league-high 34 potential free agents is simply asking too much.

The Ticats are going to lose some of their free agents and maybe lose a lot of them. In a salary cap world, you can’t bring everyone back. Some will try the NFL, some will be deemed expendable, some will simply cash-in and get a bigger payday elsewhere and some will re-up with the Ticats for another go around. We just don’t know who those guys will be right now.

But here is what we know:

Kent Austin and Orlondo Steinauer will be back next season. Both men are in the final year of their respective contracts and getting at least Austin signed to an extension should be a massive priority. Extending Steinauer is much more difficult because he might want to make the leap to head coach soon. That won’t be this year, meaning he has taken himself out of the running for the head job in Saskatchewan, but with some uncertainty in BC and a make-or-break year in Winnipeg, offers could be coming Steinauer’s way next offseason. But that is a concern for next offseason. Both men will be back on the sidelines with the Ticats next season, which will make many fans happy.

Zach Collaros will be back next season, but the when is still unknown. He is aiming for the start of the season, but everything will depend on how his rehab goes. But we will see No. 4 in uniform at some point in 2016. Collaros is in the final year of his deal, and a big-money extension should be offered some time over the next year. But again, that is a concern for next offseason.

Brandon Banks, Luke Tasker, C.J. Gable and Simoni Lawrence will all be back. Tasker, Gable and Banks signed extensions last offseason, while Lawrence signed his the year before. All four will be back in Ticats colours in 2016.

The inside trio of Peter Dyakowski, Mike Filer and Ryan Bomben will all be returning next year after Filer and Bomben both signed three-year extensions during the season. Cohesion along the offensive line is a key to their success, and it was only when injuries took hold that the line had issues. Having those three men back solidifies the middle of the line and should make for an even better group next year.

That is what we know. Here is what we don’t: everything else.

Whether it be Guelph, stadium delays or the Pan Am Games, all the tumult for the Ticats has been off the field. For the first time since Kent Austin took over, we find ourselves dealing with on-field uncertainty.

The Ticats are not the only team dealing with the possibility of massive free agent losses — every team but Winnipeg, BC and Montreal have at least 20 players eligible to become free agents in February — but with more guys slated to hit the open market than any other team, the Ticats have the most work to do.

Names will be crossed off the list between now and the start of free agency, but it won’t be all of them. And there are some big names eligible to sign elsewhere come February. Ted Laurent, Andy Fantuz, Bryan Hall, Terrell Sinkfield, Bakari Grant, Justin Hickman, Erik Harris, Taylor Reed, Emanuel Davis, Justin Medlock, Brian Bulcke, and Courtney Stephen are just a few of the names that could in a different uniform in 2016.

As such, this offseason could see big changes in Hamilton for the first time in a long time.

Josh Smith has been writing about the Ticats and the CFL since 2010 and was sporting his beard way before it was cool. Will be long after, too.