One of the most anticipated events of every offseason is the start of free agency. In part two of a two-part Ticats free agency primer, I will take a look at which potential free agents the Ticats should/might target.
With the Ticats about to enter free agency with more than 30 players not under contract, the team will probably need to dip their toes into the free agent pool and bring a few new players to Hamilton. Under Kent Austin’s stewardship, the team has not been shy about aggressively targeting players they want. With so many players possibly leaving, especially starters, the Ticats could be in for a major makeover. Here are a few players that would look mighty good in black and gold.
The Ticats have three players who all started the majority of the time at tackle last year — Joel Figueroa, Jeremy Lewis and Jake Olson — slated to hit the open market on Tuesday. Hamilton also has a number of starting-calibre Canadians — Andy Fantuz, Ted Laurent, Courtney Stephen, Brian Bulcke — also eligible to sign elsewhere, meaning the team could be in need of a new starting tackle and some starting Canadians. Enter Josh Bourke. The long-time Montreal Alouette and perennial all-star would be the perfect fit for the team. Hamilton could then start four players along the offensive line and protect themselves against losing one of their starting Canadians.
Linebacker is another spot where Hamilton could look to upgrade. With both Erik Harris gone and Taylor Reed possibly leaving, the Ticats will need to replenish their linebacking corps and a good place to find someone would be to look up the road to Toronto. Cory Greenwood spent five seasons in the NFL before finally making his way to the CFL. He only played eight games last year before being lost to injury, but he came back for the playoffs and showed what kind of player he can be. Getting talented, versatile Canadians has always been important to Kent Austin, and Greenwood fits the bill perfectly.
Another Argo that the Ticats might kick the tires on is defensive tackle Cleyon Laing. If the team loses one or both of Ted Laurent and Brian Bulcke, the Ticats could reach up the QEW and relocate Laing to the Hammer. Laing has not been Laurent-like, but he has been Laurent-lite the last couple of seasons. He will probably cost less than Laurent, but you will get similar production. If the Ticats fail to retain the services of of their two-time all-star, scooping up Laing would not be a bad idea.
While the above three might be wishful thinking, this next guy is someone who actually has a really good shot at signing with the Ticats: receiver Shamawd Chambers. Chambers’ career so far has been marred by injury, but the guy has a ton of talent and may finally be ready to unleash that talent on the league. The Ticats could very well be in need of a Canadian receiver with Andy Fantuz still unsigned, and Ticats linebacker Simoni Lawrence has been recruiting his former Edmonton teammate hard during the winter. The Ticats have started two Canadians in the receiving corps in all three of Kent Austin’s seasons as head coach, so if the team does lose Fantuz, Chambers would be a great replacement.
Signing American free agents is usually an unwise tactic, but if you are going to try and lure internationals away from their previous team, you should aim for superstar players. Yes, they will cost more, but they can also be worth it. Teams get in trouble when they pay more for potential than actual performance (think the Bombers signing Darvin Adams last year). One such player who has proven his worth in the CFL is Alouettes linebacker Winston Venable. Venable was spectacular in 2015, finishing fourth in the league in tackles, while also picking up five sacks, and was Montreal’s nominee for Most Outstanding Defensive Player. He is a versatile player who would be an excellent addition to the Ticats linebacking group.
Justin Medlock may be headed to another city, so that leaves a vacancy at kicker. So why not reach up the QEW and steal Swayze Waters from the Argos? Aside from his terrible performance in the East Semi-Final last year, Waters has been nothing short of spectacular in the games he has played in Hamilton. It all started back on the day the stadium was opened, Labour Day, 2014. His placement on punts that day was jaw dropping in its excellence. He placed two coffin-corner punts perfectly, getting the ball out at the one-yard line both times. Doing that once is amazing, doing it twice in the same game is otherworldly. Waters also might be the one kicker who has as big a leg as Medlock, making him a perfect replacement if No. 7 leaves for greener pastures. If Medlock is not in the team’s plans, getting Waters to head to Hamilton would not be the worst idea. He can do all three kicking jobs superbly, which is an advantage he has over Medlock. Medlock’s below-average punting forced the team to use two players in the kicking game, which is never ideal, especially when one of them is an American. Bringing in Waters would put all the kicking duties on one player. Watching Medlock kick elsewhere would be tough, but replacing him with Waters would soften the blow.
The Ticats showed they were not afraid to sign older players when the team inked 33-year-old John Chick last month. Could the Ticats dip into the veteran bag once again and pull out a guy like Keon Raymond? Raymond, like Chick, is 33, and also like Chick, looks to still have some mileage left on those tires. A gifted player who can play in the secondary as well as wide-side linebacker, Raymond could be the final veteran piece that the Ticats need to finally get over the hump.
The Ticats are in danger of losing a lot of players in the secondary and might need to replenish their back end with a few players from other CFL squads. The first place they should look is Edmonton, where Aaron Grymes remains unsigned. Grymes had an outstanding season in 2015, finishing with four interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown, and was named a league all-star for the first time in his career. Grymes is likely to have many suitors should he hit the open market and the Ticats should be one of them.