On the first day of CFL free agency, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats landed one of the most sought after players available: their own.
The Ticats have re-signed Canadian defensive tackle Ted Laurent, who hit the open market on Tuesday at noon only to return to his old club a few hours later. It is a two-year deal and it will place him among the highest-paid non-quarterbacks in the league.
But money was only one factor in the decision, with fans, teammates and coaches all playing a role.
“I appreciate what the Ticats have done for me the last two years and I wanted to finish what we started,” Laurent said. “The fans showed a lot of love and it’s a first class organization. I like how they treat their players.”
Laurent is one of the best players at his position, a CFL all-star the last two seasons and the East Division’s Most Outstanding Canadian in 2014. Both the Saskatchewan Roughriders and Montreal Alouettes are said to have made strong pitches to the 28-year-old.
“I wanted to see what the market was about,” Laurent said. “But I didn’t want to go somewhere else and start over.”
Hamilton also re-signed Canadian receiver Andy Fantuz on Tuesday. The 32-year-old has spent the last four seasons with the Ticats, making 241 catches for almost 3,000 yards. The Chatham native has spent 10 seasons in the CFL, winning 2010 Most Outstanding Canadian award.
While productive when healthy, Fantuz has missed 20 games due to injury over the past three seasons, including nine last year.
The team also dipped into the free agent pool by signing free agent international linebacker Alex Hoffman-Ellis. The 26-year-old played in 18 games over two seasons with the B.C. Lions and started in 10 contests at weak side linebacker last year. The 6-foot, 230 pound native of Los Angeles made 57 tackles, registered eight more on special teams and hauled in three interceptions in 2015.
With all-star linebacker Simoni Lawrence already patrolling the weak side for Hamilton, Hoffman-Ellis may move to the middle in place of Taylor Reed, who is currently a free agent.
The Ticats also lost a couple of familiar faces. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers agreed to terms with kicker Justin Medlock and defensive back Brandon Stewart signed with the B.C. Lions.
The 32-year-old Medlock has played five seasons in the CFL, including three with the Ticats in two separate stints. He hit on 89.4 per cent of his field goals last season, led the CFL scoring and nailed a 47-yard game-winner in the East semi-final win over Toronto.
The Ticats talked to Medlock before free agency began but never made an offer.
“I have no hard feelings towards them. I loved my time there and it’s a great city, a great organization,” Medlock said. “Wearing black and gold and kicking a playoff game-winner in that stadium, it was an awesome feeling. It’s a great memory of my time there.”
Laurent, Medlock and Fantuz were just three of the big names involved in a frenzied first day of CFL free agency. With a record number of players available, a number of the big names came off the board on Tuesday.
The Bombers made the biggest splash, signing Canadian running back Andrew Harris, defensive linemen Keith Shologan and Euclid Cummings, Montreal-born running back Pascal Lochard, veteran offensive lineman Jeff Keeping and receiver Ryan Smith.
Ottawa signed quarterback Trevor Harris away from the Toronto Argonauts while the Argos signed veteran offensive linemen Josh Bourke and Cory Watman.
After losing Bourke, Montreal re-signed Canadian receiver and former Ticat Sam Giguere, receiver Kenny Stafford and veteran defensive back Jovon Johnson.
B.C. signed receiver Nick Moore while Canadian pass catcher Shamawd Chambers signed with the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
– with files from CP