Things were just starting to slow down in CFL free agency on Thursday, most of the big names having already secured their new deals when… OH MY GOODNESS, THAT’S CHAD OWENS’ MUSIC.
To the uninitiated and mildly sensible, that’s a professional wrestling reference and good a one, given that Owens – a player synonymous with the Toronto Argonauts who signed with the Ticats on Thursday – just performed one of the greatest face turns in the history of the storied rivalry.
Owens has played six seasons in the CFL, the last five as one of the most prominent faces of the Argonaut franchise. His career numbers are Hall-of-Fame worthy, including a 2012 season that saw him set a league record for all-purpose yards and earn the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player award. Toronto won a Grey Cup that year, too, in front of – and this wasn’t exactly a common occurrence – a packed house at Rogers Centre.
His value went far beyond football. Owens was on the cover of the team’s media guide last year and stood with assembled big wigs on the grass at BMO Field last May when the Argonauts announced their sale and move to a new home, starting this season. Now, Owens will play there only as visitor.
But for the Argos, football took precedence over public relations. Owens’ age (soon to be 34), injury history (he’s missed 17 games over the last three seasons) and declining production (from 16.6 yards per touch in 2009 to 11.3 in 2015) and the rise of some promising replacements made him, in these cruel football times, expendable.
Which doesn’t necessarily make this a bad move for the Ticats. The deal is one-year, team-friendly and likely laden with incentives. The team lost speedster Terrell Sinkfield to the NFL and Owens will be given a chance to contribute as a slot receiver and return man, providing valuable insurance for Brandon Banks and the team’s largely unproven crew of receivers.
It won’t be what he’s used to but taking on a new role with a new club is often easier than accepting a diminished part in the place where you’ve been a star. It makes sense for him on other levels, too: Owens gets to stay close to home – he lives full-time with his family in Mississauga – and continue prepping for life after football.
But there’s no question that seeing Chad Owens, beacon of the Double Blue, sporting Hamilton Tiger-Cats colours is going to take some getting used to. It’s happened before, of course – Ben Zambiasi, Mike O’Shea, Arland Bruce and Dave Stala have all switched sides in modern times. But Owens was both synonymous with being an Argo and hated by Ticat fans, for sleights both real (killing their team) and perceived (whining, playing up injury, preening.)
At least he’s on their side now. The man has run wild on the Ticats throughout his career – he beat them with a last minute, 69-yard touchdown catch in 2014 – and will undoubtedly be supremely motivated to a) prove he can still play and b) stick it to his old team. Hating the Argos and having a chip on your shoulder is the default setting for many Hamiltonians and Owens is, by all accounts, a pretty good dude. He’ll embrace his new surroundings and the mojo that comes with it.
My guess is the faithful will come around, too – right around the time Owens starts lighting it up on the football field. Let’s just hope the Flyin’ Hawaiian keeps his entrance music to himself: after all, nobody likes the ukulele.
Notes: Former Ticats defensive tackle Brian Bulcke has signed with the Toronto Argonauts. The 28-year-old is coming off a pair of injury-plagued seasons: he tore his bicep in Sept. 2014, missing the team’s second Grey Cup run, then suffered a knee injury in training camp the following spring and missed all of 2015. Hamilton did, however, sign Canadian defensive tackle Mike Atkinson to a two-year deal… Swayze Waters, the free agent kicker that was being floated as potential replacement for the departed Justin Medlock, has signed with the Carolina Panthers of the NFL.