Free agency could have been a disaster for Ticats. It (definitely) wasn’t.

For the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, the free agency period actually started last Labour Day.

Going into that contest with the Toronto Argonauts — a 42-12 beat-down by the home side if you need a pleasant reminder — the Ticats were slated to lose five of the seven Canadian players who started that day. An exodus of that magnitude would have been a ratio apocalypse.

Instead, vice president of football operations Kent Austin was able to get all five nationals under contract, starting with offensive linemen Ryan Bomben and Mike Filer who were signed to three-year extensions shortly after the Labour Day win. The others — defensive tackle Ted Laurent, corner Courtney Stephen and receiver Andy Fantuz — were signed after free agency began in February.

Those five signings mean this free agency period — and it’s more or less done now — was an unqualified success for the Ticats. While other teams were more active (particularly Saskatchewan and Winnipeg), Hamilton’s haul of Canadian talent is arguably more important in the grand scheme of things: elite-level national talent is the most coveted commodity in the CFL.

In addition to the big names, Hamilton also did an excellent job of retaining their national depth, again mostly by re-signing their own guys. Fullback C.O. Prime, linebacker Frederic Plesius, defensive tackle Michael Atkinson and receiver Giovanni Aprile aren’t household names, but they provide the structural underpinnings of the roster: Canadian players who excel on special teams, back up starters and can start in a pinch.

On the American side of the roster, the Ticats’ successes are not as clear cut. While the team did well in re-signing quarterback Jeremiah Masoli and all-star defensive back Emanuel Davis, while adding linebacker Alex Hoffman-Ellis, Austin — who has generally shied away from signing veteran international players away from other teams during his time in Hamilton — invested in defensive end John Chick and receiver/return man Chad Owens.

Both players are undoubtedly big names with impressive resumes, but they are also on the wrong side of 30 and with declining production numbers. Calculated risks, to say the least.

The team also allowed a significant amount of veteran talent to walk away. While the departures of Erik Harris and Terrell Sinkfield to the NFL couldn’t be helped, kicker Justin Medlock, receiver Bakari Grant, defensive linemen Justin Hickman and Bryan Hall, as well as linebacker Taylor Reed, have all left for other teams. Canadian defensive linemen Brian Bulcke and Arnaud Gascon-Nadon are gone, too.

Though the Ticats made some effort to retain a number of the departed players, there simply wasn’t enough dollars to go around for everyone. But for every big ticket item like big Ted Laurent, the Ticats need to find a quality player earning entry-level money. So an unknown like Drake Nevis — who spent last season backing up Hall — becomes a de facto starter, while the team hopes that up-and-coming sophomores like Tiquan Underwood and Terrence Tolliver can fill in for the likes of Grant and Sinkfield. This is where the scouting department earns its money.

Hamilton still has some holes to fill. Kicker is, quite obviously, an issue. The departures of players like Ed Gainey and Brandon Stewart means the American portion of the secondary will need to be retooled (and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.) After a couple of seasons of remarkable continuity, the defence will have a very different look week one.

Still, the Ticats entered free agency with more free agents than any other team in the CFL (and that’s not counting Filer and Bomben) and emerged with a roster that should make them competitive in the East Division. At the very least, they should have a shot of winning the most important non-playoff game of the year: Labour Day.