The Hamilton Tiger-Cats have suffered their first major injury of the 2016 season and the first game is still 100 days away.
News that all-star Canadian safety Craig Butler will likely miss the entire year as a result of knee issues present the Ticats with a major hole to fill. Butler’s name was written on the team’s depth chart in pen, an unquestioned lock to be of seven national starters.
The 27-year-old has not only been an elite-level player for Hamilton but a versatile one as well, a guy that can play multiple positions – including the tough strong side linebacker spot – and provide key ratio flexibility. Without him, the Ticats will have to make some tough decisions that could potentially impact both sides of the ball.
Option number one may be to promote third-year man Mike Daly into a starting spot. The McMaster product made six starts last season and played well, registering three interceptions and showing a nose for the football – a skill he attributes in part to working closely with Butler last off-season. He’s a bit smaller than his teammate and 15 pounds lighter so durability will be a question mark.
Other possibilities including moving guys around and making a ratio change. The Ticats could move Courtney Stephen to safety while playing four American defensive backs, then insert another Canadian elsewhere. Frederic Plesius could get a shot at middle linebacker, the team could use two national defensive tackles or two Canadian wide receivers, areas where they have decent depth.
Butler’s injury could also affect the team’s draft strategy. If they elect to start both Daly and Stephen, Canadian depth in the secondary could quickly become an issue, particularly after the departures of Mike Edem and Neil King via free agency. There are several highly-touted prospects in the upcoming draft class including Michigan State’s Arjen Colquhoun and UBC’s Taylor Loffler.
At the very least, the Ticats may be forced into going away from their preferred approach – drafting the best player available, regardless of position – to something that targets a position where they need support.
Speaking of free agency, Butler’s injury makes the re-signing of Canadian’s Stephen and defensive tackle Ted Laurent all that more important. The loss of all of three of those players, along with national defensive linemen Arnaud Gascon-Nadon and Brian Bulcke (who did sign elsewhere) would have been catastrophic when coupled with Butler’s injury.
Of course, bad luck is nothing new. Hamilton lost not one but two Canadian players to freak off-season injuries before the 2015 campaign when both defensive tackle Linden Gaydosh and receiver Spencer Watt tore their Achilles in separate training incidents. Both expect to be back this season.
But losing Butler is something different: replacing a proven, all-star national player will be the first substantial challenge for the Ticats this season.