Eric Norwood just got hosed by the nasty end of the football business – and he’s not even mad about it.
The Hamilton Tiger-Cats released the veteran defensive end on Monday, a fan-favourite who played exceedingly well in his three seasons with the club. He was an all-star in 2014 when he tied for second in the league in sacks, then had seven more in 10 games last season. The 27-year-old also had two fumble recovery touchdowns, including a memorable 106-yarder against the Edmonton Eskimos.
But Norwood also missed eight games with a variety of ailments last season, then suffered a significant knee injury – including an ACL tear – in the East semi-final win over the Toronto Argonauts last November. He wouldn’t have been ready for training camp and would have likely missed at least half of the Ticat season.
And so the Ticats did the math, both in terms of dollars and cents and the ever-valuable roster spots, and let him go. Norwood was entering the final season of his contract and was set to earn in neighbourhood of $90,000 and while that number wouldn’t have counted against the salary cap during his stay on the six-game injured list, it’s still money out of the football operations budget.
Vice president of football operations and head coach Kent Austin delivered the news.
“Kent called and told me – it was strictly a business move. They have training camp coming up and they need the roster spot,” Norwood said. “I can’t be mad at them.”
Raging against the football machine would hardly do him much good, anyway. With non-guaranteed contracts, players in both the CFL and NFL face the same risks: perform or get cut, stay healthy or go home.
“It’s fair but it’s also the shitty part of the business,” Norwood said. “We’re in the business of production and if I can’t produce immediately, then they need to find someone else.”
Which, of course, they will. The move comes just days after the Ticats held their off-season mini-camp, which included several import defensive ends, several of which the team is high on. The team also signed veteran John Chick to a free agent contract in January and for every big ticket item on the ledger there needs to be a couple of budget buys on the other end of the pay scale. Increasingly, players in the middle – guys like Norwood – get squeezed out.
That said, Norwood acknowledges he was planning to test the free agent waters after the 2016 season and this simply accelerates that timetable. It doesn’t sound like he’ll be unemployed for long: as of Monday afternoon he’d already heard from four or five teams and his most recent medical update was a good one.
“My doctor told me the last time I saw him that I’d be ready sometime in July or August,” he said. “I’m running and cutting now, back dunking a basketball. Now it’s just a matter of rebuilding my endurance.”
Norwood also left the door open to a return to the Ticats and was careful to leave all his bridges unburned.
“I’ve got nothing but good things to say about Hamilton, nothing but great things to say about Kent,” he said, sounding very much like he meant it. “I appreciate everything they’ve done for me and I love the city of Hamilton. Everybody was good to me.”
Except the game.