Ticats take some small losses but hit their big free agency targets

On the day before free agency opened, Hamilton Tiger-Cats vice-president of football operations Kent Austin said the team was focussed on a couple of things: a few select targets on other teams and getting a couple of his current players under contract.

Done and done.

The Ticats shored up a suspect secondary on Tuesday, adding all-star defensive back Abdul Kanneh from the Ottawa Redblacks – a division rival – while re-signing veteran Emanuel Davis, one of the team’s few bright spots on the back end last season.

“He’s a very aggressive, competitive football player, plays the game the way we want it to be played,” Austin said of Kanneh, who he acknowledged was a Ticat priority. “He can play multiple positions and will bring an intensity to the secondary that will help with that group.”

The 26-year-old Kanneh has appeared in 43 games with the Ottawa Redblacks over the past three seasons, registering 138 defensive tackles, 12 interceptions, three sacks and five forced fumbles. He was an East Division all-star last season, and earned a CFL nod in 2015. He can play both corner and halfback.

Davis played in 17 games with the Ticats last season and has started 53 games in his four seasons with the club. He has 10 interceptions the last two seasons, including four returns for touchdowns. He also has 173 tackles, 24 special teams tackles and was a CFL all-star in 2015 and an East all-star last season.

According to sources, both players were pursued heavily by both the Ticats and the Argos before ultimately deciding to come to Hamilton. Linebacker Simoni Lawrence also Tweeted that he had been lobbying Davis to return to the fold, then celebrated his return.

“We came to the Ticats together going on our fifth year with each other we keep each other honest and accountable very happy!!” he wrote.

There were also a number of departures. Quarterback Jeff Mathews signed with Toronto while fellow pivot Jacory Harris inked a deal with Montreal. Defensive tackle Drake Nevis and receiver Matt Coates departed for Winnipeg while running back Kendial Lawrence returned to Edmonton and Canadian linebacker Ron Omara signed with Ottawa.

The loss of Nevis is likely the most significant, given that he started 14 games last year and that the Ticats have no obvious American replacement in waiting. The two quarterbacks were buried on the depth chart behind Zach Collaros and Jeremiah Masoli and youngster Everton Golson, signed last year, needs an opportunity to develop.

“There are some recognizable names but we have to make an evaluation on where they fit in the composition of our roster this year and where we’re going to spend our money,” Austin said. “We had other priorities and most of those priorities were set before free agency.”

Austin said the team will likely look to add a couple other of pieces, though they may wait until the market cools down a little. Former Ticat Terrell Sinkfield, who signed with the B.C. Lions when he returned from the NFL last September, could be a target and the team continues to make overtures to Canadian receiver Andy Fantuz.

“We’ve had discussions and extended an offer to him but it’s fluid right now,” Austin said. “It’s not imminent.”

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