Releasing Dyakowski makes sense for Ticats, still feels wrong

The phone rings once, twice, three times …

“Peter Dyakowski, Toronto Argonauts.”

Even on what must have been a difficult day, Peter Dyakowski’s sense of humour — quirky as it is — remained intact.

Until his release on Thursday, Dyakowski had been the Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ longest-serving member, having spent his entire 10-year career with the Ticats after being selected by the club in the second round of the 2006 CFL draft.

He is not just a recognizable face in this community but its ambassador across the country. He was crowned Canada’s Smartest Person after a 2012 contest on CBC television and appeared as a contestant on “Jeopardy!” in 2014. For a league in desperate need of well-spoken, likable personalties, Dyakowski managed it from the generally anonymous left guard spot.

But his tenure in Hamilton came to an end in a rather sudden and ignominious manner, released via a seven-line news release that featured two sentences from vice-president of football operations Kent Austin. It was a tough ending and Dyakowski — like many long-standing Ticats before him — likely deserved better in some alternate universe where football isn’t a harsh and unfair business.

“I don’t really want to get into the nitty-gritty. A lot of guys leave a team and they get hung up on how they left it. I look back and I’ve got phenomenal memories,” Dyakowski said before firing a shot in Austin’s general direction. “The team is bigger than a couple of people who make decisions at any one time.”

Sentiment aside, from a football and salary cap perspective, this move makes a lot of sense for the Ticats.

Dyakowski will be 33 in April and while he enjoyed a remarkable renaissance two seasons ago after coming all the way back from a torn patella suffered in the 2013 Grey Cup game, his mobility and flexibility has clearly begun to wane. He still has plenty of veteran savvy — though he’s always been prone to the occasional mental lapse — but the physical skills are starting to diminish. There’s no shame in that, it’s just the awful clock of the natural world doing its thing.

Rookie Brandon Revenberg started taking reps from Dyakowski early last season and had fully supplanted him as the starter by season’s end — only the youngster’s shift to tackle due to ratio needs kept the veteran in the starting lineup for the playoffs.

With veterans Ryan Bomben and Mike Filer fully established, the Ticats also have some young offensive lineman in development — Mathieu Girard showed last year he’s ready to contribute, and Everton Williams needs a chance to show he can.

All of them are younger and, in most cases, cheaper than Dyakowski, who made in the neighbourhood of $160,000 last season and was set to make a similar amount again this year — far too much for a player who won’t be starting. The team offered Dyakowski the opportunity to retire or return at much lower salary and the opportunity to compete for a backup job at training camp — with no guarantees that he’d be on the roster.

All this doesn’t mean he can’t help the Toronto Argonauts, who signed him to a two-year contract in excess of $100,000 per season — an appropriate number if they think Dyakowski can play a sixth-man role. But the Ticats have other younger, cheaper and more versatile options.

Dyakowski acknowledged it will be a little strange pulling on the Double Blue for the first time in training camp, but he seemed legitimately excited at the prospect of continuing his CFL career while not having to uproot his young family — he and wife Rachel had their first child last summer — from their home in Hamilton.

“It’s funny because over the years, I’ve had a lot of fun with the rivalry, to put it mildly, and now I get to be on the other side of it,” he said. “I’m jumping headfirst in with the Argos. I’m all in. I’m turning onto a new page of my career and I’m looking forward to making new memories.”

Then he made a joke about giving away all his Ticat gear to similarly-sized family members before acknowledging that sentiment will require he keep some it.

“I was fortunate to have the time I had in Hamilton. I had a terrific run and the support of phenomenal fans. People were great to me, the city was great to me,” he said. “I value the 10 years.”

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