Brandon Banks has taken a $50,000 pay cut to remain with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and while it may be difficult to find a silver lining in such a transaction – more like a lead lining – there is at least some upside for the diminutive return man.
First and foremost, he still has a job. In most cases where a player takes a salary reduction of this magnitude – and renegotiating deals happens across the CFL – the alternative is outright release and with training camp just days away from opening, Banks would have been left with precious little time to find a new home and a new deal.
And while he would have likely found a new home, it would not have been for the $165,000 in “guaranteed” money – signing bonus, base salary and housing allowance – he was due to make this season. With most teams having already made their big-ticket off-season signings, finding a club with the cap room to make such a deal would have been difficult in the extreme.
Fair or not, Banks’ perceived value has dropped precipitously. While he has been a divisional all-star the last three seasons and the East’s Most Outstanding Special Teams Player the last two years, that’s largely on the strength of his kick return touchdowns. Banks scored four times in 2015 and three times again last year (none after Aug. 13): they make for great highlights and have made him a well-known player around the CFL.
But a deeper dive into the stats shows that Banks’ numbers were, overall, exceedingly pedestrian. His 9.6 yard punt return average was 12th in the CFL (minimum 30 returns) and his 22.6 yard kick off return average was fifth. While it’s not entirely fair to blame Banks for the performance of an entire unit, he did not look like a particularly dynamic player for long stretches of last season.
Throw in the off-field issues – family support issues that caused him to miss more than a week of training camp and two game suspension in October for violating the league’s substance abuse policy – and the fact that he’s already 29 and Banks’ value decreases even further. Because of his size – listed generously at 5-foot-7 – he’s not an every-down receiver and will also be seen as an injury risk (despite the fact he’s been remarkably durable.)
This is one of the hard realties of the CFL: with a hard salary cap in place, elite-level Americans generally only get elite-level money for as long as they perform at their very peak. As soon as their performance begins to decline – or is even perceived to have declined – their earning power lessens exponentially. There are just too many other talented American players willing to play for the minimum including, not coincidentally, former NFL return man Jalen Saunders who signed with the Ticats this week.
The Ticats, as currently constructed, are a veteran team with a number of quality Canadians and an elite-level quarterback – a trifecta that puts stress on the salary cap in a hurry. When you’re paying Zach Collaros big bucks as well as lucrative deals to Luke Tasker and Simoni Lawrence and Terrence Toliver and Ted Laurent and Courtney Stephen and Ryan Bomben… well, something’s – or someone – has got to give. In this case, it was Brandon Banks.
The re-worked deal should, however, give Banks at least some measure of job security. As part of the new pact, he receives an $18,000 signing bonus and because that money counts against the cap, it makes it less likely the team will release him. If he has another monster season, he could cash in with one more decent pay day as a free agent next February.
So much of what happens next will depend on how Banks deals with the sleight of being forced to re-do his deal. If he sulks – and that’s within the realm of possibility – things could unravel in a hurry. But he uses it as motivation – and this is a player who has dealt with naysayers since grade school – he could become more dangerous than ever.