In a mostly empty Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ locker room after their demoralizing loss to the Ottawa Redblacks Friday night, defensive end John Chick talked about what had to happen next for a team still winless on the season.
“The veterans, the old heads in the room have to stay positive, continue to preach the same thing,” Chick said. “The biggest thing is that we can’t start turning on each other, you have to keep your head up, keep grinding, keep working. It’s never giving up.”
Less than 48 hours later, the Ticats traded Chick to the Edmonton Eskimos.
From an asset management standpoint, the move makes perfect sense. The team gets instant salary cap savings and a second round pick in the CFL draft for an aging, expensive player whose contract would have been become fully guaranteed after the Labour Day game. Chick is also signed through next season.
The Ticats are 0-8 with Chick in the line up and he has just two sacks and 16 tackles after winning the team’s most outstanding defensive player award in his first year with the team last season. He’s 34-years-old and there are plenty of whispers – chatter, even – that he’s lost a step.
With injuries to their Canadians piling up, the team is playing a national at defensive end much of the time in Justin Capicciotti with a little Conner McGough mixed in. The team has another solid American vet in Adrian Tracy who’s both younger and cheaper than Chick and some new guys on roster (and neg list) they likely want to have a look at.
So yes, it’s all perfectly understandable. But by trading Chick, the Ticats have all but waved the white flag on the 2017 season.
They’ll say otherwise, of course, paying lip service to the remaining statistical possibilities – however slim – of making the post-season while highlighting the putrid nature of the East Division. But the players know and, judging by the reaction on social media Sunday afternoon, so do many of the fans.
Chick is universally respected inside the Ticats locker room and around the CFL, a genuinely good and decent human being whose professionalism and commitment to his craft is unparalleled. Even diminished – and let’s see how he does in Edmonton opposite Odell Willis before making the final call on that – Chick is still a very good player. The Ticats are worse today, on a number of fronts, than they were on Friday.
Let’s also take a second to remember there is a human element to this trade as well. Chick and his wife have eight kids, a number of whom are slated to begin school in Burlington in September. They work hard to stay together as a unit, despite the nomadic nature of pro football, and they’ll now have some difficult choices to make on the family front.
The deal will also heighten the extreme sense of uncertainty that already surrounds this football team. Chick was one of vice president of football operations Kent Austin’s guys and the two had a relationship dating back to the 2007 Saskatchewan Roughriders. Austin talked in glowing terms about Chick at every opportunity and if he can be dealt for cap savings and draft picks, then absolutely nobody is safe.
While it’s mostly true that CFL contracts aren’t guaranteed, there are exceptions for veteran players. Players with six or more years of service, like Chick, have the remainder of their deals for this season locked in after nine games (which happens on Labour Day.) Five-year vets are guaranteed after 10 games, four years after 11.
As is to be expected from a team that is 0-8 on the season, the Ticats have a number of underachieving, relatively high-priced veterans who are uncertain to be with the club in 2018. Paying all of them for the remainder of what now amounts to a glorified exhibition season makes little fiscal or football sense: better to save the cash and look to find a few new (and better) faces for next year.
Chick is a man of faith and often talked about the importance of keeping things in perspective in a much larger sense.
“For me, it’s always easy to see the light. Doesn’t mean it will be easy but it will be all the greater when you come out the other side,” he said Friday. “You just keep putting in the work and will happen.”
Chick has come out the other side, now on a team with legitimate Grey Cup aspirations. For the Ticats, his departure means the work is just beginning.