Ticats face free agent challenges (and opportunities)

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats have a number of top players set to hit free agency next February, setting the stage for a quick rebuild – or a continuation of the struggles that have plagued the 2017 season.

The Ticats have 18 players currently on the roster who are in the final year of their contracts. They include starting quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, all-star Canadian defensive tackle Ted Laurent, linebacker Larry Dean, as well as top receivers Luke Tasker, Andy Fantuz and Brandon Banks.

Nine of the players on the list started last Friday’s loss to the Calgary Stampeders and eleven are nationals, including three of the team’s eight Canadian starters: Laurent, Fantuz and Justin Capicciotti. Other key contributors include fullback C.O. Prime, long snapper Aaron Crawford, leading special teams tackler Jay Langa and third-string quarterback Everett Golson.

The team will also have to make some hard decisions around some high priced veterans including quarterback Zach Collaros, who lost his starting job after eight games this season, linebacker Simoni Lawrence (whose numbers declined this season) and defensive back Emanuel Davis, who has fallen out of the starting line up after re-signing as a free agent last off-season.

The team does, however, have a solid core around which to build. Canadian offensive lineman Ryan Bomben, Mike Filer and Brandon Revenberg are all under contract for 2018, as is valuable back up Landon Rice. Canadian safety Courtney Stephen has another year on his deal as does receiver Shamawd Chambers and special teamer Geoff Hughes.

American offensive tackle Ryker Mathews, defensive back Richard Leonard, defensive tackle Davon Coleman, receiver Jalen Saunders and running back Alex Green are all slated to return on the second year of their entry-level contracts, meaning they will be affordable.

Defensive back Abdul Kanneh, who missed much of this season due to injury, should be back and veteran receiver Terrence Toliver is also aiming to be healthy in time for training camp next season after suffering a knee injury week one. Kicker Kenny Allen is under contract as well.

The team also has some up-and-coming national talent under its control including defensive end Connor McGough (10th in the CFL in special teams tackles), defensive tackle Justin Vaughn and linebacker Terrell Davis. Offensive lineman Braden Schram and Brett Golding, drafted last year, should continue to develop.

It should also be noted that it’s unlikely that all the pending free agents will sign elsewhere. Of the 28 players who were set to be FAs last season, five signed contract extensions before the February deadline and three more ultimately returned to the club.

The other big question: who will be making the decisions?

While vice-president of football operations Kent Austin has two years remaining on his contract, it’s unclear whether owner Bob Young and CEO Scott Mitchell will choose to make changes in football operations (and after the Art Briles fiasco, there are sure to be questions about Mitchell’s status as well.) The fate of general manager Eric Tillman and head coach June Jones, who was recruited by Tillman, are also a question mark.

Turnover is a way of life in the CFL, especially after veteran players were allowed to sign one year contracts as part of the collective bargaining agreement signed before the 2014 season.

The 2018 Hamilton Tiger-Cats will undoubtedly look very different from this year’s version – but after the season they’ve had, perhaps that’s a good thing.

Notable Pending Free Agents
QB Jeremiah Masoli*
DT Ted Laurent
LB Larry Dean*
KR/REC Brandon Banks*
DE Justin Capicciotti
REC Andy Fantuz
REC Luke Tasker*
OT Tony Washington*
DB Osagie Odiase*
FB C.O. Prime
DB Demond Washington*
DT Mike Atkinson
LB Nick Shortill
DB Jay Langa
LS Aaron Crawford
DT Evan Gill
QB Everett Golson*
LB Mitchell Barnett

Key potential returnees
QB Zach Collaros*
LB Simoni Lawrence*
REC Jalen Saunders*
DB Richard Leonard*
DB Courtney Stephen
OL Ryan Bomben
OL Brandon Revenberg
OL Mike Filer
DB Abdul Kanneh*
OL Ryker Mathews*
REC Shamawd Chambers
DT Davon Coleman*
RB Alex Green*
DB Emanuel Davis*
DE Adrian Tracy*
OL Landon Rice
LB Geoff Hughes
REC Terrence Toliver*
DT Nikita Whitlock*
DB Mike Daly
DB Don Unamba*
LB Terrell Davis
KR Willie Quinn*
QB Dane Evans*
K Kenny Allen*
K Sergio Castillo*

* denotes international

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