The Hamilton Tiger-Cats have had a productive off-season thus far, inking head coach June Jones to a contract extension and securing the services of free-agents-to-be Jeremiah Masoli and Brandon Banks, ensuring their starting quarterback and big-time playmaker will return in 2018. They also dealt former starter Zach Collaros, freeing up a big chunk of salary cap space.
But there’s still much to be done. With that in mind, here are five things the Ticats need to accomplish – and sooner rather than later.
1. Announce their coaching staff.
While most CFL teams have already named their coaches for the upcoming season, the Ticats have yet to do so. We know that offensive coordinator Stefan Ptaszek won’t be back as he’s taken the OC job with the UBC Thunderbirds. There’s chatter that offensive line coach Mike Markuson and running backs coach Corey Grant, two more holdovers from the staff of former head coach Kent Austin, are out as well.
One thing to watch for: the amount of CFL experience among the coaches on the offensive side of the football. While Ptaszek may have been OC in name only – Jones called the plays – he did serve as translator, helping to morph the run-and-shoot concepts into something that would work on the bigger field.
2. Resolve the Manziel situation.
It feels like it’s been all Johnny, all the time since news broke last August that the Ticats had worked out the controversial quarterback. The recent outlandish contract demands by his agent – coupled with an arbitrary and meaningless deadline of Jan. 31 – has done little to quell the circus atmosphere that seems to follow Manziel everywhere. Getting him under contract – or deciding to move on – would go some way to quelling the constant chatter and speculation (at least for now.)
2a. Find a backup quarterback (if Johnny isn’t coming.)
If Manziel is coming to Hamilton, it will be as the back up (no matter what he and his agent may think.) But if a deal can’t be reached, then the Ticats are still in need of a solid No. 2 behind Masoli.
With Collaros gone and third-year man Everett Golson set to become a free agent (and he’s thrown exactly four regular season passes) the Ticats have just Dane Evans on the roster at quarterback – and he has even less experience than Golson.
Unfortunately, the options aren’t great. Veteran Kevin Glenn, a former Ticat, signed with Edmonton on Monday and the only other experienced veteran is Darian Durant, who has been released by Montreal. After that, we’re talking about pending free agents like Drew Willy and Dan LeFevour.
3. Figure out their ratio
Based on their roster at the moment, the Ticats have five of their Canadian starters locked down: offensive linemen Brandon Revenberg, Mike Filer and Ryan Bomben will all be back, as will receiver Shamawd Chambers and safety Courtney Stephen. The team has plenty of depth in those spots as well, which is nice.
But that still leaves the team needing two more starters. Defensive tackle Ted Laurent and defensive end Justin Capicciotti are both set to be free agents in February and their departure would leave the Ticats with precious little experience at those spots: as well as they played in their rookie seasons, it would be a lot to ask tackle Justin Vaughn and end Connor McGough to start as sophomore’s.
How the Ticats plan to fill those remaining two Canadian spots will dictate much of their off-season approach.
4. Lock up some pending free agents
With free agency set to open at noon on Feb. 13, the Ticats still have some time to get some of their own guys back under contract. Masoli and Banks were big gets, to be sure, but there are a couple of useful pieces Hamilton may want to repatriate.
Laurent and Capicciotti, the two Canadian starters we just mentioned, would be obvious candidates but both may want to see what they can get on the open market – there are plenty of nationals set to be available but few with the proven track record of this duo.
Receivers Luke Tasker and Andy Fantuz have been fan favourites (not to mention productive) but how they fit in Jones’ speed-focussed offence is an open question.
But middle linebacker Larry Dean, left tackle Tony Washington, national fullback C.O. Prime and Canadian linebacker Nick Shortill are four guys that Hamilton could likely use – at the right price.
5. Address some needs
While the Ticats certainly showed improvement over the latter half of 2017, finishing 6-4 in their last 10, the club still has question marks in some key areas.
While Kenny Allen looked good in limited action, whether he’s a bona-fide CFL kicker remains an open question. The defensive secondary was unsettled for much of the season – only Richard Leonard started all 18 games – and there will be a big hole in the middle if Dean goes elsewhere. Whether Abdul Kanneh can play a full season at SAM – he’s undersized for the role – is a concern as well.
The Ticats have a coach, a quarterback and their big-play guy – and all were questions marks when last season was ending. But if they hope to return to relevancy in the East Division in 2018, there’s still some work to be done.