During the Kent Austin era – and we’re now entering year six – Hamilton has largely focussed on re-signing their own players and adding a key veteran piece or two over spending large amounts of valuable cap space on a big-name guy in CFL free agency. With a free agent class that’s been thinned by a number of players re-upping, that’s unlikely to change when the market opens next Tuesday.
Which isn’t to say the Ticats don’t have a few holes to fill. The club has made it clear they are trying to re-sign a few pending free agents, including receiver Luke Tasker, Canadian defensive tackle Ted Laurent and linebacker Larry Dean and the outcome of those negotiations will obviously impact the team’s strategy next week.
Should he hit the market, Laurent will draw considerable interest as a supremely talented Canadian player. He’s still only 30 and while he missed six games last year with a hamstring injury, he’s been generally durable over his career. The Ticats are likely hoping to bring down his salary from the $250,000 or so he’s been making the last couple seasons but a team like the Alouettes, desperate as they are for Canadian talent, might be willing to back up the Brinks truck to bring in a guy with Montreal roots.
Laurent went to free agency two years ago before ultimately re-signing with the Ticats and a similar scenario may play out here as he gets a sense of what the market truly is for his services.
Tasker and Dean may elect to do the same. The going rate for premier American receivers – and Tasker is 27 with two 1,000-yard seasons on his resume – is often in the $200,000 range but Hamilton may be hoping for a discount in light of Tasker’s stated preference of staying close to his Buffalo home. Still, with S.J. Green, Adarius Bowman and Diontae Spencer all signed, Tasker is the best receiver left on the board and that could improve his value if he’s willing to test the market.
Dean’s situation is somewhat different. Coming off his cheap rookie deal, Dean may be looking to cash in but there are a number of American middle linebackers slated to be available, including Bear Woods, Taylor Reed and Deron Mayo and that’s likely to drive down the going rate.
Beyond middle linebacker – and again, that problem is solved if Dean re-signs before Tuesday – here are three other spots the Ticats may look to address in free agency.
This has been a trouble spot since the departure of Erik Harris two seasons ago as the team has cycled multiple players without finding a permanent solution. They finished last season with Abdul Kanneh in the role and while he plays with the appropriate level of ferocity, he’s undersized and likely better suited to his old halfback spot.
There are some players with experience at this position – a tough one because it requires the cover skills of a defensive back with the run-stuffing ability of a linebacker – set to become available. Otha Foster, who has played 54 games over four seasons with Edmonton and Saskatchewan, is the best of the bunch but B.C.’s Chandler Fenner or Ottawa’s Jerrell Gavins might also be a fit.
The defensive secondary improved steadily after an extremely rough start to the 2017 season and most of the key pieces, including all-star halfback Richard Leonard and Canadian safety Courtney Stephen are slated to return. But the release of Emanuel Davis, who fell out of favour with the coaching staff, means the team could dip into a deep free agent class for some help.
Aaron Grymes and Tommie Campbell are the best of the bunch but both are expected to re-sign with their existing teams. Mitchell White is an excellent player while T.J. Heath can play halfback as well as corner. Other possibilities include B.C.’s Ronnie Yell and Toronto’s Akwasi Owusu-Ansah.
This is a bit of an out-of-the-box suggestion but if Laurent does leave via free agency, the Ticats will be in the market for another Canadian starter. They would have several options – and that’s before a CFL Draft that sees them stacked with picks – including using a national at the running back position.
The team already has Mercer Timmis and Sean Thomas-Erlington in place and the addition of veteran Jerome Messam – a Toronto native who Calgary has said they won’t be re-signing before free agency begins – or Kienan LaFrance would turn running back into a ratio-breaking spot. They’d both be cheaper than Laurent as well.