Free Agency Analysis: Ticats banking 2017 squad can get it done this year

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats clearly believe the players (and coach) who sparked last season’s late run of success will continue their winning ways in 2018.

The Ticats continued to prioritize re-patriating their own players in the moments leading up to the opening of free agency on Tuesday, re-signing Canadian defensive tackle Ted Laurent, international linebacker Larry Dean and national linebacker Nick Shortill.

Laurent and Dean were expected to be two of the most sought-after free agents had they hit the open market and Shortill has potential as a ratio-breaking Canadian who plays mean special teams. Laurent is a two-time CFL all-star in his four years with Hamilton while Dean was the defensive captain the team’s nominee as outstanding player last season.

There were hardly alone in electing to stay put. So far this off-season vice-president of football operations Kent Austin re-signed a slew of pending free agents including quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, receivers Luke Tasker and Brandon Banks, offensive tackle Tony Washington as well as defensive end Justin Capicciotti.

The re-signings, coupled with the infusion of young talent that emerged last year, particularly receiver Jalen Saunders and defensive back Richard Leonard, and the Ticats will have a very familiar look to them. Of the 24 players who started the Week 20 game against Montreal last season, every single one is slated to return.

Which isn’t to say there won’t be changes. Fullback C.O. Prime remains a free agent and national linebacker Mitch Barnett, who played in all 18 games last season, signed in B.C.

And kicker will certainly be different.

The team’s biggest addition on day one came when the Ticats signed former Toronto Argonaut kicker Lirim Hajrullahu, who became a free agent on Tuesday. The Canadian was last seen kicking the Grey Cup-winning field goal, the culmination of a season in which the 27-year-old handled all three kicking jobs, hitting on 47-of-58 field goals (81 per cent) while posting a 44-yard punting average.

Born in Kosovo, Hajrullahu went to high school in St. Catharines and played his college ball at Western and his signing marks something of a departure for the Ticats who have held what essentially amounted to an open kicking competition in training camp the last two seasons in part to avoid paying big money to an established name.

While Hajrullahu’s reported $145,000 salary won’t break the bank on its own, the Ticats have spent some money to get last year’s team to become this year’s team. With the exception of Laurent – who went from a reported $275,000 to around $200,000 – players like Tasker ($175,000), Dean ($160,000) and Masoli ($235,000 plus $90,000 in playtime bonuses) – all got raises. So too did guys like Shortill, and earlier re-signings like Jay Langa and Brandon Revenberg.

All of which is the cost of doing business in the CFL but it may limit the Ticats in filling in the holes that remain. The team could likely use a veteran defensive back to solidify an inexperienced secondary and no team can ever have enough Canadian depth. Look for Austin to pick up some value in the coming days as prices drop after the initial flurry of activity.

The Ticats went 6-4 after June Jones took over as head coach on Labour – he’s also back – after the dreadful 0-8 start and were playing as well as any team in the league when the clock ran out on their season. To a man, they talked about missed opportunities and the feeling that they could have done so much more if given the chance.

Well, they’re going to get it.