When the Hamilton Tiger-Cats traded John Chick last August, it felt like they were waving the white flag on the season.
The team had just fallen to 0-8 and was on the verge of a full-blown existential crisis: by the time they played again on Labour Day, June Jones had replaced Kent Austin as head coach, Jeremiah Masoli was the new starting quarterback and Art Briles had come and (very quickly) gone.
In retrospect, however, both the Chick trade and the one involving running back C.J. Gable six weeks later, look like excellent moves – even with the Ticats’ return on the deals still to be fully determined.
Chick was dealt to Edmonton along with a fifth round pick in exchange for a second-round selection (No.15 overall) in the 2018 CFL draft that takes place May 3. This year’s crop of prospects is generally considered to be a strong group, particularly at the top end. The Ticats have five picks in the first 20 in large part due to the Chick trade and the one that sent quarterback Zach Collaros to the Riders (which netted them the No.10 selection.)
The CFL draft is always a bit of a crapshoot – like all drafts – but history shows there can be a starting-quality player at No. 15. For example, Edmonton took defensive back Arjen Colquhoun at No. 17 in the 2016 draft while the Bombers struck pay dirt with safety Taylor Loffler at No. 19. It can be done.
At the time of the trade, Chick had just two sacks and 16 tackles after winning the Ticats’ most outstanding defensive player award in his first year with the team. He appeared in eight games in Edmonton, recording 14 tackles and three sacks. He turned 35-years-old in November and it wasn’t a huge surprise when he announced his retirement last Friday.
The deal also made football and cap sense. The Ticats had decided to start Canadian Justin Capicciotti at one of the defensive end spots and Adrian Tracy was both more productive and more affordable than Chick: with more playing time in the 10 games after the trade, Tracy posted nine sacks and will enter this season as the team’s primary pass rusher.
Much the same can be said about the Gable trade in October. While the running back had a decently productive season for Hamilton in 2017 (74 carries for 457 yards) he was also benched for three games early in the year. Now 30 and with a history of injuries, Gable was a pending free agent and not part of the team’s long-term plans.
So instead of the close to the reported $100,000 the Eskimos gave Gable on his contract extension in December, the Ticats will go with Alex Green who is heading into the second year of his team-friendly rookie deal (around $60,000) and whose numbers were as good or better in limited action.
Hamilton received two negotiation list players in exchange for Gable and while those names haven’t been officially released, one of them is offensive lineman Will Freeman who recently signed with the club. Just 24, Freeman is obviously an unknown quantity but the fact that the Ticats were able to get him signed – not a given with neg list players – means they have at least a chance to see some return on the field.
Whether the draft pick the Ticats acquired for Chick pans out or Will Freeman plays a meaningful down will go a long way to determining just how good these deals were. But by getting something in return for expensive players who were clearly not in the team’s long-term plans – something also true of the Collaros trade – Hamilton has put itself in an enviable position, one where liabilities have suddenly become potential assets.