Edwards: Bomben deal nets top pick but creates big hole on Ticats offensive line

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats have acquired the first overall pick in Thursday’s CFL Draft – and created an all-star hole on their offensive line in the process.

The Ticats dealt Canadian guard Ryan Bomben to the Montreal Alouettes and the second overall pick in exchange for, essentially, the first overall pick and a second-round pick in 2019. They also move up three spots in the fourth round of this year’s draft and get a sixth-rounder in exchange for a seventh.

But they gave up a lot. In addition to Bomben – a 30-year-old who has started 48 games over three seasons and was a CFL East Division all-star the last two years – the Ticats sent the second overall pick, American receiver Jamal Robinson (who they liked) and a neg list player not named Johnny Manziel to the Alouettes.

The move, along with another deal earlier in the day with Edmonton, means the Ticats now have the first and sixth pick in the first round as well as the 11th and 15th overall selections. In a nutshell, they moved up in what’s considered by many to be a top-heavy draft.

So what are the Ticats after? There’s speculation that the Alouettes were interested in using the No. 1 pick on offensive lineman Trey Rutherford, a 6-foot-5, 312 pounder who played 44 games at the University of Connecticut and who’s said he’ll forego any fleeting NFL opportunities to focus on the CFL. Central Michigan receiver Mark Chapman, one of the most polished players in the draft, could also be a candidate.

There are other factors to consider. Bomben, as an elite-level Canadian, is entering the final year of a deal paying him in the $175,000 range and dealing him will provide the Ticats with some salary cap relief. The second pick next season could be a high one if the Alouettes struggle as expected – Bomben, for all his talents, can’t play quarterback.

For the Ticats, however, Replacing Bomben – who has missed a grand total of six games in the last seven seasons – won’t be easy. Head coach June Jones said the Ticats have an idea who might step in but there will be a competition in training camp to decide it. The team has veteran Landon Rice, who has started four games over his four-year career, as well as youngsters Braden Schram, Brett Golding, Everton Williams and Kay Okafor. But that quartet has exactly zero CFL starts among them.

“We have a lot of young offensive linemen that had very good mini-camps,” Jones said in a radio interview with TSN1150 after the deal. “We’re going to go through training camp and give everybody a chance but we feel like we have four really solid guys and certainly we’re going to pick up somebody in this draft to fill an o-line position. I think we’re in good shape.”

It’s certainly possible that the player they take at No. 1 could help but even elite-level prospects usual take time to develop. Guard Brandon Revenberg, taken third overall in 2016 and whose progress has been virtually ideal, only started six games his rookie season.

Mike Filer, the Ticats centre, was talking at mini-camp less than two weeks ago about the value of continuity and how happy all five starters on the offensive line were to be together again after last season’s late run of success. It was a position group with few if any question marks – until Wednesday.

And for those that care about such things, there is also the human element. Bomben is a Burlington native with a young family who was happy to be playing at home: he was on the field throwing passes to kids as part of the Ticats’ flag football initiative on Monday. Trading a veteran of his stature just reminded an entire locker room that no player, regardless of ability or relationship with the community, is safe and that Jones’ oft-stated, feel-good message about bringing back the 2017 squad for another run appears to have given way to the harsh realities of football.

“I really like Ryan, he’s a good man and a good player but this is a business and we’re trying to do what’s best for our football team and this decision is all about winning the Grey Cup.” Jones said.

As with all trades, snap judgments are perilous at best and even Thursday’s draft won’t provide anything close to a full picture. But this is undeniable: the Montreal Alouettes got the best current player in Wednesday’s trade. The Ticats may be better in the long-term, sure. But not today.