It was a sad sight on Thursday night when Chris Williams had to be carried off the field by teammates and trainers, his Achilles torn and his season over.
It was sad for a couple reason. Firstly, Williams, it seemed, had finally started to feel comfortable in the Ticats’ offence. He caught passes on two of the previous three plays before he was hurt, and was starting to become more of a focal point for the team. As the season went on, I imagine he would have only become more dangerous in June Jones’ system. Come playoff time, he could have been back to the unstoppable force he was in Ottawa and his first go-around with the Ticats.
Secondly, the dynamic speedster duo of Williams and Brandon Banks (Flash and Kid Flash or maybe Flash and Zoom or perhaps Flash and Reverse Flash… I’ll stop now) never really had a chance to get going. When Williams was dealt to Hamilton in the blockbuster Johnny Manziel trade one of the things fans were excited to see was what him and Banks could do together. Now we won’t get that chance.
Thirdly, and finally, it creates a hole on the Ticats’ roster that needs to be filled. The Ticats do have an abundance of American receiving talent — Banks, Terrence Toliver, Luke Tasker and Jalen Saunders, who missed the Edmonton game with an injury, are all former 1,000-yard receivers — so losing Williams isn’t as big of a blow as it would have been if Hamilton didn’t already have a plethora of talent receivers. But with Saunders hurt and the timeline for his return unknown, and with Williams now gone, the Ticats have a roster spot that needs to be filled.
Internally, the Ticats have options. Terrence Toliver has been one of the team’s designated imports for most of the season and could easily be inserted into the starting lineup on a full-time basis. The team needed Toliver to do that against Edmonton due to Saunders’ injury, so if Saunders is out for longer than one game the Ticats will still need to find someone to replace Williams. In-game, the Ticats used Canadian Felix Faubert-Lussier to sub in for Williams and they could continue doing that until Saunders is healthy and also use the corresponding ratio flexibility it would provide to get another American on the roster elsewhere.
The other internal option is to activate one of the team’s rookie wideouts, Rashad Lawrence or Cameron Echols-Looper, from the practice roster. Echols-Looper hasn’t seen any action since signing with the Ticats in late July, but Lawrence played in four games earlier this year, registering eight catches for 56 yards and six kick returns for 101 yards in those four games. If I was a betting man, my bet would be on Lawrence finding his way back on the game-day roster. The team clearly sees something in him and it only makes sense for Lawrence to be given the first crack at filling in.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t look at other, less likely, alternatives from outside the organization. Let’s start with one that will make Ticats fans really happy: bringing back Bakari Grant.
Grant, who was one of Saskatchewan’s training camp cuts this year, has inexplicably been a free agent every since. At 31, he is a little older, but his 6’4” frame would be welcome in a receiving corps where the only starter who is currently over 6’ is Terrence Toliver. Grant doesn’t have the same skill set as Williams, few do, but he brings a grittiness and a toughness that would be be a huge addition to Hamilton’s group of pass catchers. It would also go over extremely well with Ticats fans, which shouldn’t be taken into account but can’t be ignored either.
Another former Ticat who does have the same type of skill set as Williams and is also unemployed is Chad Owens. Owens was, like Grant, a training camp cut of the Riders this year. Owens spent one year in Hamilton and put up some good numbers before an injury prematurely ended his season. Owens also has a connection to June Jones, as the Flyin’ Hawaiian first burst onto the scene as a star receiver and kick returner for the University of Hawaii from 2001-04, where his head coach was… June Jones. Perhaps one of Hamilton’s formers No. 2s could replace its most recent No. 2.
Lastly, NFL cuts are just around the corner with their regular season set to kick off in just over a week, meaning a lot of players will soon find themselves looking for work. We have seen in the past teams dip into that free agent pool to bring in reinforcements, especially if the players are former CFLers. The Ticats could use this route to find Williams’ replacement, with players like 2018 No. 1 overall pick Mark Chapman, former Ticat Terrell Sinkfield and last year’s Grey Cup MVP DeVier Posey all possibly becoming available over the next week. There are also guys like Dontrelle Inman and Chris Matthews, former CFLers who are without NFL deals that may be looking to use the CFL as a short-term path back to the NFL.
No solution the Ticats find will be perfect, and the loss of Williams will hurt in the short and long term, but the Ticats have options and now it is time to see what route they take.