What the Ticats might do with their pending free agents

Despite the recent slew of signings, the Ticats still have plenty of players from the 2018 squad slated to hit the open market next week when free agency opens. Some will be brought back, while others won’t. That’s just the nature of the football business.

Let’s take a look at some players the Ticats might bring back and others they might let ply their trade with another CFL team in 2019.

(* denotes National player)

The Bring Backs
DB Delvin Breaux, LB Larry Dean, C Mike Filer*, REC Mike Jones*, LB/DB Don Unamba

Delvin Breaux is the best cover man in the CFL. Full stop. It has been eerily quiet on the Breaux front this off-season, with nary a peep about him receiving NFL tryouts or offers. Breaux was the highest-paid DB in the CFL a season ago, so he won’t come cheap. But he allows the Ticats to do so much defensively and is worth every penny. If he wants to return, the Ticats should move heaven and earth to keep him.

Larry Dean is one of the league’s fiercest defenders and was the East’s top defensive player a year ago. Hamilton has rotated through a number of quality middle linebackers over the last decade, but none have had the impact Dean has had.

Mike Filer is the glue of Hamilton’s offensive line. He may not be in the upper echelon of his position, but he is a quality player that has provided Hamilton with solid play throughout his tenure with the team. Being local also doesn’t hurt and I can’t see any reason why the Ticats wouldn’t want to bring him back for 2019 and beyond.

If you had told me a year ago at this time I’d be pushing for Mike Jones (WHO!?) to be back in black and gold, I’d have called you crazy. But an up and down tenure became way more up than down in his third pro season. Jones finished with over 800 yards receiving, second among National receivers behind only Brad Sinopoli, and became one of Jeremiah Masoli’s most reliable targets down the stretch. The Ticats have spent three years developing Jones, and it would be a waste to watch him walk away as he is just about to reach his true potential.

Don Unamba was the league’s best SAM linebacker, as his was a divisional, league and PA all-star nods in 2018 show. Hamilton has spent a couple of years looking to replace Erik Harris, and they finally found a worthy replacement in Unamba. Like Mike Jones, it would be a shame to see the Ticats let a player they spent time developing walk out the door just as they are reaching superstar calibre.

The Thanks for your Services
DB Mariel Cooper, K/P Lirim Hajrullahu*, DB Josh Johnson, REC Marquay McDaniel, QB Bryant Moniz, REC Terrell Sinkfield, REC Terrence Toliver, RB John White

The only memory I have of Mariel Cooper is him getting lit up for three touchdowns when the Ticats played Edmonton in Hamilton in August. The Ticats have not been shy about cycling through American DBs, and we know what Cooper is, so I can’t see him being retained.

Terrell Sinkfield was brought back to Hamilton with much fanfare late last season, but his production left a lot to be desired. He was also beaten out by Bralon Addison for playing time, with June Jones even saying that Addison was in the lineup because he was better. I don’t see Sinkfield returning to Hamilton under any circumstance.

Now we get to the three players who will be pretty divisive to be here: Lirim Hajrullahu, Terrence Toliver and John White. Hajrullahu had a weird year. His field goal percentage was pretty good, even if it was in the bottom third of the league, and he made the third-most field goals of any kicker in 2018, but he also had a tendency to shank a punt or kickoff out of bounds. He did it so frequently it became a running joke on the Podskee Wee Wee podcast. For the money the Ticats paid Hajrullahu in 2018, they would be better suited finding a replacement on a rookie deal (or even going out and getting a guy like Tyler Crapigna) than retaining Hajrullahu for the 2019 season.

John White’s future with Hamilton was set the minute Alex Green re-signed. While teams do carry two or more American tailbacks, they don’t usually deploy two on game days. White is still young (just 27) and too good to be a game-day scratch. White should be starting somewhere, but that somewhere won’t be Hamilton.

This is a tough one, because you won’t find many players on the Ticats more beloved than Terrence Toliver. Toliver was on the cusp of being one of the league’s elite receivers when he tore his ACL on the second play of the 2017 season. When the switch from Kent Austin to June Jones was made, we saw Toliver have less and less of an impact. He finished 2018 with just 32 catches for 456 yards and one touchdown in 11 games. Toliver is a talented player, and he will contribute to a team in 2019, but with a shift in philosophy on offence, I don’t see that team being Hamilton.

The Wild Cards
REC Shamawd Chambers*, LB Terrell Davis*, REC Felix Faubert-Lussier*, LB Simoni Lawrence, DL Jason Neill, OL Landon Rice*, DB Courtney Stephen*, RB Mercer Timmis*, DL Adrian Tracy, REC Chris Williams

Shamawd Chambers’ career has been stop-and-start since he entered the league as a first-round pick back in 2012. He’s had some extremely high highs (Grey Cup Most Valuable Canadian in 2015), but he hasn’t emerged as the star guy many projected him to be when he came out of Laurier. Chambers is also coming off a torn ACL that cost him the entire 2018 season. Chambers’ future with the team might be tied to what happens with Mike Jones. If Jones stays, Chambers probably doesn’t. But the Ticats will likely start at least one Canadian in the receiving corps, and keeping Chambers becomes a real option if Jones departs in free agency.

Adrian Tracy and Jason Neill both had decent seasons, but neither have proven to be superstars and middle-of-the-road American players tend to get frozen out come free agency time.

Mercer Timmis is an interesting case. When given a chance last year, he excelled. His 17-carry, 133-yard, two-touchdown performance in Week 2 against Edmonton made it look like big things were ahead for the former Calgary Dino, but he carried the ball just 22 more times the rest of the season, with a single-game high of 25 yards after that breakout performance. Timmis excels on special teams, which gives him an edge, but he has proven he can do more offensively when called upon. If the opportunity arises for him to become a larger contributor elsewhere, Timmis would be smart to take it. But given his local connections, perhaps Timmis is more inclined to stick in Hamilton even if his role wouldn’t be large.

By re-signing Banks and Saunders, still having Luke Tasker under contract and the emergence of Bralon Addison, the Ticats have four of their five starting receivers set for the start of the season. That leaves Chris Williams, who the Ticats brought back in a blockbuster trade last summer, in a somewhat odd position. His skills fit what June Jones likes, but there isn’t really any room for him in the starting lineup. He could be one of Hamilton’s DI, but even at 31, Williams still has the skills to be a top-tier receiver in this league. There is also the torn Achilles that muddies the waters. I lean to Williams not being retained, but it wouldn’t shock me if he was brought back.

The biggest wild card, however, is Simoni Lawrence. The idea that Lawrence could play for anyone but Hamilton would have seem farfetched as of two years ago, but there is no denying his numbers have trended down since 2016. Lawrence will have suitors, and if Chris Jones was still around I would have put good money down that one of them would have been Saskatchewan, and I just don’t know if the Ticats will be willing to pay what Lawrence will command (as our own Justin Dunk alluded to earlier this month).

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