Like every team in the CFL, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats will look very different in 2019.
The pervasiveness of one-year contracts has led to a record free agent class and while the Ticats will have more continuity than some clubs – including many of their key contributors – there will still be plenty of turnover. How much? Well, let’s take a look.
Here’s a depth chart based on the Ticats roster on Feb. 14.
Here are a few observations:
• I’ve listed eight Canadian starters instead of the required seven with free agent pick up Tunde Adeleke at the SAM spot with Jackson Bennett as his back up. But the Ticats could easily start Adeleke at safety with Daly, an excellent special teamer, as the back up and newly-signed Rico Murray at SAM with Bennett as the back up.
• the Ticats still have some ratio flexibility despite losing key depth pieces in safety Courtney Stephen, receiver Felix Faubert-Lussier and running back Mercer Timmis. They still have Sean Thomas-Erlington as a solid option at running back – he can play a little receiver as well – and have added Shamawd Chambers and Brian Jones. Hamilton could start two Canadian receivers but certainly don’t have to. Other options could include Nick Shortill at linebacker or two defensive tackles by pairing Justin Vaughn or Brett Wade with Ted Laurent.
• they have three solid Canadian starters on the offensive line and decent depth. I’ve received a lot of questions about Mike Filer, the starting centre for the last several years who is currently a free agent, but the team may have decided that some of the young guys need a chance to play. Mathieu Girard was pegged a starting-calibre centre when he retired after 2016 and spent much of last season getting back to playing shape and weight. Everton Williams has been in development for four years and needs to finally make the leap. The team also has Kay Okafor (nine games last season) and Brett Golding (eight games in 2017) in development.
Then there’s the fact that the Ticats have three of the top 11 picks in the 2019 draft and five in the top 20 and should be able to add some talent if they need to. They also own the Alouettes’ first round picks in 2020 and 2021 as part of the Johnny Manziel trade… so yeah, as long as they don’t completely botch the draft – and they generally haven’t – they should be able to keep the national pipeline flowing for a few years yet.
Anyway, the Ticats have Canadian talent, depth and flexibility – and the opportunity to add more.
• the loss of starting right tackle Ryker Mathews hurts but he went to the NFL so that’s nice. Avery Jordan made nine starts at left tackle after the Manziel deal that also included starter Tony Washington and Kevin Palmer made six, including both playoff games. Palmer re-signed in January, so it’s not hard to see a scenario where both those guys start with Isame Faciane, who was on the PR most of last year (he played in one game) as the backup. I would expect the Ticats to bring in a couple more American tackles for competition but given what was available on the free agent market – older, expensive dudes – going with younger, more affordable guys who already have some CFL experience seems like an OK strategy.
• with Brandon Banks re-signed and Luke Tasker still, you know, Luke Tasker, the Ticats have their primary weapons back again this season. I’ve listed Jalen Saunders as the back up only because of the uncertainty that surrounds all knee injuries but he’s obviously a key contributor as well. Bralon Addison had so-so regular season numbers – eight catches in four games – but exploded in the playoffs with five receptions for 124 yards in the Eastern Semi-Final and 12 receptions for 129 yards in the final. The Cats will hope that’s a sign of things to come and not a Brian Tyms flash in the pan.
There are a couple of big names still out there in free agency but I’m not sure the Ticats want to spend any more money on a position where they are already paying some guys. Better to hope that Addison or Rashad Lawrence makes a leap in year two or that some magic shows up at training camp.
• Jeremiah Masoli is the starting quarterback and his contract extension looks even better after the crazy money being doled in free agency. After making $235,000 in “hard money” with $90,000 in playtime incentives last season, this year features $335,000 “hard money” plus $45,000 in playtime incentives – a downright bargain compared to the $700,000 Mike Reilly got in B.C. or the $500,000 Edmonton is paying Trevor Harris. I’d like to see a veteran back up – KG or Travis Lulay would both fit the bill – but the Ticats seem perfectly happy with Dane Evans and it’s only his inexperience that makes me nervous.
• I like the secondary with Delvin Breaux locking down the boundary side and some experience at the other spots. Murray is a versatile piece and veteran presence and the young kids – Jumal Rolle, Cariel Brooks, Frankie Williams – played well last season and should be better with more experience. Richard Leonard needs to have a bounce-back year.
• I like the defensive line too, especially with the addition of Ja’Gared Davis, who is an absolute beast. Davis, with Tracy behind him and Jamaal Westerman opposite him (and Justin Capicciotti behind Westerman) should give the Ticats a fantastic rotation with Ted Laurent wreaking his usual havoc inside. Hamilton’s pass rush hasn’t been great the last couple of seasons but new defensive coordinator Mark Washington and line coach Randy Melvin certainly have the tools to change that.
• there are still some question marks, however, particularly at middle linebacker where the departure of Dean leaves a 100-tackle hole. Lucas Wacha played in all 18 games last season but was a situational and special teams guy. Jeff Knox Jr., who had 115 tackles as a rookie in Saskatchewan in 2015, could be a free agent option but otherwise the Ticats may be looking for a neg lister or free agent find to fill a key role.
And there’s no kicker behind Canadian rookie Michael Domagala, though the Redblacks showed with Lewis Ward that giving an untested USports kid a shot can pay off nicely. The Ticats held kicking competitions in 2016 (Brett Maher) and 2017 (Sergio Castillo) and they worked out fine and there’s still a chance that Lirim Hajrullahu could return after giving the NFL a shot.
Still, there’s time.