What the recent spate of moves mean for the Ticats

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/CFLPhotoArchive.com

It has been a busy few weeks in Hamilton.

While the re-signing of Jeremiah Masoli grabbed most of, if not all, the headlines, the Ticats haven’t been sitting on their hands since inking the 2018 East MOP to a contract extension.

Ted Laurent, Mike Daly, Julian HowsareCurtis Newton and most recently Tunde Adeleke have all re-signed and Dane Evans had his contract restructured. Also, Hamilton released Bralon Addison and Lirim Hajrullahu to pursue NFL opportunities.

Let’s start with Evans’ new deal, which was reported by our own John Hodge. Evans sees a slight bump in pay, but it’s still a relative steal for the Ticats, and it now makes more sense as to why they were able to get a deal done with Masoli. Simply put: they had the money.

While Evans had plenty of highs last year, he also showed his inexperience in spots, especially in the Grey Cup where he — and to be fair, the rest of the team — played their worst game of the season. Evans is still signed until after the 2021 season, so the Ticats will likely use 2020 to decide what they will do with the quarterback position going forward.

If Masoli excels, the Ticats could look to deal Evans next off-season. But if the opposite happens, then Evans is the new man in Tigertown and Masoli will be in a new uniform in 2021.

The Ticats have also done a great job of locking up some key Canadian players, both starters and depth special teams guys. A pair of all-stars return as both Ted Laurent and Tunde Adeleke inked two-year extensions.

Laurent was his normal stellar self in 2019 as the lynchpin of the league’s most fearsome front four. While his numbers were down from a year ago, he was still just as deadly as in past years.

His ability to eat up double teams helped his line mates feast, as the Ticats jumped from 31 sacks, second-lowest total in the league in 2018, to third in 2019 with 54. Laurent was a major reason for the all-star years had by his fellow linemen Dylan Wynn and Ja’Gared Davis.

Speaking of Wynn and Davis, Laurent’s signing and that of Julian Howsare does make you wonder how much money is left for the other two. Both Davis and Wynn deserve to be paid as one of the highest at their respective positions.

Keeping them while giving each man the deals they deserve will be tough. One or both might have to look elsewhere to get the paydays their tremendous 2019 seasons show they deserve.

Adeleke coming over from Calgary last February wasn’t the headline-making move it probably should have been. Adeleke broke out in a major way with the Ticats in 2019, garnering league all-star accolades because of it.

After spending the majority of his time in Calgary playing special teams, the Ticats have given Adeleke the chance to start at safety and he flourished in Mark Washington’s system. The sky is the limit for the 24-year-old Carleton University grad and him opting to stay in Hamilton and not even test free agency was a big coup for the Ticats.

Another player brought back on a two-year deal was Howsare. In addition to what I outlined above regarding Wynn and Davis, Howsare’s return likely spells the end of Adrian Tracy’s tenure in Hamilton.

Tracy could just never stay healthy, and has played in just 19 games over the last two years. I understand that Tracy is a fan favourite, as one of the most long-tenured CFL players tend to be, but Howsare usurped him last year.

In fact, according to stats guru Derek Taylor, Howsare finished the 2019 season third in the CFL in QB pressures (all four members of the Ticats’ d-line finished in the top 10, showing just how good that unit was and just how hard it will be to keep them together). Howsare might not be a name a lot of people know right now, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he is getting serious all-star consideration in 2020.

Bringing back Mike Daly and Curtis Newton, the latter of which is someone most fans of the CFL aren’t familiar with, means the team keeps two of its best special teams players in the fold.

Both Daly and Newton played all 18 games in 2019, picking up 18 and seven special teams tackles, respectively. Both are excellent on teams, and Daly brings the added bonus of starting experience in the secondary. So if Adeleke gets hurt, the Ticats don’t have to look far for his replacement.

Newton’s signing won’t bring the same attention the other signings will, but keeping solid, veteran, Canadian special teams players makes it easier for that unit to excel from one season to the next.

Lastly, the Ticats are now in the market for a new kicker and potentially a new receiver after granting Hajrullahu and Addison their releases so they could sign with NFL teams. Addison inked a futures deal with the Minnesota Vikings, while Hajrullahu has yet to sign with an NFL team.

With Hajrullahu it is simple: the Ticats are in the market for a kicker. The Ticats can go a number of routes. Hamilton could sign one in free agency, find a rookie American during tryout camps that will be taking place soon, or draft one in May’s Canadian draft. Trying to figure out who they might go after is a fool’s errand at this point in time, but we know it’s likely someone else will be doing the placekicking, punting and kickoff duties for the Ticats in 2020.

Addison leaving opens up a lot of possibilities as well, with the one that will excite most Ticats fans being it keeps the door open for Luke Tasker to return. Prior to Tommy Condell and Masoli signing their extensions, there was a lot of chatter amongst fans that a Condell-Masoli-Tasker trio could go all to the same place (many thought Ottawa). With those two guys back, and with the Ticats now having an open American receiver spot, Tasker returning feels more likely than it did when Addison was still with the team.

We know Brandon Banks will return next year, as will Jaleon Acklin. Marcus Tucker, who played very well when thrust into action, is likely a leading candidate to take a starting spot. Whether the team brings Mike Jones back or not (I lean towards not), they will likely play at least one Canadian in the receiving core. That leaves one spot open, and it would make sense for No. 17 to fill that spot and return for an eighth year in Hamilton.

It is possible that both players could return to Hamilton, but that likely wouldn’t occur until Labour Day at best. Both players will likely be given the chance to attend camps with the teams they sign with, and NFL camps run until late August and early September. That means both players are unlikely to be in black and gold until at least then.

There is always the possibility, like with Ryker Mathews last year, where they don’t make it to camp with their NFL team and come back early, but those instances are rare. So no one should be holding out hope that either Addison or Hajrullahu (or both) will be suiting up for the Ticats when they open the season against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

Josh Smith has been writing about the Ticats and the CFL since 2010 and was sporting his beard way before it was cool. Will be long after, too.