What the Ticats’ slew of signings means for their 2021 season

Photo courtesy: Bob Butrym

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats have gone on a signing spree since Christmas and it gives us a great look at what the team will look like when the 2021 season gets going.

The biggest signings, player-wise, were the retention of 2019 CFL MOP Brandon Banks and the return of Bralon Addison. The Killer Bs give the Ticats one of the best one-two punches in all of football, and places two of the league’s top weapons — to call either just a receiver would be a disservice to both — back in an offence that led the league in scoring in 2019.

In case we forgot, Banks and Addison accounted for 207 catches, 2,786 yards and 20 touchdowns through the air in 2019. They were the first and fifth-leading receivers in terms of yards, first and fourth in catches and first and sixth in touchdowns. The duo also added value in the run game with 278 yards and two scores on the ground, as well as on special teams where Banks returned 13 punts for 140 yards and five missed field goals for 283 yards and two scores.

Banks is the best receiver in the game right now and Addison isn’t far behind, which is a huge compliment considering Speedy B was the league’s best player the last time games were played. With Tommy Condell returning in 2021 — more on that later — the Ticats’ offence is poised to be one of the league’s best once again. Expect lots of points and big plays in 2021, with many of them coming from this dynamic duo.

The Ticats have also brought back almost their entire 2019 coaching staff in 2021. Orlondo Steinauer, who is garnering NFL interest according to CBS insider Jason La Canfora, signed an extension, as did all his 2019 coordinators. Condell is back as the team’s offensive coordinator, Mark Washington will again lead the CFL’s best defence and Jeff Reinebold is back to coach up one of the best special teams units.

The only major change is Mike Gibson taking over the offensive line coaching duties from Dennis McKnight, who left to join June Jones’s staff with the XFL’s Houston Roughnecks last year. Gibson was announced last year, but did not get a chance to work with Hamilton’s offensive line due to the cancellation of the season.

Robin Ross returns to coach up the linebackers, while all-decade player Craig Butler returns as the team’s defensive backs coach and special teams assistant. Randy Melvin and Jarryd Baines are also back.

Given the lack of a 2020 season, teams that have the most continuity from 2019 will have a leg up when the 2021 season gets going. The Ticats have that in the coaching staff, which should allow them to get off to a fast start.

The Ticats were also able to lock up rising stars in the front office with Shawn Burke and Drew Allemang as the team’s co-managers of football operations and senior directors of personnel. In layman’s terms, they are co-general managers.

Burke and Allemang have grown through the organization. Burke began in 2007 in the team’s community relations department and progressed to his current role. Allemang was the team’s assistant equipment manager in 2008 and worked his way up the ladder by being one of the best scouts and evaluators of Canadian talent in the country.

These are two men who could easily be running a team on their own, but they provide the Ticats with a strong, unique two-headed monster in the front office. This just further emphasizes the continuity the Ticats will have from 2019 to 2021.

Hamilton also made a number of key depth signings that shouldn’t go unnoticed.

On offence the team brought back running backs Don Jackson, Sean Thomas-Erlington and Jackson Bennett as well as receivers Jaelon Acklin, Marcus Tucker and Jalin Marshall.

Jackson signed last year from Calgary, but never suited up because the season was cancelled. Thomas-Erlington was on his way to becoming the next star Canadian running back before a knee injury ended his 2019 season in Week 4. After a year off, expect the former eighth-round pick to form a dangerous combo with Jackson.

The Ticats have the league’s best duo at receiver and could have it at running back, too. Bennett provides quality depth as well as special teams expertise. Bennett has played running back, linebacker and defensive back and his versatility is highly valued in a league with limited rosters.

The return of Acklin brings the team’s top rookie from 2019 back into the fold, and ensures that the top three receivers from 2019 are back for 2021. Marshall and Tucker will fight for a spot, but a lot depends on whether or not DeVier Posey or Luke Tasker return. Posey was signed last year but never played, while Tasker wasn’t offered a contract.

It’s possible both could be back, but if I had to pick one I would pick Posey. Signing him in 2020 felt like a long shot, so who knows with this team. They had found a way to build an all-star roster for the 2020 season, so I see no reason to doubt them being able to do it again in 2021.

Defensively, the Ticats brought back a number of solid Canadian depth players. Mike Daly, Courtney Stephen and Curtis Newton all return — Stephen after a one-year sojourn to Calgary in 2019 — to provide depth in the secondary and at linebacker, but their critical role will be on special teams. Daly is one of the best in the game, and Stephen was the team’s top special teams player in his last season with the team in 2018.

The Ticats also brought back global player Valentin Gnahoua, who was the No. 1 pick in the CFL’s European Draft in 2019. Gnahoua played in 11 games in his rookie season, totaling four special teams tackles. With the CFL’s global initiative not going anywhere, the Ticats are going to try to further develop the former Berlin Rebel.

The team also brought back rising star Julian Howsare, who announced his signing on Twitter. Howsare is the unheralded fourth man of Hamilton’s four horsemen of the sack-pocalypse, not garnering the attention that his teammates Ja’Gared Davis, Ted Laurent and Dylan Wynn attract.

The Ticats aren’t done yet, as they have been in contact with other players — namely Masoli, Davis and Simoni Lawrence — on new contracts for 2021. If they are able to sign those three players, the favourites to win the 2021 Grey Cup will become even larger favourites to do so.

The Ticats have spent the last two years building a team that can compete for championships now and into the future. With what they have done already, and what they could still do on the horizon, the Ticats are pulling out all the stops to make the 2021 season one of the most memorable in franchise history.

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.