Recent signings show Ticats have a two-year plan for Grey Cup return in 2023

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After not being overly busy during the holiday season, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats made some major splashes when the new year came.

Over the last 10 days the team has brought back their new franchise quarterback, a pair of all-star caliber offensive linemen, the best young safety in the game, an up-and-coming receiver, and could be bringing back a future hall of fame cornerback.

It’s been a busy two weeks for the new-look Ticats front office, but it is not just that the team is bringing back some core pieces, but for how long they are returning. To a man, almost everyone they have re-signed has been locked into two-year deals.

Why is that significant? Because it keeps them with the team until after the 2023 season which just so happens to be when Hamilton will once again host the Grey Cup. It tells me that the team has a plan, and that plan involves once again playing in the title game in their hometown, hopefully with a better outcome than last time.

Locking up players to multi-year agreements in the CFL hasn’t been easy recently, with one-year deals becoming the norm due to the lack of guarantees present in most contracts.

The two-time defending champion Winnipeg Blue Bombers have signed back a bunch of their stars, but most have only re-upped on one-year deals, including star pass rusher Willie Jefferson and reigning M.O.P. Zach Collaros. The Ticats getting their players to sign for multiple years isn’t something to be ignored.

The moves made could also be telling us what the team has planned beyond just this season. With Dane Evans receiving north of $400,000 per year, that means Jeremiah Masoli has played his last down in a Tiger-Cats uniform.

Evans and Masoli combined last season to make about what Evans is set to earn each year under his new two-year pact, so barring Masoli taking a massive pay cut I don’t foresee any scenario that sees No. 8 return for his ninth year in Hamilton. Masoli’s vaccination status and the current rules regarding entry and travel in Canada also make his return murky, not just to Hamilton but for the CFL in general.

The other move that might give us a peak into the future is the team re-signing Papi White. White played sparingly in his first season with the Ticats, but took on a larger role as the season went on, with his impact play being his punt-return touchdown in the Eastern Final that sparked the Ticats’ come-from-behind win over the Toronto Argonauts.

White’s return could signal the end of Brandon Banks’ time in Hamilton. Banks took a step back in 2021, and despite a semi-resurgence at the tail end of the season, it seems fair to wonder whether his best days are behind him. Banks dealt with injuries in 2021, but he has dealt with a lot of injuries since being inserted into the starting lineup as a wide out way back on Labour Day in 2017. I don’t know if Banks is still an elite receiver, but if he wants to be paid like one, he might have to find that paycheque elsewhere.

White’s return — and the potential return of Delvin Breaux — might also lead to Frankie Williams finding a new home. Williams, the top special teams player in 2019, missed significant time in 2021, playing in just eight games before an injury ended his season in October.

White could take over return duties from Williams, while Breaux returning would allow a player like Jumal Rolle, should he re-sign, to return to the field corner position he so deftly manned previously. That leaves Williams as the odd-man out.

Maybe Williams could still be brought back, and a lot of this changes if Breaux signs elsewhere — he is making a return, just not sure that return will be with Hamilton — but with White in the fold Williams loses some of his value if he’s not being used on both defence and special teams.

Like the other eight teams, the Ticats have plenty of work left to do. There are still over two dozen players left as pending free agent, including star players like Simoni Lawrence, Dylan Wynn and key Canadians like Darius Ciraco and Ted Laurent. But what they have done so far before the opening of free agency in three weeks has given us a glimpse of the team’s plan for 2022 and beyond.

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.