Why the Hamilton Tiger-Cats traded for veteran OL Colin Kelly

Photo courtesy: Edmonton Elks

In news that broke late Saturday night and is now official, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats have acquired American offensive lineman Colin Kelly from the Edmonton Elks in exchange for a seventh-round pick in the 2023 CFL Draft.

Anyone who watched the Ticats offensive line get manhandled by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ defensive line in Week 3 knew something needed to change for the two-time defending East Division champions.

Just over 24 hours after the Tiger-Cats lost 26-12 to the Bombers, Kelly, a seven-year veteran who has started over 70 games during his time in the CFL with both the Elks and Ottawa Redblacks, posted on his Instagram account that he had been dealt to Hamilton.

The Ticats didn’t just make this move because of what happened on Friday night. While the unit’s ineptitude was on full display at IG Field, Hamilton has been dealing with offensive line problems, most notably at left tackle, since Ryker Mathews left the team in free agency following the 2019 season.

Mathews’ departure to the B.C. Lions left a massive hole on the left side of Hamilton’s line that they are hoping Kelly will finally fill after years of striking out at the position.

The search to find Mathews’ replacement began with American Trevon Tate. That lasted a week and the six-foot-four, 295-pound product of the University of Memphis was released by the team before they played their third game.

Then came the seven-week experiment of starting Canadian Kay Okafor at left tackle. It went horrendously and it wasn’t until late in the season when the team finally settled on American Jordan Murray.

Murray would start the final two regular season games, East Final and Grey Cup while showing well for himself. The University of North Texas product was a little rough around the edges but did enough in his limited time that he looked like someone the team could rely on to fill the Mathews-sized void at left tackle.

The problem for the Ticats is that the NFL agreed with that assessment and Murray signed a contract with the Indianapolis Colts in January meaning the Tabbies were once again searching for a starting left tackle.

The Ticats brought in a few players this spring to provide competition for the spot but from the first day of training camp the job seemed to belong to American Travis Vornkahl.

The six-foot-six, 298-pound native of Sealy, Texas started a few games for the Ticats in 2021 before Murray made the job his and showed enough in his limited playing time that the team was comfortable rolling with him to start the 2022 campaign.

That comfortability lasted about a quarter into the first game of the season. During Hamilton’s horrendous Week 1 loss to the Saskatchewan Roughriders, in which the Black and Gold gave up eight sacks, the West Texas A&M University product was benched in the first half and replaced by Canadian Kyle Saxelid. Vornkahl only returned to the game when his replacement suffered an injury.

After just one game the Tiger-Cats had clearly seen enough and instead of going back to Vornkahl in Week 2, the team opted to give American rookie Tyrone Riley a chance to be Dane Evans’ blindside protector.

The North Carolina State University product did not look too bad against the Stampeders in his first taste of CFL action. The 25-year-old Savannah, Georgia native didn’t show all-star potential or anything but he did not look out of place in his first career game.

Riley even started the game against Winnipeg decently, stonewalling Willie Jefferson on a pass rush early in the game but that did not last long as he ended up getting metaphorically eaten alive by Jefferson and his partner Jackson Jeffcoat.

This should not have come as a surprise considering that terrifying twosome gives even the league’s best tackles problems but it went so bad for Riley, and the offensive line as a whole, that everyone watching knew the Tabbies needed to make a move to fix their offensive line issues.

Another reason the Ticats needed to acquire some veteran offensive line talent is due to the sheer number of injuries the team is dealing with amongst a number of their big men.

Joining Saxelid on the six-game injured list are Canadians Alex Fontana and Coulter Woodmansey. Woodmansey has been on the six-game list since the end of the first week of training camp with a leg injury while Fontana was placed on it after suffering an injury in the same Week 1 defeat as Saxelid.

These three injuries depleted any depth the Tiger-Cats thought they had along the offensive line and also forced the team into making a ratio change by starting two Americans on the offensive line instead of one.

Acquiring Kelly, an American, won’t help the team’s ratio situation but as a proven player he provides a massive upgrade over what the Ticats have had at that position for most of the last 11 months.

The Ticats made their move, now we’ll see if it pays off with the wins this team so desperately needs.

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.