Why the Hamilton Tiger-Cats signed former Riders’ punter Jon Ryan

Photo courtesy: Hannah Souster

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats, mired in an 0-4 start to their season, needed to make some changes coming out of their bye week.

Some of the more vocal Ticats fans were hoping for an earth-shattering move, like a coaching change of some sort or a blockbuster trade to acquire a proven veteran, in an effort to jolt the team out of its current slump.

If we are being honest, those major changes were probably never going to happen, especially the coaching one. Instead, the Tabbies made a series of smaller, less headlining-grabbing moves, punctuated by signing veteran Canadian punter Jon Ryan on Sunday.

Ryan spent the last two years in Saskatchewan after his 12-year NFL career came to an end in 2017. The Regina native is known for his booming leg, which is both a gift and a curse. It allows for deep punts but can also result in coverage teams not being downfield quickly enough and therefore giving up bigger returns. Ryan also has more than his fair share of punts go into the end zone for single points, resulting in his team losing the field position they had hoped to gain.

Even with those caveats, there is no angle from which to look at this where you can say the Ticats didn’t get better by bringing Ryan into the fold.

While punting has not been one of the major issues with the Tiger-Cats so far this season and American Simon Laryea — who was released the same day Ryan was signed — performed adequately since assuming the role in Week 2, the chance to add a proven player like Ryan was just too good to pass up.

The Tabbies are currently sixth in the league in net punting average at 36.7 yards per punt and that number should increase with Ryan now handling the punting duties.

While Laryea had done a good job since taking over the full-time duties in Week 2, moving on from him is not outlandish. Ryan is the better punter — his 16-year professional career speaks to that — and despite his being 40 years old, he is still one of the best in the game. His play the past two seasons with the Roughriders speaks to that as well.

It is not just what Ryan brings that makes this move interesting but what it can mean for the rest of the roster. Ryan being Canadian means the team can change up their ratio, since they will no longer be forced to use one of their American roster spots on a punter.

On the same day Ryan was signed, the Tabbies also brought back American kicker Seth Small. Small was with the team in training camp this spring but was released during the final round of cuts ahead of the start of the regular season.

The Texas A&M University product performed decently in the preseason, hitting all three of his field-goal attempts including a booming 51-yarder against the Toronto Argonauts in the team’s second exhibition contest. I was surprised the Ticats decided not to keep Small around, at least on the practice roster, in case Michael Domagala struggled to start the season but they must have told the native of Katy, Texas to stay close to his phone in case things went south.

And gone south they most certainly have.

Domagala currently has the worst field goal percentage in the league, connecting on just 75 percent of his attempts so far this season, while also missing at least one field goal or point after attempt in each of Hamilton’s first four games. That is the type of inconsistency that sees kickers become unemployed in 2022.

Anyone with eyes could tell you that the kicking situation with the Tiger-Cats has not been good enough the past couple of seasons but until Sunday, it wasn’t entirely clear if the team agreed. Bringing Small back signals to me that the Ticats see things similarly and that they are not as happy with their kicking situation as they once were.

Changing up their ratio also seems to have been part of the reason the team went out of their way to acquire Ryan, something Ticats’ head coach Orlondo Steinauer seemed to express after practice on Sunday.

“We were able to flip the ratio there and obviously we can go with the Canadian punter and we’ll go with the American kicker this week,” Steinauer said on Sunday, giving the impression that recently re-signed Small is the team’s placekicker at least for the time being.

There is a chance that Domagala will given an opportunity to win his job back at some point — Hamilton being able to use Canadians at both kicking spots would help with their ratio makeup — but there is also the possibility that Small makes the job his own. If Domagala ever does get back on the field you would have to think that the Carleton University product’s leash will have significantly less slack on it than it once did.

Making moves at kicker and punter is not the cure for all of what currently ails the winless Ticats but by making these changes the team is at least tacitly admitting that things as they were before their week off simply were not working.

Whether these moves help kickstart a Steeltown revival will only be known when the Tiger-Cats take the field again on Saturday evening when they host the winless — and now Jeremiah Masoli-less — Ottawa Redblacks at Tim Hortons Field.

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.