What Hamilton’s use of a two-quarterback system could mean for the future of Dane Evans

Photo: Bob Butrym/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats are seemingly in the two-quarterback business after the team used both Dane Evans and Matthew Shiltz extensively in their Week 7 victory over the Montreal Alouettes.

The Ticats ran 46 plays versus the Als — Evans was on the field for 29, Shiltz was under centre for 15, and third-stringer Jamie Newman came in for a pair of goal-line sneaks, converting one for his first career CFL touchdown.

Hamilton began featuring Shiltz more and more following their bye week last month and the results have been positive with the team emerging victorious in two of their last three games to climb out of the East Division’s basement.

But at what cost?

While it’s been an effective system, platooning two quarterbacks was not what the team envisioned when they chose Evans over Jeremiah Masoli this off-season, signing him to a lucrative contract extension in January.

Evans can earn $417,000 in hard money this season, which includes a $170,000 signing bonus to go along with his $223,000 base salary, $12,000 in housing, a $10,000 active roster bonus, and a $2,000 travel allowance.

The Sanger, Texas native also takes home $1,000 each time he plays 51 percent or more of the team’s offensive snaps in a game. He also has a number of awards bonuses available to him, including $2,000 if he’s named a divisional all-star, $3,000 if he’s named a league all-star, $3,000 if he’s the East Division’s nominee for Most Outstanding Player, and $7,000 if he wins the award as the league’s top player.

Given his performance so far this season, it seems doubtful that Evans will hit most or any of the award incentives, but clearing the playtime threshold shouldn’t be too difficult.

The team added Shiltz less than a month after his release from the Alouettes, giving Hamilton an experienced pivot behind the new face of their franchise.

The St. Charles, Illinois native is slated to earn $117,000 in hard money this year, with a base salary of $82,000, a signing bonus of $10,000, a $10,000 roster bonus, $12,000 for housing, and a $3,000 travel allowance.

The 29-year-old Butler University product also has a ton of performance incentives, including $5,000 if he reaches 3,500 passing yards, $3,000 if he throws for 3,000 yards, $3,000 if he reaches 2,500 passing yards, and $1,000 for each game in which he plays 51 percent or more of the team’s offensive snaps.

Shiltz also has three start-and-play incentives, two of which he can no longer reach. The only start-and-play threshold he could still reach is starting and playing 51 percent of the team’s offensive snaps in eight games. He is unlikely to hit that target, as well as most of his performance incentives given his lack of playing time.

Seeing these numbers makes one wonder what this could mean for the future of the franchise at the game’s most important position. With Evans set to make slightly more a year from now — his base salary increases by $25,000 in 2023 — it seems reasonable to question whether or not the team will decide to go forward with him as their starter at that salary next season.

It’s clear that the Ticats have lost at least a little faith in Evans at this point, whether they want to admit it or not. Shiltz has seen increased reps with the first-team offence in practice in recent weeks along with receiving more snaps in games, which simply wouldn’t happen if the team had full confidence in its highly-paid starting pivot.

That doesn’t mean the Tulsa product can’t regain the team’s faith with improved play, and Evans has performed better since the club’s bye week. His turnover problems are seemingly behind him and he has completed 71.4 percent of his passes for 845 yards with four touchdowns and one interception over the last three games, with the pick coming on a final play Hail Mary against the B.C. Lions.

He is, somewhat surprisingly, third in the league in both passing yards and passing touchdowns.

There is a belief that maybe Evans plays better when he has a safety net, such as he had with Masoli last season. But that thought ignores the fact that Evans’ best season came in 2019 when he led the Tiger-Cats to the Grey Cup after Masoli was lost for the season with an ACL injury in July.

The difference could be that the 2019 season came with zero expectations for Evans. When Masoli was lost for the season, many fans expected a repeat of what happened in 2015 when then-franchise quarterback Zach Collaros tore his ACL. Hamilton was a burgeoning juggernaut at the time but struggled after losing Collaros, finishing second in the East Division at 10-8 before losing to a healthier Ottawa Redblacks team in the East Final.

In 2019, Hamilton maintained their level of play and had the best record in franchise history at 15-3. It was unexpected following Masoli’s injury and it thrust Evans into the spotlight as one of the league’s next breakout superstars.

Even last year, when both players entered the season healthy, Evans only saw the field in the regular season when Masoli was injured. Evans’ relief effort in the East Final, where he completed all 16 of his pass attempts to lead the Ticats back to the Grey Cup for the second straight season, was the only time the pair were active and Evans saw more game action than Masoli.

None of that excuses Evans’ poor start to the season that forced the team to employ a two-quarterback system. There’s also a question as to whether or not it is wise for the team to use so much of their cap space on a player they might no longer see as their franchise guy.

There is still plenty of season left for Evans to change the narrative surrounding his 2022 campaign but if the team continues to give Evans and Shiltz significant time under centre, you have to wonder what the team’s quarterback room could look like in 2023.

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.