The next six weeks may very well dictate the future of quarterback Dane Evans with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats as well as the Canadian Football League as a whole.
When the 2022 season started for the Ticats and their newly-minted franchise quarterback there was no one outside the most ardent critics who foresaw the team stumbling the way it has.
Hamilton currently finds themselves on the outside looking in at a playoff spot — third in a moribund East Division with a disappointing 3-8 record — and the team is now being forced to rely solely upon the man who is arguably most responsible for their predicament.
With the news that Matthew Shiltz will miss the next four-to-six weeks with a wrist injury he suffered in the team’s 37-20 loss to the Toronto Argonauts in Week 12, the burden of piloting this team falls squarely on the shoulders of Dane Evans.
Evans has mixed a little sublime with a lot of atrocious during his turnover and injury-ravaged 2022 campaign. The embattled signal-caller has played the worst football of his career, tossing 10 touchdowns compared to 13 interceptions and completed 67 percent of his passes, the second-worst of any quarterback with more than 250 pass attempts. Only the recently benched Bo Levi Mitchell’s 61.7 percent is worse.
The University of Tulsa product seemed to turn a corner following Hamilton’s Week 5 bye, limiting his turnovers and completely eliminating costly fumbles. This seemed partly due to the coaching staff’s decision to roll out a modified two-quarterback system with Shiltz seeing game action not just as a gadget player or a runner but also as a true quarterback.
The results were fairly positive as Hamilton emerged victorious against the Ottawa Redblacks and Montreal Alouettes. The Ticats even hung with the then-seemingly unstoppable B.C. Lions in a close loss in Vancouver.
The wheels came off a bit in the team’s loss to the Argos in Week 9 and this is when the Evans-Shiltz debate started to gain some steam.
Evans missed the team’s next two games after injuring his shoulder against Toronto and Shiltz started in his absence. He looked more and more comfortable the longer he was on the field and led the team to a victory over the Argos before a narrow loss to the Als.
When Evans was deemed healthy enough to start again ahead of the team’s Week 12 contest with the Argos, the Sanger, Texas native found himself back in the starting lineup.
This is where things took a drastic left turn for both the team and Evans. After a horrific start that saw him turn the ball over twice, Ticats’ head coach Orlondo Steinauer made the decision to bench Evans in favour of Shiltz, and this time it felt like a permanent move.
After playing extremely well in relief, going 13-of-15 for 144 yards and a touchdown, Shiltz injured his wrist in the third quarter, forcing the team to go back to Evans with the score 20-19 in favour of the Argos.
What transpired next was truly calamitous. Evans tossed another two interceptions including a pick-six to Argonauts’ defensive back Jamal Peters, and the Ticats watched as a one-point deficit ballooned to 17 points.
The writing was seemingly on the wall and the picture was clear: Shiltz, not Evans, gave the Tiger-Cats the best chance to win.
But Shiltz is no longer around to save the day and, for better or worse, the team will have to rely solely on their former undisputed starter to get the team back in the win column. The backup quarterback is historically one of the most popular players in any football town but for once it felt as if the backup was the team’s best choice.
Everything now rests on Evans’ fragile shoulders, with the team mired in another losing stretch and their hopes of a third straight trip to the Grey Cup dwindling with every passing week.
It is not just the team that has a lot to lose over the next four-to-six weeks but the player himself could very well be playing for his future, not just in black and gold but as a professional altogether.
If the six-foot-one, 218-pound passer can recapture the magic of 2019 when he helped guide the Tiger-Cats to the best regular season record in franchise history, he and the team will have a chance to rewrite their story this season. The man who had perhaps the most to do with the team’s current malaise will get the lion’s — or should I say tiger’s — share of the credit for digging them out of their funk.
If the opposite happens and the 28-year-old continues to perform at the same below-average level seen from him all season long, then we may just be looking at the final few games of Evans in a Hamilton Tiger-Cats uniform.
For the man who people both inside and outside of the organization believed would be the franchise quarterback for at least the next half-decade, it is now a five-game audition to salvage not only his Tiger-Cats career but perhaps his professional football career as well.
Evans has approximately 45 days to change the trajectory. With his possible replacement now gone for at least the next month, this is Evans’ chance to once again seize the job all for himself.
For better or worse, it is now a one-man show for the Tiger-Cats at quarterback and that show stars Dane Evans.