Ticats’ trade for David Beard an admission of failure in the trenches, but provides new hope for the future

Photo: Paul Swanson/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats took a big swing on Friday, completing a trade with the Edmonton Elks to acquire Canadian offensive lineman David Beard and a conditional fourth-round pick in exchange for Jesse Gibbon and a second-round pick.

There are several ways you can look at this move by the Tiger-Cats. First and foremost, it is another admission by the franchise that their needs along the offensive line were not met this offseason.

With the addition of Beard, the Tabbies have now consummated three trades with the Elks since May, all of them for offensive line reinforcements. On the eve of the 2022 CFL Draft, the Ticats sent first and third-round picks in this past year’s draft to the Elks for Canadian offensive lineman Kyle Saxelid and Canadian linebacker Grant McDonald. In June, the team parted ways with a seventh-round pick in the 2023 draft to acquire American offensive lineman Colin Kelly.

The Tiger-Cats had a decent but unspectacular offensive line a season ago and the moves the team made over the winter in the hopes of upgrading that unit have simply not panned out. Veteran Chris Van Zeyl has once again spent more time on the injured list than on the field in 2022 and youngsters Gibbon and Kay Okafor have not cemented themselves into a starting role.

The Ticats’ big move was signing free agent Alex Fontana to replace Darius Ciraco, who left for the Ottawa Redblacks. Fontana had opted out of the 2021 season and looks every bit like a player who has not played in three years — he’s dressed for seven games this season and is currently on the six-game injured list.

Any way you slice it, Hamilton failed to fix their offensive line issues, which is why they needed to make three separate deals with the Elks. Even the Saxelid acquisition, which was highly regarded at the time, has not worked out as the team imagined. The 27-year-old has played in just two games this season after being injured in the team’s season-opener and is scheduled to make his first start in the Labour Day Classic.

Just as damning is that by sending Gibbon to Edmonton as part of the deal, the Ticats are admitting that they missed on their second overall pick in the 2019 CFL Draft, who never developed into the starting-calibre player they envisioned.

Gibbon, a Hamilton native who attended my alma mater Sherwood Secondary School, is a player that fans would love to see succeed. The story of the hometown kid making good and becoming a decade-long starter for the local team is always a great one but after two-and-a-half seasons, it seemed obvious that Gibbon would never reach those lofty expectations.

The Waterloo product never made one of the starting positions his own and couldn’t find a way to supplant one of the team’s veteran players. The Ticats’ top pick from the 2020 draft, Coulter Woodmansey, had already leapfrogged Gibbon in the pecking order by the end of last season. That lack of development forced the team to make moves like the Fontana signing or the Saxelid trade — who was selected in the same draft as Gibbon, just 10 picks later in the second round.

Despite that string of failed evaluations up front, the move to acquire Beard shows a team that is more willing to be aggressive in addressing those issues going forward.

The Ticats, remarkably, are still in the thick of the playoff race and adding an all-star calibre centre gives them a better chance of catching either the Montreal Alouettes or Toronto Argonauts for one of the two non-crossover playoff spots. Even if the Tabbies fail to defend their East Division crown, the team has set themselves up nicely to rebound in 2023.

Hamilton hosts the Grey Cup once again next year and after coming agonizingly close to winning on home soil in 2021, the team should be going all out to ensure an appearance in the 2023 title game. They are making a significant financial investment with Beard being signed through next year at a salary of $200,000 than they would be with Gibbon, who is making slightly more than $100,000 and will be a free agent at season’s end.

With Van Zeyl, Fontana, Revenberg and Woodmansey all under contract for 2023, investing in Beard shows that the team is already thinking ahead. If if they can find a way to re-sign Saxelid and/or Kelly, the Ticats could enter next season with their most stable group of offensive linemen since the late 1990s.

Much of that will be courtesy of the Elks, who have now been on the wrong end of three trades with the Tiger-Cats.

The Elks were panned for dealing Saxelid to Hamilton in May and are getting heavily criticized for their decision to trade a player of Beard’s calibre. Their bad luck stretches back to 2013, when Edmonton sent some guys named Simoni Lawrence and Jeremiah Masoli to Hamilton in one of the worst trades in CFL history.

At what point will Edmonton simply stop taking calls from Hamilton?

The Ticats are a better team with Beard on their roster and perhaps that will be enough to give them a chance at a third consecutive trip to the Grey Cup. If not, the trade was still a wise one, as it sets the team up nicely to get back into the championship mix 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.