Big box office returns needed for Ticats’ free agency reboot to be deemed a success

Photo courtesy: David Moll/Calgary Stampeders

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats have undergone their most drastic roster makeover in years, hoping to turn a team that finished 8-10 a year ago into a certified blockbuster fit for the summer movie season.

Whether this roster reboot plays out more like Tom Holland’s Spider-Man or Andrew Garfield’s, we will have to wait to see. The initial results certainly give fans hope that the franchise has found the right cast to take them back to the top of the box office.

It started with their new leading man. Trading for and later signing quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell showed that the organization was serious about getting back on course.

The former two-time Most Outstanding Player is not the only new member of the cast, as the black and gold found 12 other new faces to be part of the ensemble. Some will play major roles in the upcoming production and others will have smaller parts to play. The team also kept a few key holdovers from the franchise’s past that still fit with this rebooted team.

Among the new stars are linebacker Jameer Thurman, running back James Butler, defensive lineman Casey Sayles, receiver Duke Williams and defensive back Chris Edwards.

Thurman is one of the most under-appreciated players in the league. A quiet, under-the-radar linebacker that has a nose for the football — six interceptions and eight forced fumbles in 64 career games — he will be tasked with manning the middle of a stout Tiger-Cats front seven. If “The Thurmanator” can continue his upward trajectory from his time in Calgary, his addition will prove to be one of the best any team made this offseason.

Butler, who finished second in the league in rushing a season ago, brings a versatile skill set and is the perfect dual-threat weapon out of the backfield for a team led by Mitchell. In addition to his 1,060 rushing yards, he caught 53 passes for 384 yards and four touchdowns a year ago. Butler reminds me a lot of former Tiger-Cats running back C.J. Gable and is the perfect person to be recast in the role that he once performed so exceptionally.

Williams and Edwards come with some baggage — the latter with the Ticats’ fanbase, in particular — but if both can keep their proverbial noses clean, they will make for great additions to the star-studded cast. Not everyone can be a choir boy but when the talent is this immense, the risk is worth the reward.

Sayles is like the character actor that brings the heat every time he steps on the screen. You pair him with another lunchbox type in Dylan Wynn and you have the potential for a breakout star.

Returning cast members from last year such as Simoni Lawrence and Tim White will be joined by some old friends. Defensive lineman Ja’Gared Davis returns to Steeltown after a year in Toronto, as does offensive lineman Joel Figueroa, who spent the first three seasons of his career with the Tabbies from 2013 to 2015 before leaving to become one of the league’s top left tackles with Edmonton and B.C.

The sounds you heard from Hamilton last Thursday was a group exhale when Lawrence’s return for a 10th season in the Hammer was confirmed. Perhaps the most admired Tiger-Cat since Angelo Mosca was not cast aside for some young up-and-comer but will instead be given the chance to help spearhead this new production, perhaps for the final time.

Davis returns to the fold after a year away, hoping to bring the same good luck he has brought to every team he has been a part of in his career. Davis is famously six-for-six when it comes to seasons played and Grey Cup appearances and these rebooted Tiger-Cats hope that streak hits seven this season. Having a good luck charm on a notoriously cursed team is never a bad thing and when it comes with the type of production you typically see out of Davis, it makes all the sense in the world to re-add him to the cast.

Figueroa is like the guy who had a couple of nice moments early on in his career that ended up becoming a much bigger star than anyone could have thought possible. Think Bryan Cranston going from playing Tim Whatley on Seinfeld and Hal on Malcolm in the Middle to winning Emmys for playing Walter White on Breaking Bad; no one saw that transformation coming just as no one saw Figueroa going from a decent, albeit oft-injured role player into becoming one of the most durable and reliable players at his position.

White’s return gives the franchise a young star they can market whose stock is seemingly still on the rise. The only concern is now that he is making A-list money, will he still produce A-list performances?

Finding local talent is imperative for any production and the Ticats did just that by bringing in a quartet of talented Canadian players in defensive lineman Kwaku Boateng, linebacker Fraser Sopik, and receivers Llevi Noel and Chris Osei-Kusi. Boateng is looking to continue the star trajectory that was halted due to missing all of last season with an Achilles injury. If he can get back to being the player who terrorized quarterbacks while in Edmonton, the Ticats may have added their most important non-quarterback.

Noel, Sopik and Osei-Kusi will be valuable role players throughout the season. They may only get a scene or two to show what they can do but at some point all three will make an impact.

No reboot comes without cast casualties, as the team had to say goodbye to several talented players such as linebacker Jovan Santos-Knox, defensive lineman Julian Howsare and defensive back Kameron Kelly. While they all performed well above expectations during their time in black and gold, moving on to a new chapter requires some changes to be made.

When a movie flops, everyone goes looking for answers. Casting new people is a surefire way to get hype for your next film but all the pretty press releases won’t matter if it is followed by a product that fails to live up to the lofty expectations.

There are still some roles that need to be cast — the Ticats are thin in the secondary after watching Cariel Brooks, Ciante Evans and Jumal Rolle leave in free agency — but the pillars of a successful franchise reimagining are present.

The Tiger-Cats are hoping to end a 23-year championship drought. The cast looks to be great and the men behind the scenes are all talented enough to make a blockbuster, but there is always the chance they have put the pieces together like Tom Cruise’s terrible version of The Mummy, instead of Brendan Fraser’s iconic one.

The hope among the fans of this long-running franchise is that this group will make the latter and not the former.

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.