Former Ticats’ LB Simoni Lawrence bemoans CFL award snubs after ‘unmatched’ level of production

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

Former Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ linebacker Simoni Lawrence has a resume that would make most Hall of Famers blush but one accolade eluded him for all 11 seasons he spent in the CFL.

Three times Lawrence was named the East Division finalist for Most Outstanding Defensive Player: 2015, 2019, and 2021. All three times he left the CFL award show empty-handed; doomed to always be the bridesmaid and never the bride.

After announcing his retirement from football earlier this month, the 35-year-old wasn’t shy about his belief he was snubbed, particularly in 2019 when he fell to Willie Jefferson of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

“I love Willie J, that’s my boy, my close friend, comes to my house and stuff. That year, I had more tackles in one game than he recorded stats, and that’s who got defensive player over me,” Lawrence told CHCH’s Sportline podcast. “And 2021, that wasn’t a close year either but I guess it’s all preference of what they want it to look like. These awards are picked by the CFL, they’re not like the best player gets the awards.”

Fellow linebacker Adam Bighill beat out Lawrence for the award in both 2015 and 2021, holding an indisputable statistical advantage in the first of those two victories. The second was much closer, with Lawrence holding a slight edge in all statistical categories but still losing.

Both of those defeats paled in comparison to 2019 when Lawrence posted 98 defensive tackles, four sacks and three interceptions in 16 games — the finest season in his storied career. In Week 16 of that year, he set a new CFL single-game record with 17 solo defensive tackles.

“There was literally games in 2019 where players would be like, ‘Man, you got it, bro. You win, bro,'” Lawrence laughed. “Like these are grown men with children going ‘No mas,’ you know what I’m saying?”

That dominance did not convince the CFL media, who instead voted for the long-armed defensive end Jefferson even though he finished third in the sack race behind Charleston Hughes and Ja’Gared Davis. In 18 games, Jefferson notched just 24 tackles and 12 sacks, while adding six forced fumbles and an interception.

Lawrence believes that choice came down to reputation, with voters refusing to reward his performance after a controversial late hit to the head of a sliding Zach Collaros in the season-opener. The play resulted in a concussion for the quarterback and a two-game suspension for his former teammate, who was never able to shake his villain label in the aftermath.

Rather than hold the play against him, the native of Upper Darby, Pa. believes media members should have recognized what he accomplished despite the setback.

“Imagine this though, that year that happened and I took my punishment, sat down for two games. Who led the whole league in defensive plays that year still?” Lawrence asked rhetorically. “I missed two games and I came back and still led the whole entire league to get my team to a Grey Cup. The level of football that I was able to play in Canada, it’s unmatched when you really think about it.”

After retiring as the tenth leading tackler in CFL history, that’s hard to argue. However, his impact on the league may be equally unparalleled as that unfortunate hit on Collaros set in motion a series of events that resulted in the Bombers’ current dynasty.

In the process, Lawrence denied himself the only other accolade that eluded him throughout his career: a Grey Cup championship.