The Hamilton Spectator
Ticats will see plenty of turnover in free agency
It seems a little incongruous because they’ve lost at least six starters to other teams as free agents, but the Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ roster is starting to take shape.
It’s shape that requires some degree of — but not much — speculation, because the team has been releasing new additions only slowly, with the bulk likely being formalized at mid-week, the day after the CFL’s full free-agency period opened.
The Ticats did announce Tuesday that they’ve signed defensive halfback Javien Elliott away from Calgary, and he’ll slot into the weak side of the secondary as a replacement for veteran and former allstar Cariel Brooks, who was released, then signed with Ottawa. Elliott, started only four games for the Stampeders last season, but has played in 52 NFL games, several of them as a starter, and is a keeper.
And receiver Duke Williams also signed on Valentine’s Day — after two years in Saskatchewan, two in Buffalo and two more before that in Edmonton. He gives new quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell another big (six-foot-three, 225-pound) target for possession gains, now that Steven Dunbar Jr. joins Edmonton as a free agent. Williams led the CFL in receiving yardage and touchdowns in 2018 although that was five years ago. But he grabbed 29 passes for a lousy Roughriders side in only eight games last season.
Mitchell and backup Matt Shiltz have some viable targets: Tim White, an absolute must-get, returning on a one-year deal; former leading receiver Bralon Addison likely returning from his injuries in midsummer; big Anthony Johnson, fully acclimatized to the CFL; and Kiondre Smith (the youngest Ticat in 2022) and Hamilton’s Tyler Ternowski both making strides forward last season. And a newcomer or two could emerge, especially if they have speed. There’s also promising Terry Godwin, who finished the year on the practice roster.
Both running backs can also catch the ball as well as run with it, which should relieve some pressure on the pivots. This corner respected Wes Hills’ punishing all-round game for that very reason, but he’s gone to the Redblacks and the Ticats have signed, but not announced, James Butler as a free agent. He was a standout last year in B.C., and has a lot of punch in his five-foot-nine, 210-pound frame. Sean Thomas Erlington — all he does is everything — is a valuable
On the free-agent front so far, Kwaku Boateng, Casey Sayles, James Butler, Duke Williams and Javien Elliott are on the way in, and heading out are Jovan Santos-Knox, Steven Dunbar, Jason Howsare, Micah Johnson, Wes Hills and Jumal Rolle
counterbalance to that pounding game, as he was to that of Hills and the released Don Jackson.
The Ticats have clearly put their emphasis, and their money, on both sides of the line.
Well-paid Brandon Revenberg and David Beard, as well as thirdyear guard Coulter Woodmansey, anchor the centre of the offensive wall, left tackle Tyrone Riley is back, veteran tackle Chris Van Zeyl is still under contract and there’s substantial talk that former Ticat tackle Joel Figueroa could arrive this week as a free agent. Right tackle Colin Kelly is under a banned-substance two-game suspension, and odds are he won’t remain a Ticat.
Seven of the nine Ticat defensive linemen who dressed for the 2022 East semifinal, including Ted Laurent, are back, but the two departures — Micah Johnson, who’s returned to Saskatchewan, and ubiquitous Jason Howare, an Edmonton signee — were both integral parts of the Front Four. But they’re replaced by two free agents, Canadian Kwaku Boateng, who’ll likely rotate with fellow Canadian Mason Bennett at defensive end, and impactful tackle Casey Sayles from the Blue Bombers. Sayles and Boateng haven’t been confirmed by the Ticats, but they’re done deals.
The holes are at linebacker, where Simoni Lawrence has not yet been resigned, Kameron Kelly is looking at the XFL, and leading tackler Jovan Santos-Knox will be missing because he’s now in Ottawa. Jameer Thurman, a major free-agent acquisition, will replace Santos-Knox in the middle and will likely be announced Wednesday. The rest of the second line of defence is still a puzzle searching for all its pieces.
The secondary will also be looking for younger, cheaper help and loses Brooks, as well as Jumal Rolle to Montreal and Ciante Evans, who hasn’t been re-signed. Elliott helps and returning safety Tunde Adeleke and halfback Richard Leonard are all-star material.
On the free-agent front, so far — we’re not including Mitchell, although we should — Boateng, Sayles, Butler, Williams and Elliott are on the way in, and heading out are Santos-Knox, Dunbar, Howsare, Johnson, Hills and Rolle. And there are still lots of things to be determined, including more signings and where quarterback Dane Evans play this season.