The Hamilton Spectator

Are Ticats closing gap on East leaders?

Plenty of movement to and from roster of black and gold, but what happens at QB remains key

- SCOTT RADLEY OPINION SCOTT RADLEY IS A COLUMNIST WITH THE HAMILTON SPECTATOR FOCUSING ON SPORTS AND POLITICS. REACH HIM AT SRADLEY @THESPEC.COM.

As you may recall — sorry for the painful reminder in case expensive therapy had just helped erase this memory — the Hamilton TigerCats didn’t have a whole lot of success against Toronto or Montreal in 2023. Which is the gentlest possible way of saying it was ugly.

Eight times they squared off. Eight times Hamilton lost. Only one of those contests was even close.

So the first goal for the Ticats when Canadian Football League free agency opened Tuesday was pretty simple. Use the signing window to find some pieces to close the gap. Better yet, eliminate it.

Sure, winning the Grey Cup is obviously the focus. But, since you’re probably going to have to beat one of those two teams to get to the big game, that’s the initial target.

So what did the Ticats do on Tuesday — and before that — to make this happen?

First, the black and gold re-signed some key pieces including defensive backs Richard Leonard and Stavros Katsantoni­s, kicker Marc Liegghio, offensive linemen Brandon Revenberg and Jordan Murray and defensive lineman Casey Sayles.

They also picked up linebacker Jordan Williams in a trade with the Argos. Star cornerback Jamal Peters and defensive lineman Dewayne Hendrix were reportedly lured away from the double blue (teams were allowed to talk to players for a week beforehand but those deals have not been made official). Then they inked receiver Terry Godwin II.

There are some nice pieces there. And it could still get better.

Defensive lineman Ted Laurent and linebacker Simoni Lawrence — and a number of others — remain unsigned. They could factor into this. Others will come.

Then there’s Tim White. The explosive receiver is one of the most sought-after free agents on the market. He’s going to command a big salary. Whether the Ticats can re-sign him will be significan­t.

Of course, there were losses, too. Backup QB Matt Shiltz left for Calgary, defensive back Tunde Edeleke went down the QEW to Toronto, defensive lineman Malik Carney and linebacker Jameer Thurman went to Saskatchew­an and defensive lineman Dylan Wynn posted a goodbye message on Instagram, so he’s presumably gone.

Whether you think all this makes Hamilton better or worse is really only half the story, though. Because, while the organizati­on can close that gap by improving, that can also happen by the Argos and Als getting worse.

At least one of those teams looks like it did.

Montreal won the Grey Cup last season so they’re pretty good. But it’s important to remember that they weren’t a great team throughout the season. Rather, they were solid and got hot at the perfect time.

Nothing that happened Tuesday suggests they’ll be a softer touch in 2024, though. In fact, they should be better.

Toronto’s off-season, on the other hand, has suddenly become a bit of a scramble. In addition to losing the trio of defenders to Hamilton, superstar running back AJ Ouellette bolted for the Roughrider­s, all-star linebacker Adarius Pickett reportedly left for Ottawa and the league’s most outstandin­g special teams player, Javon Leake, took off for Edmonton.

Defensive co-ordinator Corey Mace is now head coach in Saskatchew­an and veteran running back Andrew Harris retired. This after the double blue had already traded star receiver Kurleigh Gittens Jr. to Edmonton.

Take away all these parts from a roster that was absolutely dominant last season and, while they haven’t been decimated, you have to believe they’ve come back to the pack a bit. Or more than a bit.

So, a few hours into free agency, is that gap closing? Closed? Eclipsed?

Let’s tap the brakes before we start getting into too many prediction­s right now. Judgments made at this point are always going to be incredibly dicey because mid-February rosters don’t really mean much.

Plus, new faces usually bring excitement and create possibilit­ies that can be exaggerate­d. On the other hand, less-hyped signings can turn out to be gold. It’s really a fool’s errand to go all Carnac at this moment.

That said, it does feel like that gap is smaller now.

Really, though, so much of this season feels like it’s going to be less about supporting pieces coming in and more about whether Bo Levi Mitchell can return to form and stay healthy. If the 33-year-old QB can, there’s no signing that would have a bigger impact.

In fact, considerin­g how little he played last year, a big season by him would essentiall­y be the equivalent of a free-agent addition at the mostimport­ant position on the field.

You want to close the gap. That’s where you close the gap.

 ?? PETER POWER THE CANADIAN PRESS FILE PHOTO ?? Hamilton Tiger-Cats wide receiver Terry Godwin II has re-signed with the team. The 27-year-old Godwin started 19 games including playoffs last season, registerin­g 68 catches for 864 yards and six TDs.
PETER POWER THE CANADIAN PRESS FILE PHOTO Hamilton Tiger-Cats wide receiver Terry Godwin II has re-signed with the team. The 27-year-old Godwin started 19 games including playoffs last season, registerin­g 68 catches for 864 yards and six TDs.
 ?? ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada