Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Hamilton's RB Conundrum (UPDATED)

Having an overabundance of talented players isn’t usually seen as a problem, but the Hamilton Tiger-Cats find themselves in just that position with their stable of running backs. Hamilton has two legitimate bell cow backs, and one guy who if given the opportunity might be one. While it is a great problem to have, it is still, nonetheless, a problem.

Going into 2014, the Ti-Cats felt they had their running back situation all settled. Reigning East Division rookie of the year C.J. Gable was going to pick up where he left off in 2013. Gable finished with 1,380 total yards (782 rushing, 598 receiving) and 12 total touchdowns, and established himself as a true, multi-threat runner last season. Gable looked set for superstardom after a tremendous rookie campaign.

Like every good team, the Ti-Cats went out and brought in guys to back up Gable, but the hope and belief was that Gable would continue the upward trajectory that hastened former starter Chevon Walker's exit from Hamilton (Walker was selected by the Ottawa RedBlacks in last winter's expansion draft).

But things don’t always work out as planned. Gable spent more games off the field than on in 2014, and a number of running backs were used to fill the hole Gable left, most notably Mossis Madu and Nic Grigsby. Madu is a similar style of player to Gable and was the first off the bench to replace him. Madu played well, but he too couldn’t stay healthy. Enter Grigsby.

Grigsby’s story is one that is well known. He started the year in Winnipeg like a ball of fire, but numerous factors led to Grigsby asking for and receiving his release from the Bombers in mid-October. Just days later he was signed by Hamilton, and while he got off to a slow start, he settled in nicely near the end of the season. In back-to-back games against the Montreal Alouettes, in the regular season finale and the East Division Final, Grigsby rushed for 93 yards in each contest and scored three times.

So now the Tiger-Cats will enter the 2015 season with three running backs on their roster – two of which are former division All-Stars – that are all capable of contributing significantly, if not outright starting. So what do they do?

One thing they cannot do is play all three. At times, CFL teams are loathe to dress two running backs, let alone three. So putting all three on the game-day roster just isn’t an option.

They could try and trade one to get some help elsewhere – like, say, the offensive line – but that is difficult to do. Most teams seem pretty set at running back, plus the old adage that running backs are a dime dozen rings especially true in the CFL.

They can’t cut one of them because all three have proven to be valuable contributors and to just let one free would be foolish. Another team would absolutely pick any of the three up if they were released, so parting ways with any of them and getting nothing in return is simply not an option.

The pecking order, at least from this corner, is Gable, Grigsby, Madu, so if the team was going to dress two, it would be Gable and Grigsby. What also aids in that is how Gable and Grigsby have different styles of play. Gable, who truly has few flaws in his game (aside from staying healthy), is a more explosive players, while Grigsby is the guy who will put his head down and pound the rock for those tough, inside yards (think Avon Cobourne). That’s not to say Gable can’t or won’t do that, just that Grigsby has shown a willingness and an adeptness at doing so. So a thunder-and-lightning approach in the backfield could be the course the Ti-Cats chart in 2015.

But where does that leave Madu? Honestly, I do not know. Stashing him on the practice roster isn’t an option, but neither is dressing him. Madu is in a weird spot because he is talented enough to play – he showed that in 2014 – but he’s not as good as the two guys ahead of him on the depth chart. Madu may be the odd-man out, but that doesn’t mean he should be out of Hamilton.

A lot can change between now and the start of the season, but as of this writing, the Tiger-Cats look to have the one problem teams probably don’t mind having: too much talent (at least at the running back position.

OK, so when the CFL released their list of upcoming free agents, Nic Grigsby was listed as one of Hamilton's. This surprised me. I had no idea that Grigsby had signed for just the remainder of the 2014 season. Obviously this changes what Hamilton may or may not do at the running back position. If Grigsby goes elsewhere, I have doubt very seriously that C.J. Gable or Mossis Madu will be in a different uniform as well. But if the team re-signs Grigsby, is it possible that Gable could be let go? Definitely something to watch during the offseason.


  1. Here's a thought...and a bit of a hunch that has been circulating in my mind over the past week..maybe none of them are back? Knowing how Austin's mind works in mysterious ways, perhaps he moves them to fill other holes and then brings in someone completely new? Who? No idea... I do know that the Gable injuries make me nervous. We didn't get a chance to see if the foot was back to 100%. Those were two significant injuries, back to back. I thing Grigsby showed some serious value to the team. It wouldn't surprise me if he was the only one back

    1. Honestly, I never thought that none of them would return. I just thought that with them all being on rookie deals, they could afford them all financially. And since all three are decent to very good, I figured they'd keep them all.

      Now, I wrote all this before I found out Nic Grigsby is a free agent, so that changes things. If Grigsby lands somewhere else, I think the chances of Madu and Gable being back increase big time.

      But you are right, Austin has shown a willingness to part with players, even productive ones. This will be something to monitor in the next few months,

  2. The Grigsby news caught me off guard as well. They kept the terms of that deal pretty quiet!

  3. Not all rookie deals are all that cheap. Some of these guys come north for a 6 digit contract. Judge by when they signed, if they sign before Feb it's likely above the CFL average; if they sign in May it's likely for a $50,000 to $60,000 rookie deal with some bonuses in there.