Monday 26 January 2015

Breaux Geaux's Home to the Big Easy!

Every Hamilton Tiger-Cats fan knows by now that all-star cornerback Delvin Breaux has been released by the team in order to sign a contract with his hometown New Orleans Saints.

Not that this came as a surprise to anyone who watched him “lock-up” receivers on the boundary side for the better part of the last two seasons. Delvin is that rare-breed athlete that possesses height, length, size, speed and toughness, all ideal qualities to play out on the island that is short-side corner. You did not have to be a veteran football scout to see and know that No. 27 had everything it takes to make it in the NFL.

I believe it goes without saying that all Ti-Cat fans are extremely happy for Delvin. We all know his incredible backstory, and have watched with great interest as he garnered more attention and respect league-wide and in the media. He also seemed, and I can attest personally, to be a very genuinely nice guy. Always with that big, broad, bold smile; always saying thank-you and appreciative of the fans’ attention; and always with a “Retweet” and “Favourite” and reply to anything you directed his way on Twitter.

Delvin is one of the good guys and it is nice when good things happen to good people. It is also uplifting to see hard work pay off and an underdog story come true.

On a personal side, I had the opportunity to meet and interact with “Chip” and his fiancĂ© Kasey a few times this past season. The recent LSU graduate came up to Hamilton to support and be with her soon-to-be husband this past CFL season. Honestly, you could not find a more adorable couple. Kasey: so proud of Delvin and all that he had strived and worked for and accomplished. Delvin: equally and even more proud of Kasey’s recent graduation and thankful for her love and support in his endeavors. Add in their dog Diesel and you truly could not find a more loving couple, and I simply could not be happier for them.

Before we move on to discuss what Mr. Breaux’s departure means to the Hamilton defense this upcoming season, I would like to address an issue that has irked me recently.

There are some that dislike it when CFL teams release some pending free agents prior to the opening of free agency in order to sign a NFL contract. There are also some that feel the CFL should not become a development league for the NFL and put in more restrictive player movement policies and contracts. And finally, there are some that feel it should not be mentioned that a player is going to the NFL. I vehemently disagree with these sentiments and honestly have a difficult time understanding such head-in-the-sand mindset.

Addressing the first issue, releasing a pending free agent a few weeks or even a month before free agency in the CFL opens up so that they can sign an offer from a NFL team is just good employee relations. As we have seen, not all these opportunities work out and a good faith move like that from management can only help when the player decides to return to the CFL.

The second issue about the CFL becoming a development league for the NFL to me is not only ludicrous but also laced with xenophobic paranoia! Realistically, there are somewhere between 10 to 20 players per year who leave the CFL in an effort to crack the roster of a NFL club. Less than half of them are successful and do not return north of the border. So really we are talking about less than two percent of the players at most and more realistically less than one percent that jump from the CFL to the NFL.

Lastly on this tangential subject, let us face facts. The NFL is the dream of most every young man that plays the game of football. The remuneration and recognition is undeniable especially for those born and raised south of the border. We would not fault a homegrown hockey player who begins their career in Europe wanting to and striving toward getting an NHL opportunity. I personally feel it is a great thing when a CFL player gets the opportunity to pursue their NFL dream. It adds credibility to the league as having top-level talent.

Now, as far as what Hamilton will do to replace Delvin is a much harder question to answer. I feel the Ti-Cats could look at a couple players currently on their roster in order to fill the void.

Free agent acquisition from last year Brandon Stewart had an up and down season when he made the difficult move from field-side corner to boundary-side defensive halfback. I believe the former Monster from Eastern Arizona Junior College has both the size and physicality to lock-up the X-spot receivers lined up on the weak-side of the formation. At times, Stewart looked a little lost in space at defensive back and had difficulty picking up switches in different zone coverage packages. This would not be as much the case at boundary corner since his primary responsibility would be one-on-one coverage. Focusing and narrowing Brandon’s responsibilities, while allowing him to play physical, may very well benefit both him and the team very well.

Rico Murray would also be a potential candidate to replace Breaux on the short-side island. In fact, the former Golden Flash from Kent State has played there before when injuries and roster juggling occurred in the past. But as pointed out by my associate Josh, moving No. 0 out to the edge takes his excellent ball skills out of the mix. Murray is a ball-hawk and playmaker, pure and simple. Keeping him inside whether at defensive back or SAM linebacker is really the best spot for his skill set and abilities.

My guess is that Coach Steinhauer will give Brandon Stewart the opportunity to prove himself at boundary-side corner while potentially moving Rico Murray over to boundary-side defensive halfback giving him help over the top on the weak side. Then the task will be to shore up the field side of the formation, with most likely Ed Gainey and Courtney Stephen pairing up on the wide side.

I for one hope to see more stories like Delvin’s in the future, and I firmly believe it increases the overall talent level in the CFL rather than the myopic and narrow view that it takes it away!

Good luck and best wishes to Mr. Breaux in “Who Dat Nation.”

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