Wednesday 22 February 2012

Hamilton's History a Thing of the Past

It comes almost on queue. Nearly every time Hamilton signs a marquee player, as they did last week by signing Andy Fantuz, someone will inevitably bring up the names of Jason Mass, Casey Printers and Kenton Keith, the three biggest busts in recent Tiger-Cat history.

It is undeniable that these three (among some others) were spectacular failures during their time with the Tiger-Cats. They all came to the team with plenty of hype, but failed to live up to even a scintilla of that hype.

But, with the exception of Keith, it was a completely different front office that acquired these players. Current VP of Football Operations Bob O'Billovich took the job at the tail end of 2007, when Maas had already been jettisoned to Montreal and Printers was already in house. And while bringing in Keith proved to be a mistake, it was one of the few errors the front office has made since Obie's arrival. The list of players brought in since are unlikely to be called a bust by anyone. The list includes, but is not limited to, the following:
  • Kevin Glenn
  • Dave Stala
  • Otis Floyd
  • Markeith Knowlton
  • Arland Bruce
  • Jamall Johnson
  • Justin Medlock
  • Rey Williams
  • Alex Gauthier
  • Dan Goodspeed
  • Jason Jimenez
  • Avon Cobourne
  • Stevie Baggs
Every one of those players, at one time or another, performed at a high level while wearing a Tiger-Cat uniform. Their respective achievements speak for themselves. Markeith Knowlton was the 2010 Most Outstanding Defensive Player; Kevin Glenn broke many of Danny McManus' passing records in 2010; Arland Bruce provided the team with star-level production at Receiver, something that had not been seen since Darren Flutie retired; Dave Stala has not missed a game since his arrival (he missed plenty with the Alouettes), and has been one of the most reliable pass catchers in the entire league; Jamall Johnson is a perennial All-Star and ranks among the league leaders in tackles; Justin Medlock is, arguably, the best Kicker in the CFL; Stevie Baggs was a terror following his return from the NFL in 2010. I could go one, but you get the point.

Hamilton, like every team in every sport, has a history of bad moves. But it seems that Hamilton is the only team whose history gets thrown out as a storyline following every transaction. It's not that Hamilton hasn't made mistakes, they have, but that is only one half of the story. Without bringing up the names I listed, the story is incomplete.

What category Henry Burris, Martell Mallett and Andy Fantuz fall into won't be known for some time, but the belief that the Tiger-Cats spend big money only to be disappointed is a thing of the past.

Tuesday 21 February 2012

The Secrecy of Player Salaries, Pt. 2 (Twitter Edition)

A recent debate has broken out on Twitter regarding publicizing player salaries. I have written previously on the subject but input from people who are directly impacted by disclosing salaries have given their opinions on the subject.

It all started when Sportsnet's Arash Madani sent out a tweet somewhat bemoaning the fact that the CFL does not release player salaries. Dave Naylor of TSN also weighed in. Both reporters feel as if the salaries should be made public.

Then things got interesting. First, it was Nikki Jimenez who agreed with me that salaries should be kept private. Then Kevin Glenn made his opinion known, which aligned with Mrs. Jimenez.

The arguments for disclosing salaries were the same we always hear: other leagues publicize their salaries so CFL should as well and fans pay the salaries so they have a right to know. I don't agree at all with either sentiment. For starters, just because other leagues do it doesn't mean every league has to. That is, quite honestly, a rather weak reason. Secondly, while fans may pay to watch the team and therefore contribute to players' salaries, teams like Hamilton lose money, which means fans aren't paying the whole freight. Also, just because your purchases help to offset cost doesn't grant you the right know what the employees make. Purchases made by Tim Horton's customers pay for those salaries, but you wouldn't dare walk into your local coffee shop and ask to know what the guy or gal behind the counter makes.

I'm not surprised at the stances taken by the respective groups; reporters want to know more and players (and their wives) want to keep their privacy. I also don't think either side is wrong, I just happen to side with Kevin Glenn and Nikki Jimenez.

I am sure this is an issue that will continue to spring up, but until a really strong reason for publicizing salaries is made – and that has yet to happen, in my opinion – the status quo is just fine. Players are people too, and just because they are talented enough to make a living in a high-profile profession, does not mean they lose the right to their financial privacy. I don't see how a fan's enjoyment of the game is enhanced by knowing what the players make. I understand that transparency is important, but so is individual privacy. On this issue, privacy should win out.

Monday 20 February 2012

Ryan Hinds' Worthy Cause

The CFL players do untold amounts of charitable work, whether it be running football camps, doing stuff in the communities they play in or helping out in their hometowns. CFL players are as generous with their spare time as any athlete on the planet, and the league does an excellent job of recognizing the players' contributions off the field, and awards one such player at year's end with the Tom Pate Memorial Award at the annual CFL Awards banquet.

Ryan Hinds is just the latest to use his burgeoning stardom to give something back. Hinds has partnered up with the non-profit organization Guyana Help the Kids and has started his own blog to help spread the word. Guyanna Help the Kids does its charitable work in the field of health care, and Hinds will volunteer his time by going back to his home country with doctors from McMaster in March.

Stories like this don't make the headlines, and even when they are published they sometimes get overlooked. I hope Hinds finds as much success in this arena as he has on the football field.

Sunday 19 February 2012

What's Still Left to Do

It was a slow start to free agency for the Tiger-Cats, but the slew of signings on Friday and Saturday saw the team fill some holes and upgrade its talent.

But that doesn't mean the work is done for the Ti-Cats' front office; Hamilton still have some questions that need addressing.

First and foremost is either signing or parting ways with Kicker Justin Medlock. The former being much more preferable than the latter, but Hamilton has to decide one way or another what they are going to do with their kicking game. Bringing Medlock back should have been a priority before free agency started, but with his desire to try out for NFL teams, that was obviously not possible. Medlock seems open to returning, so the Cats need to get him signed. Now that the team has finished the bulk of their major free agent upgrades, it's time to focus heavily on bringing Medlock back for the 2012 season.

Many, including myself, expected the Cats to upgrade their young Secondary during free agency, but when the BC Lions decide to sign almost every available Defensive Back, the Cats were left with few options. They could still go after Brandon Isaac, Mark Estelle or Tad Kornegay, but I get the feeling the team will stand pat.

The team signed Offensive Lineman Tim O'Neill and Defensive Lineman Greg Peach, but some more help along the lines is probably still needed. Not to start – both Lines look to have their units set – but for depth. That could come in the form of American free agent camps or the draft (or last year's draft picks, like Offensive Lineman Moe Petrus), so unless someone like Rob Murphy, Taylor Robertson or Alex Buzbee agree to sign for cheap, the Cats are likely done exploring the open market for help along the lines.

The Tiger-Cats have already made a lot of changes as we inch closer to the start of the 2012 regular season and more changes are sure to come. The team has done a lot, but there is still more left to do.

Saturday 18 February 2012

Eiben Officially a Tiger-Cat

After 11 season, Kevin Eiben has traded his Double Blue for some Black & Gold, as the team made his signing official today.

Eiben had been linked to the Cats since the opening day of free agency, and he brings a wealth of experience to his new team.

Despite where his football home was over the last decade, I have always liked Eiben. He was a great player for Toronto, and even though he is at the tail end of his career, he still has a lot left to give. He won't be a starter – the Linebacking corps is set – but he will probably see some time on Defense. Where he will make the most impact is on Special Teams.

Eiben's addition also helps Hamilton add to its Canadian depth. If Ray Mariuz retires again, Eiben can slide right into his role. If Mariuz returns, the Cats are in even better shape.

Any way you slice it, Eiben's signing is very good news.

A Look at Hamilton's 2012 Schedule

Amidst the frenzy of Fantuz's signing, the CFL released the 2012 schedule on Friday.

The season kicks off with Saskatchewan coming to Hamilton to play the Tiger-Cats on June 29th. That means that Andy Fantuz's first game as a Tiger-Cat will be against his former club.

It won't be long before we get a glimpse of the new Battle of Ontario, as the Ricky Ray-led Toronto Argonauts travel down the QEW to take on the Tiger-Cats in Hamilton in Week 3.

In Week 5, we will find out what kind of reception Rider fans will give Andy Fantuz as the Cats travel to Regina. Because of the Fantuz signing, Hamilton-Saskatchewan could end up being a very testy rivalry for the next couple of years, at least between the two fan bases.

Hamilton faces their toughest test when they play back-to-back road games against the Bombers (August 16th) and Montreal (August 23rd). Hamilton was unable to win in or against Winnipeg last season, dropping all four game (including the playoffs), and while the Montreal hex was broken in 2011 (Hamilton beat the Als three out of five contests, including the thrilling East Division Semi-Final), it won't be easy for the new-look Cats to take out the Als.

Fans can also rejoice, as the Labour Day Classic is back to what it is supposed to be. The Argos will head back to Hamilton for the annual meeting on the first Monday of September, and Hamilton will return the favour by heading to Toronto five days later.

After that, the team alternates between home games and away games, until the season comes to a close in Toronto on November 1st.

But maybe the most important day, or at least the one long-time fans will cherish the most, is the October 27th game against the Blue Bombers. That is to be, barring a home playoff game, the final Tiger-Cats game at venerable Ivor Wynne Stadium. My hope is for a huge crowd to send the stadium out in proper style.

Hamilton's schedule is actually very good. Only one road trip to Montreal, four games against the Argos, and only one two-game road trip. The team also plays the majority of their home games on Friday or Saturday, and not one game, either home or away, is played on a Sunday. For the final season at Ivor Wynne, it couldn't be set up any better more massive crowds. It's as good a schedule as could be hoped for, and it could portend to great things for the franchise in 2012.

Hamilton's Active Day

It took longer than I expected, but at around 10AM this morning the news broke via an e-mail to season ticket holders sent by Bob Young:

Andy Fantuz is coming home.

The Cats signed the 2010 Most Outstanding Canadian to a four-year contract (three years, plus a club option) for a reported $180,000 with $10,000 in incentives per year.

There is no way to spin this other than in a positive direction. Fantuz is the premier Canadian Receiver, and his addition to the lineup gives the team arguably the best group of Receivers in the CFL. As things look now, Fantuz will take the field with 2011 Most Outstanding Rookie Chris Williams, the recently re-signed Bakari Grant and Terence Jeffers-Harris and fellow Canadian Dave Stala. That is as fearsome a fivesome as any in the league, and that group doesn't include Aaron Kelly and a player I think could do big things, Jeremy Kelley. That Cats, to put it bluntly, are loaded at Receiver.

But following all the Fantuz hoopla, the Ti-Cats made two other import signings, and appear on the verge of making a third. Hamilton picked up former Stampeder Offensive Lineman Tim O'Neill and ex-Eskimo Defensive Lineman Greg Peach, and look to have secured former Argo Linebacker Kevin Eiben.

O'Neill will likely replace the departed Simeon Rottier at Guard. O'Neill is older than Rottier, but he can be a decent fill-in for the departed former No. 1 overall pick. Peach will plug the hole left by Justin Hickman, who signed with Indianapolis. Peach has tremendous talent, and was actually one of free agents I thought the team should target. He can be a force on the outside or inside, and helps fill a void while also upgrading one of the weak spots on Hamilton's roster. Eiben is no longer a starter, but he is a valuable depth guy, and can be an excellent Special Teams player. The Cats are a better team today than they were yesterday.

But today is all about Fantuz. He was the prize of free agency and the Ti-Cats went out and got him. Much like the hiring of George Cortez, the Cats set their sites on someone and did what they needed to do to acquire them. The upcoming season is shaping up to be an exciting one in Tigertown.

(Note: The league released the 2012 schedule on Friday. I will have my take on that sometime late Saturday morning or early afternoon.)

Thursday 16 February 2012

No Fantuz, But Cats Do Make a Move

While the world (or namely fans of the CFL, especially those in Hamilton and Regina) waits patiently for Andy Fantuz to decide where he will suit up next season, free agency entered its second day with a little more action that day one.

For Ti-Cat fans, Fullback Darcy Brown has re-upped for two more seasons in Black & Gold. Brown is a good young player who hasn't been used to his full potential. With the new coaching staff apparently liking what Brown brings to the table, we could see him employed much more frequently in 2012 and beyond.

Also of interest to Ti-Cat fans is the signing of former Quarterback Adam Tafralis by the rival Toronto Argonauts. Tafralis was let go prior to last season when it was clear he was not going to be anything more than the team's No. 3 Quarterback. In Toronto, it looks like he will be the primary backup to new starter Ricky Ray.

In the biggest non-Hamilton-related news of the day, the Roughriders officially brought in ex-Bomber Brendon LaBatte (thought by many to be the top available Offensive Lineman) and former Argonaut Dominic Picard. Both players were All-Stars in 2011 and help upgrade the Saskatchewan's O-line. The Montreal Alouettes got in on the fun by signing former Eskimo Linebacker Rod Davis. Davis becomes the newest member of a rather stacked Montreal Linebacking group, joining forces with incumbents Chip Cox, Diamond Ferri, Ramon Guzman and Shea Emry.

Which brings us back around to Mr. Fantuz. With the Riders reportedly committing somewhere in the neighbourhood of $300,000-350,000 to both Picard and LaBatte, do they still have the money left to re-sign Fantuz? If not, or if they can't offer him as much, does that make Hamilton the front runners.

Dave Naylor of TSN (whose sources are pretty top notch) seems to think that Fantuz is leaning towards to the Ti-Cats; however, Perry Lefko of Sportsnet (whose sources are not as good as Naylor's) is being led to believe that Saskatchewan is the front runner. With word being that Fantuz will be back from Africa on Saturday, and potentially making his final decision on Monday, it looks like the saga will continue, and Fantuz Watch 2012 will last a couple more days.

Wednesday 15 February 2012

Day One of Free Agency Starts and Ends With a Whimper

The league moved the start of free agency up 12 hours, but perhaps the old midnight start time hid the truth that the beginning of free agency isn't very exciting. There was very little in the way of actual signings – for a brief period of time new Eskimos Receiver Cary Koch, he of 36 career catches, was the talk of the league – and all of the marquee names are still available (though the late word is that former Argos Defensive Back Byron Parker is heading to BC).

News on the Tiger-Cat front was scarce, and the team did not sign any players on day one. The team is apparently looking at former Argos Linebacker Kevin Eiben. Eiben would make an excellent addition to the team, as he can start at Linebacker (if needed) and provides great Canadian depth.

The team has also sent a contract to Justin Medlock. I've expounded enough about Medlock, but in short, SIGN THE MAN!

But the biggest news of the day, Ti-Cats wise, was Bob Young's tweet about none other than Andy Fantuz.

Fantuz is currently in Africa on vacation, and the time difference is being used as a reason for his not having a deal. So when Young said that he "always wanted to go on Safari to bag a big Cat," everyone took notice.

Young is not one to say things publicly that could jeopardize his team, so he must be under the impression that the Cats have a very good shot of signing the Chatham, ON native. Based on the signings of Receivers Koch and Greg Carr by Edmonton and Jason Barnes by the Argos, it seems as if the Riders and Ti-Cats remain as the two top suitors for the 2010 Most Outstanding Canadian.

I initially thought the big names, like Fantuz and former Blue Bomber Guard Brendon LaBatte, would already be signed, but that obviously didn't happen. I don't expect either to remain on the market for long – LaBatte is thought to be on the verge of signing with the Roughriders – but who knows.

The league changed the start time to make the beginning of free agency to be more fan friendly; it turned out to be anything but. Perhaps moving the time back or allowing teams to talk to players a day or so before the official opening, without fear of tampering, would have made today more exciting.

In any event, the free agent frenzy was anything but; however, with lots of good players still on the open market, a lot is still left to be determined.

Tuesday 14 February 2012

Cats Re-Sign Ike Brown

On the eve of free agency, the Tiger-Cats have locked up one of their own as Linebacker Ike Brown announced via his Twitter account that he has re-signed with the team.

Brown was one of seven Ti-Cat players that would have hit the open market tomorrow at noon.

As I discussed on Monday, Brown missed all of last season with a knee injury when he voluntarily participated in the team's rookie camp. I'm impressed that a veteran player would put in that commit, and I'm also glad to see the team recognize Brown's commitment.

Brown's value doesn't come on Defense – where he sees little time because of the All-Star-calibre trio the Cats employ – but on Special Teams. Brown is an excellent Special Teamer, and the Cats needed some Special Teams help, especially with theretirement of Safety and Special Teams ace Dylan Barker back in January.

The Cats now have six free agents remaining, all of which will probably be testing the market in a little less than 16 hours.

Brown's re-signing, while significant, is the appetizer to tomorrow's main course.

Free Agency Primer: Looking Elsewhere

Yesterday, I looked at Hamilton's potential free agents, and today I will look at the players from the other seven teams that Hamilton should consider trying to lure to Steeltown. I am not advocating for the team to sign all of these players; in fact, that would be impossible under the current $4.35-million salary cap. But Hamilton would be wise to give these players a look to make the team better. Signing any number of these players would fit with the "better is better" motto the team uses.

Hamilton's biggest needs are along the two Lines and in the Secondary, and they could potentially need a Punter and a Receiver. Those are the areas the team should concentrate on. There are still other ways to acquire talent, so should the team not fill all their needs, they can do so with the CFL Draft, free agent camps and by bringing in previous draft picks that have yet to sign. But that doesn't mean the team shouldn't be busy during free agency as there are a lot of quality players that could fill a lot of holes on the team.

Despite it being one of the groups that least needs an upgrade, Hamilton's No. 1 target should be the same as every other team: Saskatchewan Receiver Andy Fantuz. Forget his 2011 campaign, that wasn't the real Fantuz, and he is far from the only player to come back from an NFL stint and not produce at a high level. Fantuz is still the premier pass catching Canadian in the league. The team that lands him will be getting a playmaking Receiver that rivals any in the league. If a bidding war erupts, I doubt Hamilton will come out on top. But with Fantuz's reported desire to play closer to home, Hamilton has to be in the running. Getting Fantuz would be the biggest coup for any team that lands him. Hopefully, that team is Hamilton.

The Cats lost a very good Offensive Lineman when Simeon Rottier signed with Edmonton and he will need to be replaced. The Cats should first look to Winnipeg's Brendon LaBatte to fill that hole. LaBatte has been an East Division All-Star the past three seasons, and was a league All-Star in 2011. He would not only be a replacement, but an upgrade. If the Cats can't land LaBatte, Montreal's Scott Flory or Toronto's Taylor Robertson are far from boobie prizes. They both come with injury and age concerns, but they could be a good stopgap for a season or two as the team finds a younger player to groom. There has been some chatter about bringing Rob Murphy in, but that would be a mistake. If the team is going to pay for an import Tackle, they'd be better off re-signing Jason Jimenez than bringing in Murphy. It's not easy to find quality Offensive Linemen, especially Canadian ones, but 2012 is as good a year as any to be in the market for one.

As luck would have it, there are a lot of quality veteran Defensive Backs available, which just so happens to be an area the Cats desperately need help at. Toronto's Byron Parker would be a great addition and would instantly upgrade the Secondary. He's a ballhawk, which is something the Cats have lacked since Chris Thompson was dealt to the Eskimos. A couple of BC Lions could be on the shopping list as well, as both Dante Marsh and Ryan Phillips are available. Marsh has an injury question mark, but Phillips is as durable as they come. Either of them would be big upgrade. Montreal's Mark Estelle could help as well, but a season-ending injury in 2011 makes his health a huge question mark. If the will is there, Hamilton should be able to find some Secondary help.

With the loss of Justin Hickman to Indianapolis, the Cats will need to address their deficiencies on the Defensive Line. The unit was already in need of some help before the 2011 All-Star bolted, but now it really needs to be addressed. Edmonton's Greg Peach could be a guy to fill in for Hickman. Peach missed six games last season, but played very well when healthy. The Cats also needs bodies in the middle, and BC's Aaron Hunt fits that need. If Hunt is too expensive, Toronto's Alex Buzbee could be in play. The Defensive Line isn't overflowing with talent, so the team might not be able to address their needs through free agency.

If the Cats are unable to agree to terms with Justin Medlock, the team has Josh Maveety ready to step in at Kicker; however, the team would still need a quality Punter, which makes Calgary's Burke Dales a potential target. As Plan Bs are concerned, Dales is a pretty good one.

It has been a busy, change-filled off-season so far for the Tabbies, so expect some action starting tomorrow. The team is not able to sign all of the above-mentioned players, but signing any of them would upgrade the team. We'll see what the Cats have up their sleeve when free agency begins tomorrow at noon.

Monday 13 February 2012

Free Agency Primer: Hamilton's Own

Free agency begins at noon Wednesday, and the Ti-Cats are the lone team that has yet to re-sign any of its pending free agents. The team, as of today, has seven players who will be free to test the open market in a couple days. Out of those seven, there is only one player, in my opinion, that the team should not even bother to re-sign (Jason Shivers). That leaves six players, all with varying degrees of importance to the team. All six will not return –
Obie has said as much – but that doesn't mean a case can't be made to bring each of them back.

The most important pending free agent is Kicker Justin Medlock. Fans of the BC Lions will vehemently disagree, but Medlock is the league's best Kicker. He finished second in field goal percentage, tied for second in points and made more field goals from beyond 50 yards than any other Kicker in 2011. He was a valuable weapon for the Cats, with team needing to get just over the midfield stripe to make points a near given. Medlock is pursuing NFL opportunities at the time, but if he stays in the CFL, he has to do so with Hamilton. The Tiger-Cats can ill-afford to lose him.

Last season, the team had ratio issues, needing to bring Linebacker Ray Mariuz out of retirement at the end of September and sitting Defensive End Stevie Baggs in the East Division Semi-Final. That makes re-signing Receiver Matt Carter, Defensive Tackle Matt Kirk and Fullback Auggie Barrenechea all the more important. Carter played his role as the wide-side Receiver very well last season, until a vicious injury suffered in Moncton cost him the rest of the regular season. Kirk's presence was sorely missed, and he might be the most important unknown player on the team. He can be very disruptive in the middle, and while he is not a star, he is nonetheless a key member of the Defense. Barrenechea didn't see a lot of playing time after switching over to Fullback, but he is a quality depth player, very good on Special Teams and is a leader in the locker room. With the team parting ways with a lot of veterans, keeping Barrenechea in the fold is a smart idea.

It is pretty clear that Offensive Lineman Jason Jimenez and former Head Coach Marcel Bellefeuille did not see eye to eye, and when Bellefeuille benched Jimenez for the last three games of the regular season and the two playoff games the writing seemed on the wall that Jimenez's days with the team were numbered. Jimenez does have a penalty problem, that is undeniable; however, he is a talented player, and has proven over the years that he can be an excellent Offensive Tackle. With Bellefeuille gone, Jimenez might be willing to return. Bringing back Jimenez does present a problem at Tackle, since the team has Belton Johnson, who took over for Jimenez, and Brian Simmons. Johnson played well in place of Jimenez, and Simmons is entering his second season and needs to play to get better. That said, Jimenez is the most accomplished out of the three, and when on his game he can be one of the premier Offensive Lineman in the CFL.

That leaves one player left: Linebacker Ike Brown. Brown's is a tough case to judge because of his lack of playing time in 2011. Brown suffered a season-ending knee injury when he showed up, voluntarily, to Ti-Cats rookie camp last year. The very fact that he did that shows his commitment. Brown is a good Special Teams player, and he could add to an already good Special Teams group. With the loss of Dylan Barker, himself a good Special Teamer, the Cats would be wise to keep Brown around.

We'll know soon enough how many of these pending free agents will make Hamilton their football home in 2012. If Hamilton decides not to bring these players back, or another team outbids the Tiger-Cats for their services, the team will need to replace them. Free agency is step one in the replacement process, and tomorrow I will look at the players from the other seven teams that the Tiger-Cats could target come Wednesday.

Sunday 12 February 2012

TO in T.O.: Terrell Owens and the CFL

Sometimes, when there isn't much to talk about, I start getting crazy ideas.

This is one of those times.

Free agency is going to start on Wednesday, and I will have my thoughts on that posted in the next two days, but we are in a bit of a lull as far as news in concerned. So I started thinking last night about non-free-agent stuff.

Which led me to this simple question:

Should a CFL team make a play for Terrell Owens?

I know the reasons why not. He's a 38-year-old Wide Receiver with a penchant for being a drama queen. He's an egomaniac that has been his own worst enemy. He has left locker rooms in shambles with his me-first attitude. He is currently playing for the Allen Wranglers of the Indoor Football League, which he owns a portion of as part of his agreement to play for them. Initially, it absolutely looks like a no.

But I also know that the Winnipeg Blue Bombers nearly signed Adam "Pacman" Jones a couple of years ago when he was a twice-suspended player from the NFL. Jones was in far worse shape, career-wise, than Owens is now. Also, the Argos brought in Ricky Williams, who was serving a year-long suspension from the NFL for violating their substance abuse policy. It shows that CFL teams are not afraid to take a risk if they think the player can contribute.

Which brings us back to Owens.

The guy can be a jerk, but he's also an extremely talented player. The fact that he has to play for the Wranglers is not because he's past his prime, it's because he's burned a lot of bridges and he was injured. His last NFL season, in 2010 with the Cincinnati Bengals, Owens put up decent numbers. Even at 38, the guy can still play.

But it is not as simple as saying he can play so sign him up. There are things that need to be taken into consideration.

First and foremost, is the question of whether or not Owens would want to play in the CFL. Normally, that answer would probably be no, but he's further off the map playing in the IFL than he would be playing in the CFL. He wouldn't get as much media attention as he did during his 15-year NFL career, but he'd get more than he'll get suiting up for the Wranglers.

It would also be good PR for Owens. Look at what playing in the CFL did for Ricky Williams. The guy was routinely called a loser after being suspended for a second time, but his time in Toronto seemed to resurrect his career, and there was recently some kind things written about his time in Toronto. Playing in the CFL could help Owens rehab his image in the same way it helped Williams.

The other obvious question is: what CFL would take him? Working on the assumption that he is not currently on a neg list, there is really only one landing spot for a guy like Owens: Toronto. Signing Owens makes both marketing sense and roster sense. The Argos would get one of the most colourful sports personalities of the last decade, making it easier to market the Argos. Adding someone as well known as Owens would get butts in seats.

It also makes roster sense because the most glaring hole in Toronto's Offense is at Receiver. They do not have a go-to guy for new Quarterback Ricky Ray; bringing in Owens would change that instantly. He'd be the big-time playmaker the team sorely needs. He'd make for an excellent additon to the roster from a performance standpoint as much as from a marketing one.

And let's not forget that Owens is not unfamiliar with Toronto. He played for the Bills when they took on the New York Jets at the Rogers Centre SkyDome in 2009. From all the media appearances he made, he seemed to like Toronto. Owens is not a guy who is afraid to voice his opinions, so I take him at his word that he viewed Toronto as a wonderful city.

Could Owens help the Argos (or any other CFL team)? We'll probably never know. But it is still fun to throw the idea out there.

My Dad once said, as a joke, that Ricky Williams was going to play in the CFL (for the record, he said Hamilton, not Toronto).

I called him crazy.

Just goes to show that you never know what might happen.

Thursday 9 February 2012

Pigskin Pete Opens Up

Despite the article being dated January 26, 2011, I was just made aware of this article about Dan Black, better known as Pigskin Pete.

I am surprised at how open and honest the story was, and it really makes you happy to see how beloved this man has become after reading what he went through. I am sure a lot of you were like me and were hesitant to get behind this Pigskin Pete, but now I couldn't imagine a Tiger-Cat game without him. He is not only an excellent cheerleader and mascot, but an excellent representative for the team.

This story will definitely give you a different perspective on Pigskin Pete. I won't go into too much detail and will let you read the article yourself. I thought it was well done and is well worth your time. I hope everyone finds it as fascinating as I did.

Cats Extend Grant, Re-sign Jeffers-Harris

The Cats announced today that Bakari Grant has signed a contract extension and Terence Jeffer-Harris as inked a new deal. Grant's deal keeps him in Hamilton until 2014 and Harris is being brought back after joining the team's practice roster days before the 2011 East Division Final.

Grant's first season will best be remembered for his performance in the East Division Semi-Final. Grant hauled in seven catches for 130 yards and a touchdown. The touchdown catch he made was a beautiful over-the-shoulder grab:

Grant also made the key catch in overtime that allowed the Ti-Cats to score on their first possession, which would be the game's final score as the Cats won 52-44. That game was Grant's coming-out party, and hopefully he can build off that success and turn into a big-time Receiver for years to come.

Jeffers-Harris was brought in amid much controversy just days prior to Hamilton's East Division Final game against Jeffers-Harris' former team, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. It was thought by many (mostly Winnipeg fans), that he was brought in for his knowledge of Winnipeg's Offense. His re-signing should put to end any thought that he was only brought in for information.

With Grant's extension, it is safe to say that he will be a full-time starter in 2012 after splitting time with fellow first-year player Aaron Kelly. Jeffer-Harris is also probably being penciled in as a starter, and when you add those two to incumbents Dave Stala and Chris Williams, that leaves one starting Receiver spot open. Last year, Hamilton started two Canadians in the receiving corps, but Matt Carter is a week away from hitting the open market. Unless the Cats change up their ratio – meaning they start a Canadian somewhere else – the final spot will have to go to a Canadian. Hamilton has a lot of young receiving talent, with Aaron Kelly, Jeremy Kelley, Liam Mahoney and Glenn MacKay all still on the roster. The team might also dip their toe into the free agent market, and their is a certain Chatham-raised Receiver who could fill that fifth spot.

The Cats still have work to do to fill other needs, but with Grant extended and Jeffers-Harris in the fold for a full season, the receiving corps is looking as if it will be one of the team's strongest units.

Wednesday 8 February 2012

Hickman Signs With Indy

The Ti-Cats have lost their second player to the National Football League this off-season (Marcus Thigpen signed with the Miami Dolphins back in January) as Justin Hickman has signed a two-year contract with the Indianapolis Colts.

Hickman was a CFL All-Star in 2011, tying for the league lead in sacks with 13. His move to the NFL is really no surprise, as Hickman joins Cameron Wake, John Chick, Phillip Hunt, Ricky Foley and current Tiger-Cat Stevie Baggs as CFL sack masters who got their shot at in the NFL in the last few seasons (of those five, only Baggs and Foley have so far returned).

Hickman is going to have to switch positions if he is to make it in the NFL. He is undersized for a Defensive Lineman, so he will have to play outside Linebacker. Players like Wake and former Ti-Cat Garrett McIntyre have successfully made the switch, so Hickman could as well.

Hickman's departure has an impact on the Tiger-Cats beyond just filling his spot. Hickman leaving means that Stevie Baggs is almost guaranteed to return. Losing one impact pass rusher hurts, losing two would be a deathblow. And considering that Defensive Coordinator Casey Creehan said he prefers to rush four and put eight in coverage, Baggs is needed now more than ever. A week ago, I did not think Baggs would be on the team in 2012. Now it seems almost impossible that he would be released.

But the Cats will have to find a way to replace Hickman, and it won't be easy. The team lost a great young player, and I would like to wish Justin Hickman the best of luck as he tries to make his NFL dream come true.

Tuesday 7 February 2012

CFL Franchise Tag

Last week, the Tiger-Cats released Simeon Rottier and he was quickly snapped up by the Edmonton Eskimos. It had long been been rumoured that Rottier wanted to play in Edmonton, and would leave the Tiger-Cats and sign with the Eskimos when his contract expired following the season.

The Cats said they did everything they could to get Rottier's name on a contract, but in the end they realized there was nothing they could offer that would keep him in Black & Gold. Rottier was Hamilton's first-round pick, first overall, in the 2009 CFL Draft, and had begun to develop into a very good Lineman, starting the last two seasons at Guard. The Ti-Cats nurture him, trained him and groomed him, but lost him to Edmonton for nothing. That's the nature of the game, and it has happened countless times to every team in the league, but that doesn't make it right.

This got me thinking; the NFL has a clause in their CBA to protect a team from losing a great player if they cannot come to terms on a long-term contract: the franchise tag. Teams can designate one free agent per year as its franchise player, and that player gets paid the average of the top paid player at his position over the last five years.

The CFL has no such option, and based on what happened with Rottier and the Tiger-Cats this past week, perhaps they should consider adding one.

Having it would allow teams to keep some of their best players that they are having trouble signing to extensions. It would be somewhat restrictive in that up to eight players would be forced to stay with their current club, and some of those players, like Rottier, who have their heart set on changing teams would be disappointed. That can bring a whole host of problems, but the NFL franchise have made it work, so there is no reason their CFL counterparts couldn't do the same.

There are obvious complications with trying to adopt this for the CFL. First and foremost, is the Players Association would probably never go for it. Restricting player movement, which this plan most certainly would do, would not be met with open arms by the PA. Players Unions have notoriously been against such restrictive practices, so there is no doubt that any franchise tag-like mechanism would be challenged by the PA.

Secondly, the CFL does not publicly divulge player salaries, but this plan relies on the GMs of all eight teams and the agents for all the players knowing exactly what each player makes. I don't know if that happens already, but if it does, then there is no problem. If it does not, then it would have to for this plan to work.

This is obviously a management-friendly idea, but that doesn't mean the players lose in this situation. Even if all eight teams used the tag every year, that would only stop a maximum eight players from leaving during free agency. Therefore, franchise would have to be judicious on who they use their tag on. Many seasons see multiple franchise-worthy players hit the free agent market – just look at Toronto's pending free agents this season – so who to tag and who not to tag would not be an easy decision, and good players would still hit the open market.

The concept has worked in the NFL, so it might be something that can work in the CFL as well.

Friday 3 February 2012

Cats Hire Jim Daley as Special Teams Coordinator

The Ti-Cats filled the final vacant coordinator position today when they announced the hiring of Jim Daley as Special Teams Coordinator. The team also hired Nelson Martin as Defensive Backs Coach and Ryan Sheahan as Running Backs Coach.

Head Coach George Cortez said he wanted an experienced CFL coach as his Special Teams Coordinator and he got one in Daley. I'm not a huge fan of Daley's, but I do like this hiring. He wasn't great as a Special Teams Coordinator the last time he held that position (in Saskatchewan in 2010), but he has been a Head Coach twice in the CFL (with Winnipeg and Saskatchewan), so he could be a help to Cortez as he takes on the responsibility for the first time in his coaching career. An experienced hand, even one that hasn't had the most success, is always helpful to have around.

Now that the coaching staff is almost settled – only the Linebacker and Defensive Line positions still do not have coaches – the team's brain trust can focus on free agency. Given the moves the team has made already, I doubt they will be quiet when free agency begins on February 16th.

In Obie I Question

When hired by Hamilton to be their General Manager (now Vice President of Football Operations) a popular statement made by fans regarding Bob O'Billovich was "In Obie We Trust."

At the beginning of his tenure, it was easy to see why fans had such faith in the decisions being made. Obie got rid of the underachieving Casey Printers, fired the ineffective Charlie Taaffe and replaced him with Marcel Bellefeuille, acquired Kevin Glenn, signed a slew of free agents (Otis Floyd, Jamall Johnson, etc.) and robbed the Argos blind for Arland Bruce. He oversaw a complete roster overhaul, which at the time was needed. There was no foundation, and the team needed to be rebuilt from the ground up. His changes transformed the Cats from perennial fourth-place finisher to perennial playoff contender. Things were not perfect, but they were much better than they were before he arrived.

During the 2011 season, Obie started to make, in my opinion, some highly questionable decisions. Arland Bruce was traded to BC for essentially nothing and Obie openly said that Quinton Porter should play more. The season ended, and the decisions were made to move on from Bellefeuille and Glenn and replace them with George Cortez and Henry Burris, respectively. Say what you want about Bellefeuille and Glenn, but their replacements did not come to the team without their own question marks. How will Cortez adjust to being a Head Coach for the first time? Is the Henry Burris done as an effective starter?

Even with those questions, the decisions to move on from Bellefeuille and Glenn had merit. They did not bring a championship to Hamilton and the front office didn't think they ever would. I might not agree with that belief, but I can at least understand and accept it.

What I cannot understand, and am having a very hard time accepting, is what occurred this week. As I have already pointed out, I don't agree with the team replacing Avon Cobourne with Martell Mallett. Nothing against Mallett, but a change at Running Back was not something the team needed. If one wants to find a person to lay the blame on for the failures of last year, Avon Cobourne would be one of the last names someone would mention.

I know that Mallett is younger and came a little cheaper, but is that a reason to get rid of the league's fourth-leading rusher? Cobourne's all-that-matters-is-winning attitude was exactly what the team needed. He doesn't care about stats, he cares about rings. He didn't get one last year and he would have been extremely motivated to make sure that didn't happen again this year. Releasing Cobourne could blow up in the team's face worse than trading Arland Bruce (which, for the record, I think is one of the worst decisions in franchise history). Even if Mallett duplicates Cobourne's on-field success, he will not be able to match his locker room presence.

And that is what I find most disconcerting about what has transpired over the last six months.

The team has purged itself of a plethora of veteran leaders, which are not easily replaceable. You need players like Cobourne to kick people in the butt when times are tough. You win championships with leaders like that, but who are the leaders in Hamilton now that Bruce, Glenn and Cobourne are elsewhere? Dave Stala can fill a void, and so can Stevie Baggs. (Sidebar: Am I the only one who thinks Baggs could be next on the chopping block? With the way the team has operated since the season has ended, it is very easy to envision No. 55 wearing a different uniform come Training Camp.) Henry Burris can take Glenn's spot, obviously, but Cobourne was clearly the alpha male in the locker room last year (taking the role from Otis Floyd) and there is not a player on the roster that looks ready to take on that responsibility. Every team needs a player like Cobourne if they want to win a championship. And make no mistake, a championship is clearly what the Tiger-Cats are after in 2012.

While it has gone unsaid, it is rather clear that last season's East Division Final appearance was not good enough. If it was, Glenn, Bellefeuille and Cobourne would still be around. That means nothing short of a Grey Cup will be acceptable for the Tiger-Cats in 2012. That's why the moves, especially the ones made at Running Back, don't make a whole lot of sense. You don't get rid of player like Cobourne for ones with one year of CFL experience, especially if your goal is to win now.

I will happily eat a whole bucket of crow should the team win the Grey Cup. My hope is that I am 100 per cent wrong and the Ti-Cats end the second-longest championship drought in the CFL. But based on what I have seen, I don't think that will happen, and I put that on the moves that O'Billovich has made. I am no longer in the "In Obie We Trust" camp. For me, it's now, "In Obie I Question."

Wednesday 1 February 2012

Cobourne Among Three Released

We all knew his days in Black & Gold were numbered, and now it is official: Avon Cobourne is no longer a member of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

When the team signed Martell Mallett earlier this week, everyone knew Cobourne would either be traded of released. There was no way the team was going to carry both high-priced Running Backs into the season. It was never going to happen. Now the Cats have to either sink or swim with a relatively unproven No. 1 ball carrier.

Before I go on I'd just like to thank Avon for his time here. He was a true professional in every sense of the word. He still has a lot left to give and whatever team picks him up will be very happy. I loved watching him play his one and only season with the Tiger-Cats. I, for one, will miss him from this team.

The team also let go Luc Mulliner and Simeon Rottier. Rottier is expected to sign with Edmonton, and while the Cats reportedly tried to trade him to the Eskimos, there was no reason Edmonton would oblige. They can get him for nothing now, so giving up any asset (even a worthless late-round draft pick) would have been silly.

The changes keep coming, and I wonder what the team has planned next.