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.

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