Free Agency Preview: Hamilton Tiger-Cats

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HAMILTON, ON - NOVEMBER 11: Linebackers Don Unamba #1 and Simoni Lawrence #21 and Larry Dean #11 of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on the bench during the Eastern Semi-Final game against the BC Lions at Tim Hortons Field on November 11, 2018 in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Hamilton defeated BC 48-8. (Photo by John E. Sokolowski/Getty Images)

With CFL free agency just a few short days away, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats will be busy. Like every other team in the CFL, they will be looking at a long list of free agents. While the Tiger-Cats have some holes to fill, they are in better shape than most other teams in the league. For starters, their quarterback situation is arguably the best in the league. While most teams are searching for a starting quarterback, the Tiger-Cats will enter the 2019 season with all-star Jeremiah Masoli.

The late January signing of speedy wide receiver/kick returner Brandon Banks was a massive one for the club. Banks is coming off his best season in 2018 with 94 receptions for 1,423 yards and 11 touchdowns. In addition to his receiving prowess, Banks remains one of the leagues best kick returners.

While the Tiger-Cats have some of the key players in place, there are still some holes to fill. Let’s take a look at their overall current roster and see what work lies ahead.

2019 CFL free agency begins at 12 P.M. on February 12, 2019

Hamilton Tiger-Cats Current Free Agents

Quarterback:
Bryant Moniz.

Running Back:
Mercer Timmis and John White. 

Wide Receiver:
Shamawd Chambers, Felix Faubert-Lussier, Mike Jones, Marquay McDaniel, Terrell Sinkfield, Terrence Toliver, Chris Williams.

Offensive Line:
Mike Filer and Landon Rice.

Defensive Line:
Jason Neill and Adrian Tracy.

Linebacker:
Terrell Davis, Larry Dean, Simoni Lawrence, Don Unamba.

Defensive Back:
Delvin Breaux, Mariel Cooper, Josh Johnson, Courtney Stephen.

Kicker:
Lirim Hajrullahu.

Must Sign Free Agents

Larry Dean, Simoni Lawrence, Don Unamba, Mike Filer, Landon Rice, Delvin Breaux

Larry Dean has just completed his third season in the CFL all as a member of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Dean has played in every game and has improved in each season. Dean is coming off a 105 tackle season, which was tied for third in the league with Adam Bighill. The sky seems to be the limit for Dean and the Tiger-Cats know it.

Simoni Lawrence was another iron man in the Ti-Cats defense last year. It seems like Lawrence has been around the CFL for a long, long time, but just turned 30 a few days ago. Since joining the Tiger-Cats in 2013, Lawrence has been the model of consistency. After missing six games in 2013, he has only missed four games in the last five years. Lawrence brings leadership to the Tiger-Cats defense and would be an excellent signing for them.

Don Unamba is the third linebacker on this list and another important cog in the Tiger-Cats defense. Although Unamba has bounced around the CFL the last few seasons, he seems to have found a home in Hamilton. Coming off his best season playing in all 18 games, Unamba registered 59 tackles, four sacks, and one interception. He also led the Ti-Cats in forced fumbles with three.

Mike Filer has been a Tiger-Cat since signing as a free agent in 2012. In that time Filer has asserted himself a premier National centre in the CFL. In terms of continuity, familiarity, and dependability, the Tiger-Cats would need to fill a giant hole should they not come to terms with Filer.

Offensive lineman Landon Rice has been in the CFL since 2014. Outside of four games with the Montreal Alouettes last season, Rice has been a Tiger-Cat the rest of his career. The 6’6 Manitoba native was part of the return deal that sent Johnny Manziel to Montreal. Rice has proven himself to be an effective guard in the Hamilton line-up and is a must sign for the Tiger-Cats.

Delvin Breaux came back to Hamilton in 2018 after spending the previous three seasons with the NFL’s New Orleans Saints. Despite Breaux’s rather remarkable injury history, he continues to persevere and excel in his cornerback role. The 29-year-old is primed to get back to his 2014 all-star form and will be a hot commodity should he become a free agent on February 12.

What the Tiger-Cats have

  • Star Quarterback
  • Starting Running Back
  • Explosive Receivers
  • National Free Safety

Star Quarterback

Jeremiah Masoli had a break-out season in 2018 and was rewarded with his first CFL all-star nomination. Masoli finished the 2018 campaign second in yards thrown (5,209) and third in touchdown passes (28). Masoli also had the third highest completion percentage for quarterbacks that started more than 12 games. If Masoli can stay healthy it is likely that he will improve on his 2018 performance.

Running Game

The Tiger-Cats were able to re-sign 30-year-old running back Alex Green. Green only played in eight games last season but was effective in that short time. With over 800 all-purpose yards and seven touchdowns, the Tiger-Cats are banking on Green to have another solid season. It was imperative that the Ti-Cats were able to get Green back in the black and gold as they still have three unsigned backs. Both National running back Mercer Timmins and import John White remain free agents.

Explosive Receivers

Sporting two of the leagues best pass catchers, the Tiger-Cats have positioned themselves very well in the receiving department. Signing soon to be free agent Brandon Banks was an absolute must for the Tiger-Cats and they took care of this a couple of weeks ago. Banks finished second in the league in receiving yards (1,423) and tied for first in receiving touchdowns (11) despite missing four games in 2018.

Tiger-Cats receiver Luke Tasker is the other half of this dynamic duo. Tasker finished 2018 fourth in the CFL in receiving yards (1,104), and like Banks had 11 touchdowns on the season. Jalen Saunders is the wild card in this receiving core. Before suffering a season-ending knee injury in September of last year, Saunders was on pace for 90 receptions, 1478 yards, and four touchdowns. If he stays healthy, expect another big year from Jalen.

All of these players combined provide Masoli with solid reliable targets and are poised to have another massive season in 2019.

National Free Safety

National free safety Mike Daly has recently re-upped with Hamilton. Daly has spent his entire CFL career with the Tabbies and is coming off of his best statistical season to date. Daly recorded 53 tackles in 18 games and added three interceptions and a touchdown last season. Signing Daly was near the top of the Tiger-Cats to do list this off-season and provides them with a good foundation in the secondary.

What The Tiger-Cats need

  • Starting Linebackers
  • Cornerbacks
  • Depth Running Back
  • Kicker

Starting Linebackers

All three Tiger-Cats starting linebackers from 2018 remain unsigned. Larry Dean, Simoni Lawrence, and Don Unamba all need contracts for the 2019 season. This poses an obvious problem for the Cats front office this season. As mentioned earlier, it is imperative that Hamilton signs at least two of these soon to be free agents. This position is the biggest hole in the Tiger-Cats entire roster.

Possible candidates: Chip Cox, Kyries Hebert, Marcus Ball, Jovan Santos-Knox, Sam Hurl, Kevin Francis, Micah Awe.

Cornerbacks

Delvin Breaux is the CFL’s undisputed best defensive back and therefore is a key component to the Tiger-Cats defence. Breaux, who brings character, talent, and experience with him, remains unsigned. Breaux is a must-sign for the Tabbies, but Hamilton also has to deal with Josh Johnson and Courtney Stephen, who are pending free agents. Cariel Brooks and Richard Leonard, halfbacks, and Mike Daly, safety, have two starting secondary spots locked up for Hamilton, but the corners need to be filled. Frankie Williams could also be a starter for the Ti-Cats at field-side cornerback.

Possible candidates: T.J. Heath, Ronnie Yell, Kevin Fogg, Jovon Johnson, Patrick Levels, Anthony Orange.

Depth Running Back

The Tiger-Cats were able to re-sign Alex Green, which was big considering the work they need filling the spots behind him. In 2018, Green led the team in offensive touches with 131. John White was second on the team in total touches (86) and Mercer Timmis was third with 46. Both White and Timmis remain unsigned by the club.

The Cats still have two other running backs who are signed on their current roster. Sean Thomas-Erlington (National) had only 41 touches in 18 games in 2018 while recently signed Ray Lawry hasn’t set foot on a CFL field as of yet.

Hamilton will be looking at adding depth in this position and they could fill it internally but there are other candidates in the market as well.

Possible candidates: Martese Jackson, Cameron Marshall, William Powell, Mossis Madu, Travon Van, Kienan LaFrance, Jeremiah Johnson, Chris Rainey, Tyrell Sutton.

Kicker

Lirim Hajrullahu handled all of the kicking duties for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 2018. Playing in all 18 games last season, Hajrullahu handled every kickoff, punt, and field goal attempt and did it well. The St. Catharines, Ontario native has had a successful five-year CFL career to this point. It would be a good decision for the Tiger-Cats to re-up the contract of Hajrullahu, considering he is the lone kicker in the free agent pool this February.

Possible candidates: NCAA, trade.

The Last Word

Out of the nine teams in the CFL, one would be hard pressed to find a team better situated heading into free agency than the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. With their offence rounding into form and some recent key signings on the defensive line, the Tiger-Cats are filling out their roster quite nicely.

Obviously, the one major concern for the ‘Cats is in their linebacker group. Not having any starters certainly poses a massive problem and will be one they must rectify in the coming weeks if not days. Filling out the secondary is a concern as well, but one that could be tackled with slightly less urgency.

Look for the Tiger-Cats to address some in-house signs like Filer, Dean, Unamba, Breaux, Brooks, and Hajrullahu, and pursue Micah Awe, Jovan Santos-Knox, Sam Hurl, Forest Hightower, Patrick Levels, Kevin Fogg, Travon Van, and Chris Rainey.

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Main image credit: Embed from Getty Images

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