For two straight seasons three straight years, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats have been close, but they haven’t been able to reach the promise land. Now, they face a crossroads. Do they keep the older players that have been core members of the team for years on end and risk losing their young talent, or do they take a step back to ensure their future? We won’t decide that here, but we will talk about the top five pending free agents they might want to keep around.
5. Ted Laurent, DL
We will start things off with the only big man on this list, defensive tackle Ted Laurent. Despite being born in Powder Springs, Georgia and playing his college football with Mississippi, Laurent carries a national status and has been a ratio-busting player for the Tiger-Cats since 2014. He entered the CFL in 2011 with the Edmonton Elks and has remained with the black and gold since joining them in 2014, but that could change this offseason.
Laurent now has 155 games under his belt in the league and in that time, he has picked up an even 200 tackles and 48 sacks. Those are the things that show up in the box score and he is praised for, but there’s more. While Laurent was playing this past season, the Tiger-Cats allowed just 3.8 yards per carry, but while he was out of the lineup for the first two weeks of the season, they allowed a staggering 6.2 yards per carry.
He is starting to get older, in fact, he just celebrated his 34th birthday on the first of the year, but he hasn’t given any indication that he won’t be a high-end tackle next season. Even though he is playing one of the more physical positions in football, we have seen players in the trenches have longer careers. For as long as Laurent is effective, he will have someone offering him a contract. Right now, he’s more than effective.
4. Brandon Banks, WR
It’s clear that two consecutive losses in the Grey Cup has been tough on Brandon Banks and there have been questions about his football future, but he says that there is still gas in the tank, so who are we to say otherwise? Banks has been in the league for eight years now, all of which has been spent in Hamilton. He got his start by returning kicks, something that he was elite at, to say the least. In 2017, he got his chance on the offence and took full advantage of it, putting up 1,011 yards and eight touchdowns.
Since then, Banks has done some great things with the Tiger-Cats. In 2018, he had 1,423 yards and 11 touchdowns, and in 2019, he had 1,550 yards and 13 touchdowns. He slowed down in 2021, but he still filled a role with the Cats and that was something he was quick to point out to his critics.
“Let’s be honest, I’m not the same ‘Speedy B’ I always was,” said Banks. “At the time, I was undefeated. I’m getting older now, but I still think I’m somewhat of a threat. I’ve still got a lot of football left in me. I’m chasing the ring right now. That’s what happens. And I’ve got nothing to prove to nobody.”
3. Tunde Adeleke, DB
There are currently few Canadian defensive backs in the CFL who would be considered better than Tunde Adeleke. He was born in Nigeria, but he is Canadian and played his college football with the Carleton Ravens in Ottawa. He got his CFL start in 2017 with the Calgary Stampeders and moved to Hamilton for the 2019 season. The crazy thing about this? He has been in the CFL for four seasons and has made four appearances in the Grey Cup. He has only one win in that time, but he’s used to playing in the big game by now.
Adeleke has developed into one of the more reliable defensive backs in the CFL in the past couple of seasons and has seen his focus shift from primarily special teams to the defence. He has picked up two interceptions in each of his seasons with the Tiger-Cats and has been a large part of why going deep against the Cats can be difficult at times.
There are still years of elite-level football in the tank for Adeleke. When the season kicks off in 2022, he will only be 26. Much like Antoine Pruneau has been the defensive anchor for East-Division rival Ottawa Redblacks for seven seasons, Adeleke has the potential to do the same. His Canadian passport is huge, but it does mean that he can command more salary if/when he hits the open market.
2. Dane Evans, QB
Tiger-Cats fans may have expected Dane Evans to come in at the top of this list, but there’s no shame in coming in second in this instance. Evans burst onto the scene in 2019 and gave Hamilton hope after Jeremiah Masoli suffered a season-ending injury early in the year. He led the Tabbies to the Grey Cup in that season but fell short and in 2021, it never seemed like Orlondo Steinauer wanted to give him a real chance. At every turn, Masoli was playing until early in the East Final against the Toronto Argonauts. The change was made there, and logically, Evans should the answer going forward.
Statistically, it was a quiet season for Evans, largely thanks to his limited playing time while Masoli led the team. He threw the ball just 107 times during the season, completing 69 of them for 787 yards, six touchdowns, and three interceptions. When he was playing, it was nothing like the magical run of 2019, but he had flashes of that player. When you consider the available options, Evans is likely the best of the young(ish) quarterbacks available.
Where things have a chance to get complicated for the Tiger-Cats, however, is Evans has already said that he will be testing Free Agency, meaning he will be able to field offers from multiple teams, not just Hamilton. He says he wants to be in Hamilton, but money talks, and with the (possibly) Redblacks, Elks, and Argonauts looking for quarterbacks, it could be a convoluted process.
“I do want to be here, but I owe it to myself to see what free agency is about,” said Evans. “I’ve never been in that position before, so it’s something that I really don’t know what to expect going into it. Yes, I do want to be here but I think I owe it to myself also to see what it’s all about.”
1. Simoni Lawrence, LB
It would be hard to find someone Hamilton loves more than Simoni Lawrence. He has shown the folks in Hamilton nothing but loyalty since 2013 when he joined the club and they have shown it right back to him. He’s one of those players that people love to have on their team, but people also hate because they don’t have them. He’s elite, and that hasn’t faded at all with his 33rd birthday on the horizon on February 1st.
Through 14 games, he had 73 tackles, four sacks, three interceptions, and two touchdowns. For his efforts, he was named a CFL East Division All-Star, a CFL All-Star, and won the James P. McCaffrey Trophy for the East Division’s most outstanding defensive player.
Eventually, age is going to catch up to him, it’s a reality that every player faces, but that time isn’t now. He’s still an elite player, but he’s an elite player without a ring. This Free Agency is a chance for him to find the right place to win it. He could decide that’s Hamilton, but there is a chance it’s elsewhere. It would be a shame to see Lawrence end his illustrious CFL career without a championship ring.
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