The second day of CFL free agency was a busy one for Orlondo Steinauer and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
Hamilton announced the signing of nine free agents Wednesday, including receiver Tim White, the lone returnee from last year’s squad. Two others – defensive lineman Ja’Gared Davis and offensive lineman Joel Figueroa – are back with the Ticats after time away.
Newcomers include receiver Llevi Noel, running back James Butler, linebackers Jameer Thurman and Fraser Sopik and defensive linemen Casey Sayles and Kwaku Boateng. Noel, Sopik and Boateng are Canadians.
“The one thing that’s very impressive is when those players were in this building, high character,” Steinauer, the Ticats head coach/president of football operations, told reporters in Hamilton. “They’re players who wanted to be here.
“It’s a small league, people talk all the time and money always talks a little bit louder but when things are close to even, I think environment and things they hear about the organization matter.”
Other CFL moves Wednesday include:
– The Calgary Stampeders re-signed American defensive back Branden Dozier. The native of Topeka, Kansas, has 289 career defensive tackles including four tackles for loss, 64 special-teams tackles, three sacks, three forced fumbles, one fumble recovery returned for a touchdown and eight interceptions.
– Canadian linebacker Jordan Herdman-Reed returned to B.C. after spending the last two seasons with the Saskatchewan Roughriders. The 6-foot, 235-pound Herdman-Reed’s first three CFL campaigns were with the Lions (2017-19).
– The Montreal Alouettes signed receiver Greg Ellingson and defensive back Jumal Rolle as free agents and re-signed running back Walter Fletcher. All three are Americans. Ellingson had 38 catches for 598 yards and three touchdowns in eight regular-season games last year with Winnipeg. Rolle had 150 tackles and 11 interceptions in 65 career games with Hamilton while Fletcher ran for 486 yards on 85 carries with a touchdown last year.
– American linebacker Darnell Sankey, a CFL free agent, signed with the XFL’s Arlington Renegades, according to a source. The 6-foot-1, 245-pound Sankey registered a CFL-leading 120 tackles last season with Saskatchewan after doing so in 2021 with Calgary.
– Canadian defensive back Godfrey Onyeka signed a one-year contract extension with Saskatchewan. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound native of Brampton, Ont., was limited to two games in 2022 due to a shoulder injury. He played nine regular-season games as well as the West final for the Roughriders in 2021.
– The Edmonton Elks signed American receiver Sammie Coates, Jr. Coates made 29 catches for 528 yards with two touchdowns in 44 career NFL games with Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Houston.
The 6-foot-1, 238-pound Davis returns to Hamilton after helping archrival Toronto win the ‘22 Grey Cup. He had 36 tackles (one for a loss), seven sacks and four pass knockdowns in 14 regular-season games.
Davis spent the ‘19 and ‘21 seasons with Hamilton, helping the Ticats reach the Grey Cup both years. Davis, 32, is entering his seventh CFL season and has appeared in the Grey Cup each year, winning in 2018 (with Calgary) and last year.
Davis has 256 tackles, 49 sacks, three interceptions, 10 forced fumbles and two defensive TDs during his CFL tenure.
“First of all he’s very familiar with the building, our environment and our culture,” Steinauer said. “As far as getting after the passer, I put him up there with anybody in the league.
“It’s exciting to see his smile back in the building.”
The 6-foot-6, 320-pound Figueroa spent the last four seasons (2018-19, 2021-22) with B.C. Figueroa, 32, began his CFL career with Hamilton (2013-15) while also spending time with Edmonton (2016-17).
White had 94 catches for 1,265 yards and eight touchdowns last year. The 5-foot-10, 185-pound receiver has 150 catches for 2,039 yards and 10 TDs over two years with Hamilton.
White’s return is certainly good news for veteran quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell, who signed a three-year deal with Hamilton rather test the free-agent market.
Noel, 31, had a nine-yard reception and six special-teams tackles in 11 games last season with Edmonton. The 6-foot-2, 198-pound Toronto native has spent time with the Elks (2022), Ottawa (2022) and Argos (2016-21).
Butler, 27 was the CFL’s second-leading rusher with 1,060 yards on 210 carries and seven TDs last season with B.C. Over two seasons with the Lions, the 5-foot-9, 210-pound American ran for 1,557 yards on 311 carries and nine TDs while adding 92 catches for 627 yards and five touchdowns.
Thurman, 28, had 74 tackles (four for a loss), two forced fumbles and three interceptions in 15 regular-season games last season with Calgary. The 6-foot, 227-pound Thurman had spent his entire CFL career with the Stampeders (2017-18, 2021-22), recording 300 total tackles (269 defensive, seven tackles for loss), six sacks and six interceptions.
Thurman won a Grey Cup with Calgary in 2018 before spending the ‘19 campaign with the NFL’s Chicago Bears and 2020 with the XFL’s DC Defenders.
Sopik, 25, of Toronto, had 21 tackles (14 defensive) two sacks and a forced fumble in 12 games last season with Calgary. The 6-foot, 209-pound Sopik appeared in 44 games over three seasons with the Stampeders.
Sayles, 27, started 18 games last season with Winnipeg, recording 36 tackles (one for loss), six sacks and two forced fumbles. The 6-foot-4, 282-pound Sayles spent two seasons with the Bombers, recording 64 tackles, 11 sacks and two forced fumbles.
Boateng suffered a season-ending torn Achilles during training camp last season with Ottawa. The 6-foot-2, 257-pound Canadian had 82 tackles, 25 sacks, and two forced fumbles over four seasons with Edmonton.
Hamilton did lose players in free agency, including Rolle, receiver Steven Dunbar Jr. (Edmonton), defensive linemen Julian Howsare (Calgary) and Micah Johnson (Saskatchewan) and linebacker Jovan Santos-Knox (Ottawa) while linebacker Kameron Kelly is exploring XFL options.
“We lost some great people,” Steinauer said. “Those tackles, those receptions, all of those things, will be replaced but the people are hard to replace.
“We do have a structure but we allow people to be who they are. I’m looking forward to these new personalities and seeing what that entails and looking at different skillsets. But I can tell you this, the fabric won’t change. We’re going to be hard-nosed, hard-working ... but as far as who we’re going to be that will unveil over time.”
Among Hamilton’s remaining free agents is veteran linebacker Simoni Lawrence, the franchise’s all-time leader in tackles. Lawrence, 34, has spent nine of his 10 CFL seasons with the Ticats and Steinauer was upbeat about that trend continuing in 2023.
“I think it’s trending extremely favourably for us and for Simoni also,” Steinauer said. “It’s just he’s not in this bucket of signings at this time.”