Could what the Hamilton Tiger-Cats received in the Manziel trade be what they need to not only rise in, but stay atop the East?
With everyone’s gaze focused upon Johnny Manziel and his move to the Montreal Alouettes, the impressive additions to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats have gone under the radar. One of those players is a familiar face nobody expected to represent the black and gold again.
Chris Williams’ time on the field with the Tiger-Cats his first time around did not disappoint. In his rookie year in 2011, he earned the CFL’s Most Outstanding Rookie award. The following year, Williams’ performance not only earned him an All-Star nod, but also the league’s Most Outstanding Special Teams player, the first Ti-Cat in franchise history to receive the award.
In his 2012 season, Williams had a career high 1,117 yards on 78 returns. He set a CFL record with six kick return touchdowns, leading the league with a 14.3-yard punt return average.
However, it was not a pleasant departure for Williams in his exit from the Ti-Cats back in November of 2013. A holdout, an arbitration hearing, and a court case unfortunately cast a dark shadow over his other-wise All-Star seasons with the team.
Chris Williams’ fresh start
Despite the bitter end to his time in Hamilton, Williams expressed to Hamilton reporters earlier this week that there are no hard feelings from his previous stint with the club.
“We put it behind us,” Williams said. “I wouldn’t have come back if it was still an issue, and I don’t think they would have traded for me if it had been an issue either. The past is in the past and we are ready to move forward in 2018 and try to win.”
The Tiger-Cats are a completely remodeled franchise since Williams was there last, which provides the veteran wide receiver with a largely clean slate to work with. There is a new stadium built, an entirely new coaching staff and only one player – OL Mike Filer – who remains from his old line-up.
Williams has also developed since the last time he played in Hamilton. He went on to have a two-year stint with the NFL’s Chicago Bears. In his return to the CFL, he won a Grey Cup with the Ottawa Redblacks in 2016.
One of the biggest questions that surrounds Williams’ return to the black and gold is how he will be received by the fans.
“I don’t know,” Williams tells Hamilton press with uncertainty. “Some people are going to like it, some people won’t. That’s the nature of this game, you can’t make everybody happy. I said it from day one, I thoroughly enjoyed my time here and now that I get a second time around, it’s going to be back to normal for me as far as that’s concerned.”
Williams is poised to be a powerful offensive force in his return to the Tiger-Cats, creating trouble for defending teams with his speed and consistency, having accumulated 1,000 receiving yards in four consecutive seasons.
The other player Hamilton received in the Manziel trade is defensive end Jamaal Westerman. The Rutgers alum recorded 26 career sacks in the NCAA, ranking him third-highest in the program’s history. He finished his four-year college career with 141 tackles and was named to the All-Big East Second Team on two separate occasions.
Along with Williams, Westerman has also seen action in the NFL. He spent five seasons traveling between franchises, including the New York Jets, the Indianapolis Colts, and the Pittsburgh Steelers, just to name a few.
In 2015, Westerman signed with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and his CFL debut did not disappoint. He finished the season with 17 sacks, the second-highest in the league that season, and collected 61 defensive tackles.
The defensive lineman continued to impress, as he tallied 32 sacks and 118 tackles over his three seasons with Winnipeg. He also received a nod as a West Division All-Star and a nomination for the Most Outstanding Canadian.
Westerman was arguably one of the most sought-after defensive ends this past winter during free agency. Montreal did not take long to pick up Westerman, as a deal was announced just one day after the start of free agency.
Benefiting Jeremiah Masoli
With the addition of these two impressive talents, this trade makes sense as an investment in both ends of the field for the Ti-Cats. But there may be another overlooked aspect of the trade that can benefit one player in particular: quarterback Jeremiah Masoli.
General manager Eric Tillman confirms that with Manziel in Montreal, a weight has been lifted off their starting quarterback’s shoulders.
“Our conversations with Montreal go all the way back to the spring of 2017 but then it really started gaining steam in the last 72 to 96 hours,” Tillman explains to Hamilton Spectator’s Drew Edwards, “one of the components of this was June’s confidence level in Jeremiah and his emphatic belief that he is our guy.”
Manziel’s presence on the sideline along with the league’s anticipation of his start under centre may have made Masoli reconsider his standing with the team. Hamilton’s head coach, June Jones’ certainty of the trade’s value resided not only with his confidence in Masoli but in who follows him on the depth chart.
“June’s growing confidence in Dane Evans. We would not have made this deal if June didn’t feel really good about that combination,” Tillman confirms to Edwards.
Despite his struggles over the past few weeks, Masoli has been a dependable quarterback under centre and a pillar for the team. Masoli has lead the team to a 2-3 start; impressive as the Ti-Cats have seen a tough schedule to the start of their season, playing mostly western teams.
Both teams got value in this trade, receiving pieces to their respective roster makeup that they were missing – an important factor when trading with a division rival.
“We believe they are both top-notch additions to our club,” Tillman tells Edwards. “Jamaal is not only talented but he plays the game with great passion and energy. The gifts are obvious but so is the motor. Chris is an explosive guy who is also a playmaker and will certainly be a terrific fit in June’s offence.”
As Tillman describes how his Tiger-Cats gained a few key pieces, he adds that this trade will not only contribute to the teams’ present strength on the field but with future reassurance by means of the two first-round picks they also received.
“The future matters, and, in this league, Canadian content is an integral part of success and we feel that we position ourselves to be very strong in that area over the next few years,” Tillman explains to Edwards.
The Last Word
Giving up Manziel so quickly is not surprising, considering Hamilton’s depth at quarterback. With his lack of playing time in Hamilton, some may argue Manziel hasn’t proven his value in the CFL for such assets in return. With this in mind, despite the risk of trading a quality quarterback such as Manziel, the Ti-Cats will reap the rewards in the long run. As they have been able to put their team in a position of success, not only for this season but for several years to come.
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