Tiger-Cats General Manager Bob O’Billovich promised that he’d be active when CFL free agency began on Wednesday.
When the dust settled and O’Billovich had added five players to his squad by the end of the week, it was apparent that he wasn’t bluffing.
The Ticats made the biggest splash in the free agent pool on Wednesday, by inking former Alouettes running back Avon Cobourne – arguably the most talented player available among this year’s crop – to a deal. Cobourne comes to TigerTown after racking up 5,015 yards from scrimmage and two Grey Cup rings in Montreal.
“It’s pretty obvious what he brings to the table with his experience in the league, and just being a solid all-around running back that can add more to our offensive game plan,” O’Billovich said on Wednesday.
“He brings excitement to the team. He plays with a lot of intensity and also plays a lot bigger than his size. He’s explosive and he catches the ball well.”
The Ticats also inked Roughriders defensive back Daniel Francis on Wednesday, providing the team with a versatile defender who made 53 tackles with Saskatchewan in 2010. The signing of Francis was recommended by Assistant GM and Director of Player Personnel Joe Womack, who has observed the LSU product with the Riders over the last two seasons.
Obie continued his signing spree on Thursday by coming to terms with three more players including former Roughriders LB Renauld Williams, who would have been a Pittsburgh Steeler last season if a preseason knee injury didn’t force the Super Bowl finalists to release him at the end of their training camp.
Williams is expected to become the Black and Gold’s starting middle linebacker, adding another impact player to what is already an incredibly talented linebacking crew. Williams will play between weakside linebacker Jamall Johnson, who has made 209 tackles in two seasons with the Ticats, and the league’s reigning Most Outstanding Defensive Player Markeith Knowlton.
The Black and Gold supplemented their Canadian content later in the day by signing OL Wayne Smith and former Hec Crighton award winning running back Daryl Stephenson.
“Our two Canadian signings are going to give us some good situations as far as the ratio and depth and quality experience,” said O’Billovich.
Most fans will recognize Smith’s name, as he entered the CFL with the Ticats after being selected with the first overall pick in the 2004 Canadian Draft. Smith spent three seasons in Black and Gold before being traded to the Saskatchewan Roughriders in 2007.
“Wayne can play guard or tackle, and probably centre if we wanted to work him there. He’s a very versatile guy with experience,” said O’Billovich.
Stephenson comes to Hamilton after three seasons in the ‘Peg. His addition will allow the Ticats to be more resourceful with their ratio on offence and add a big, quick body on special teams.
Stephenson is a local product, growing up in London before completing his storied university career in Windsor.
“He’s a running back that broke all the CIS records coming out of Windsor. He can carry the football,” O’Billovich commented.
The last couple of weeks have also saw a handful of players from last year’s squad change addresses, including WR Chris Bauman (Edmonton), OL Alexandre Gauthier (Saskatchewan), OL George Hudson (Saskatchewan), OL Brian Ramsay (Edmonton), DT Jermaine Reid (Edmonton) and DB Geoff Tisdale (Calgary).
Obie and the Ticats brass aren’t finished. As the offseason continues, you can be sure the Black and Gold will continue to add talent with U.S. free agent camps and the CFL Canadian Draft on the horizon.