Making sense of the latest round of Ticats cuts

The Ticats released six players on Tuesday and there were a few mild surprises among them.

American defensive backs Cassius Vaughn and Travis Lee as well as defensive tackle Delano Johnson were all players with at least some degree of CFL experience and were thought to be candidates for starting spots going into training camp.

Vaughn started nine games last season after being signed in mid-August and registered 26 defensive tackles, one special teams tackle and five pass knock downs as well as 130 yards on five kickoff returns.

But there’s little question Vaughn struggled, getting beat on multiple occasions. He started his first game at the boundary corner on Labour Day, just a couple of weeks after being signed, but ended the season on the practice roster after losing his starting job to Cleshawn Page in the East Semi-Final.

Players on the PR automatically become free agents after the season but Vaughn re-signed in January – a move the Twitterati didn’t seem to like – and the move seemed to make sense, given that’s he’s played almost 70 NFL games over six season, including 23 starts. He’s got size (listed at 5-foot-11) and he can run (he’s also got a kickoff return TD in the NFL.)

Lee started six games early last season, made 24 tackles, got moved to the practice roster, then released. The Ticats re-signed him on Jan. 24.

Johnson played in six games last year, starting two, and has 18 games of experience over three CFL seasons. He can play both tackle and end and that kind of versatility is something the Ticat susually covet.

So what changed? A few things, actually.

  1. The Ticats held their mini-camp at the end of April and have a better sense of the talent they’ll be able to bring to training camp. Defensive tackles Davon Coleman and Claudell Louis, for example, could be candidates at the defensive tackle spot.
  2. NFL rosters are starting to take shape which means there will be neg list players and free agents coming to the realization that the invite they hoped was coming from the four-down folks may not materialize. All of a sudden, the CFL option looks a whole lot more appealing. I would expect the team to announce a number of signings before training camp begins.
  3. The ratio is a factor. With five Canadian defensive tackles on the roster – including two new draft picks – the team may be seriously considering starting two Canucks in the middle, with Ted Laurent and Mike Atkinson being the likely candidates.
  4. They have a new defensive coordinator. While Jeff Reinebold has been here all four seasons under head coach Kent Austin and former DC Orlondo Steinauer, he’ll have more influence over player personnel decisions now that he’s running the defence. Steinauer often preferred veteran players, sometimes to the detriment of allowing new talent to develop and Reinebold may be more willing to try new guys, especially early in the season.

The release of Canadian receiver Spencer Watt is less of a shock. A six-year CFL veteran, Watt tore his Achilles after signing with the Ticats in 2015 and missed the entire season. Last year, he registered just 21 catches for 211 yards in 18 games and the Ticats likely expect they can get similar production from veteran Giovanni Aprille – who can play solid special teams – sophomore speedster Mike Jones, former Laval standout Felix Flaubert-Lussier (who had a great mini-camp) and newly-drafted Jacob Scarfone. If Andy Fantuz re-signs and returns by Labour Day, so much the better.

Watt wouldn’t have been a big-ticket item but he was undoubtedly making more than the minimum and veteran players with a questionable injury history have been an endangered species in Ticatland this off-season with offensive lineman Peter Dyakowski as well as defensive backs Rico Murray and Johnny Sears getting caught up in the purge. Those three found work elsewhere – all in Toronto – and Watt will likely get picked up as well.

Watt’s release also gives another indication about the direction the Ticats are taking on the ratio. The team has started two Canadians at receiver for much of time since Fantuz arrived in 2012 but with his departure/injury, the release of Watt and cavalcade of American talent they have at the position, it seems more likely than ever the team will start just one national this season – at the field receiver spot where they can expect two or three targets a game.

Releasing veterans at this time of year is somewhat unusual but it will give the departing players an opportunity to catch on elsewhere before training camp rosters are fully set. And it tells us a little bit more about the Ticats’ plans for 2017.


Drew Edwards

Drew Edwards

Drew Edwards is into his eighth season covering the CFL and the Ticats for the Hamilton Spectator. He is the founder and editor of 3DownNation.
Drew Edwards
Drew Edwards
About Drew Edwards (1397 Articles)
Drew Edwards is into his eighth season covering the CFL and the Ticats for the Hamilton Spectator. He is the founder and editor of 3DownNation.

12 Comments on Making sense of the latest round of Ticats cuts

  1. Lindsay Wilcox // May 16, 2017 at 11:39 am //

    Agree fully with your assessment of reasons. We haven’t heard much lately re Fantuz, but if he comes back at field receiver spot and not in the slot ??? If that’s the Ticats’ plan, maybe he doesn’t like that position or Ticats’ salary offer ?

  2. Keith Robbins // May 16, 2017 at 11:43 am //

    I might have read this wrong and missed a big news story but has Fantuz signed elsewhere?

  3. Jeff May // May 16, 2017 at 11:43 am //

    Mr. Reinebold was the smartest commentator for the last two superbowls, demonstrating a deep pool of vast football knowledge. I for one, will not second guess him!
    Also, as I have said, we did not win our last game, making (nearly) all expendable. Maybe win some of those close ones, without the need for a comeback due to a sleepy start!!

    • Pussycats // May 18, 2017 at 8:35 am //

      Reinebold was a disaster as defensive coordinator of the Als and as head coach in the Peg and did little to correct significant repetitive problems on the Cats special teams in 2016, so don’t expect miracles on the ‘D’ this season. But indeed he’s a good ‘yes man’ for Austin which explains why he is still around. Perhaps TV football commentator is his true calling.

  4. Fantuz has not signed elsewhere and I believe at the mini-camp Austin had indicated that they were close to an agreement.

  5. Philski // May 17, 2017 at 6:01 am //

    Another indication about the direction the TC’s are going is that they are finally starting to realize that you can’t be competitive if a good portion of your payroll is dedicated to the infirm. Injuries happen…yes…but you blow your foot out after having signed with a new team and it happens OFF season? Goodbye SW.

  6. Flying Wing // May 17, 2017 at 4:08 pm //

    I would take exception to your 4th point Drew. Orlondo brought in lots of new players for the defensive secondary but they mostly turned out to be crappy. Reinebold will inherit a completely different situation this year with a returning Craig Butler and likely Courtney Stephens returning to his more familiar position at corner and well as the signing of Abdul Kanneh a proven vet from the RedBlacks. They along with the guys they decided to keep with another year’s experience should make for a better backfield.

  7. Status Quo is unacceptable…. if you want to improve you have to make changes… won’t miss any of these players all are expendable and replaceable…

    Not sure I agree with two Canadian interior DL… I think we may see Capiccotti back at DE with the new draft class backing him up or maybe even pushing him for the starting spot by midseason…

    • I agree with Capicotti starting at DE. He did OK there with Ottawa. The way they loaded up on canuck dlinemen seems to point to that and then starting more american receivers

  8. DundasDude // May 17, 2017 at 10:38 pm //

    This is a pivotal year for the Cats. The team brain trust deserves our full confidence for 1 more year…but the pressure is on to win the prize. Go Cats!

    • Philski // May 19, 2017 at 4:32 am //

      I don’t know about “full confidence” my DundasDude friend…more like “guarded optimism”. I will agree though that this year is the proverbial fork in the road for the good ship Austin. In a year that looks like it’s shaping up to be the least in the East, and best in the West (save for that green nightmare), a trip to the GC certainly wouldn’t seem to be unreasonable. But then again a lot of things would need to happen…let’s see…find a reliable kicker, get a sustained consistent pass rush, teach the DB’s how to actually catch a sure interception, while we are at it, teach the DB’s how to tackle, put together an O line that protects your QB from getting murdered, kindly suggest to BB that Rip Van Winkle was merely a fictitious tale, and last, but not least, actually convince Austin that yes indeed, a running game IS an integral part of a winning football team.

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