The Ticats announced the signings of five nationals on Thursday and while none of the names are particularly well known, these are the kind of deals that could provide the team with essential Canadian depth down the road.
Offensive linemen Everton Williams, Braden Schram and Kay Okafor are projects, solid university players who need time to develop at the CFL level. Williams has been in the organization for three seasons as he makes the conversion from defensive end (the position he played at the University of Toronto) and played in nine games in a backup role last season. Clearly, they see progress in him.
Schram was a second-round pick last year and played in one game last season while Okafor was a third-round selection and, like Williams, is trying to make the transition to the opposite side of the ball. He’s originally from Nigeria, came to football relatively late, but is an excellent athlete who just needs some time.
All three players finished the 2017 season on the practice roster, meaning they were free agents after the season. The fact the Ticats were able to re-sign them shows the players see some value in remaining with the organization as well – another good sign.
Receiver Jacob Scarfone was a sixth-round pick last year and was a bit of a flyer after missing all of 2016 due to injury. He spent the first two months with the Tiger-Cats before being released on July 31 to return to the University of Guelph. He posted 44 receptions for 729 yards and six touchdowns for the Gryphons and was named a USports Second Team All-Canadian. Again, development.
Finally, defensive lineman Jack McEwen is the brother of Sean McEwen, the all-star centre with the Toronto Argonauts. He was signed as a free agent after having his best university season in his final year of eligibility with the Calgary Dinos; he was named as a Canada West All-Star after leading the conference in sacks with 4.5. McEwen went undrafted and the Ticats actually took the unusual step of putting him on their negotiation list – a relative rarity for national players.
The Ticats have had some success signing undrafted free agents in the past, including offensive lineman Landon Rice and linebacker Geoff Hughes. Centre Cody Husband, now with the B.C. Lions, came to the club in the same way.
Canadian depth is one of the hardest things to build in the CFL because, generally speaking, teams either have to draft and develop it (which takes time) or sign it in free agency (which is expensive.) These signings may not look like much but they could pay big dividends if any of these players blossoms into a bona fide starter.