The Hamilton Tiger-Cats seem to be in a little bit of a pickle when it comes to who the club's next starting quarterback is going to be, and that decision hasn’t been made any easier by the 2020 season being cancelled.
In 2019, the Tabbies fell short of winning their first Grey Cup since 1999 and currently have the longest drought in the CFL after Winnipeg beat them in the big dance last season. Despite losing Jeremiah Masoli early in the season to injury, the Dane Evans led Tiger-Cats finished the season with a 15-3 record, the best in the CFL.
It didn’t seem to matter who the Cats trotted out at quarterback in the 2019 season, they were nearly unstoppable all season long. Now, the Cats are going to have to decide what the plan is, and that plan could make or break the team in the future.
Jeremiah Masoli is in an eerily similar situation to the one he put Zach Collaros in before his time expired in Hamilton. When Collaros found himself on the sidelines and unable to stay healthy, Masoli stepped up and took over the starting job in Hamilton. It now seems like the same thing is happening with Dane Evans who is less so nipping at the toes of Masoli, but rather eating his torso.
Masoli’s numbers have always been good, but never great. He’s had issues with the interception in the past and doesn’t throw a massively high volume of touchdowns either. In 2018, Masoli had a career year posting 28 touchdown tosses but threw 18 interceptions. He threw for 5,209 yards but fell short of the Grey Cup game after getting out-duelled by Trevor Harris in a game where they were blown out by the Ottawa Redblacks 46-27.
Masoli has never been up there with the big dogs of the CFL like Bo Levi Mitchelle or Mike Rielly, but he has been a reliable veteran quarterback. There hasn’t been the playoff success that Cats would have hoped for with Masoli, but the Cats hadn’t finished first in the East since 2014 and were the victim of a rather dominant Redblacks squad. It’s impossible to place all the blame on Masoli. An interception by Arnond Gascon-Nadon here or a better defensive performance there could have taken the Cats to the Grey Cup twice under the guidance of Masoli.
Let’s cut to the chase here, Dane Evans took his chance and ran with it in the 2019 season. When all looked like it may have been lost, Evans picked up the slack and then some for the Tabbies and took them to the Grey Cup before ultimately losing the game. His season was downright impressive. He threw the ball very well all year long, racking up 3,754 yards to go alongside 21 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Evans exceeded everyone's expectations, but those expectations are only going to rise for Evans if he becomes the starter for the Cats in 2021.
His sample size is very small. Handing over the keys after one season to the quarterback touted as the ‘next big thing’ is always a risky move. Teams do this all the time, however. Matt Nichols was given that chance with the Blue Bombers, James Franklin was given the chance with the Argos and most recently Nick Arbuckle was brought in by the Redblacks.
This isn’t to say that Dane Evans isn’t capable of being a starting quarterback in the CFL, because he has more than enough talent to do so, but rather to point out the apparent risk involved with cutting ties with your veteran quarterback in favour of the hotshot young gun.
What should they do?
Now, I’m certainly no expert, and I certainly don’t have an inside scoop on this being something that will happen, but I definitely have an opinion of what they should do.
It is exceptionally clear that Dane Evans is the future of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and should be brought back as the starter. What I think is most important about that QB role for them after that is who they bring in to be his backup. Sure, you could continue to go with a guy like David Watford, but that isn’t going to help you in the long run. Hamilton is going to need a veteran arm to make the occasional start in case of an injury, but more importantly, be a mentor for Dane Evans who is still very young in regards to CFL quarterbacks.
There are a few names that peak my interest a little bit, but it’s going to be a while before we see how everything plays out. Jeremiah Masoli should always be under consideration for the Cats. If he is willing to take a backup role or he realizes that he will have to fight for the starting job no matter where he goes, he could possibly be open to heading back to the hammer.
McLeod Bethel-Thompson will also be available when the free agency period does eventually come around should he be unable to stick in the NFL. He’s a solid veteran QB who could make the odd start and help you win a game or two while Evans is out of commission. That’s about all you can ask for from a guy like this.
Zach Collaros is a name that Cats fans will recognize. The Bombers could realistically decide that Masoli is a better quarterback in free agency and move on from the quarterback who won them the Grey Cup just months ago. Hamilton needs to keep all their options on the table.
If Dane Evans really is the future of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, it sure does seem bright. There will be bumps in the road to be certain, but Evans has all of the tools to overcome them. The CFL is in a strong place with some of the talented young arms that have been coming into the league over the past handful of years.