1,000-yard rusher, protection for Mitchell, and Milton native among Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ 7 new signings


Published February 15, 2023 at 3:27 pm

A septet of signings that includes coveted running back James Butler, one of the blockers that helped him scoot for 1,000 yards last season, and three defensive linemen makes the Hamilton Tiger-Cats ambitions very clear.

Lines win championships, and the rushing phase holds much more weight in November in the Canadian Football League when the elements come more into play. On Wednesday, 277 days out from the 2023 Grey Cup that will be staged at Tim Hortons Field on Nov. 19, the Tiger-Cats were a busy team, adding seven players in addition to the re-signing of No. 1 receiver Tim White and the repatriation of rush end Ja’Gared Davis.

Defensive back Jumal Rolle, though, signed with the Montréal Alouettes.

Butler appears to be the big get. Last season, as the backfield mate of Oakville-raised QB Nathan Rourke with the B.C. Lions, Butler rushed for 1060 yards (with a 5.0 average) and 11 total touchdowns. He also offered a receiving threat, adding 53 receptions for 384 yards. The 27-year-old Chicago native, who played in the Big Ten with the Iowa Hawkeyes, also had an NFL stint with the Oakland Raiders in 2019 before moving to the XFL and eventually to the CFL.

Nine-season veteran left tackle Joel Figueroa will also be returning to his original CFL organization after inking a two-year contract. The six-foot-six, 320-pound Miami native has played 108 career games with Hamilton (2013-15), Edmonton (2016-17), and the B.C. Lions (2018-22). Figueroa was named the Lions nominee for Most Outstanding Lineman in three of his four seasons (2018, ’19, ’22) on the west coast. Last season, Figueroa helped Butler reach the 1,000-yard plateau and also helped Oakville-native quarterback Nathan Rourke become a Canadian success story at the game’s glamour position. (Rourke has since signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars, where former Ticats QB Henry Burris was an offensive assistant coach last season.)

Brandon Revenberg has contributed all-star work at left guard for Hamilton for a few seasons, but instability at left tackle was a bugaboo during an 8-10 season in 2022. Hamilton used a CFL rookie, Tyrone Riley, at left tackle in last season’s East semifinal defeat against the Montréal Alouettes. Figueroa figures to be a seasoned upgrade as the blindside protector of quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell.

The team also added players in the seemingly endless effort to complete the puzzle that is a roster in a league with significant injury attrition and a requirement for Canadians to be seven out of the 24 defensive and offensive starters. Here is who else Hamilton added on Tuesday.

  • Defensive line: Casey Sayles, a defensive tackle who did not miss a game over two seasons with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and helped them defeat Hamilton in the 2021 Grey Cup, has also signed a two-year deal. The six-foot-four, 282-pound native of Omaha, Nebraska tallied 36 total tackles, one tackle for loss, six quarterback sacks, two forced fumbles, and one pass knockdown last season for Winnipeg, who came within one blocked field goal of winning the Grey Cup.Defensive end Kwaku Boateng, a Milton native who spent last season rehabbing an Achilles injury, has also come aboard to shore up the Canadian depth in a D-line unit that also includes veteran tackle Ted Laurent.The six-foot-two, 257-pound Boateng was with the Ottawa Redblacks last season, but his injury prevented him from playing. He was a productive pass rusher across 64 games and four seasons with the Edmonton Elks (2017-21), registering 83 total tackles, 25 quarterback sacks and two forced fumbles.
  • Linebacker: The arrival of new middle linebacker Jameer Thurman leaked out last week, but Hamilton has added a second signing at the second level by adding Canadian outside linebacker Fraser Sopik.Thurman, 28, earned a Grey Cup ring in 2018 with Calgary alongside Mitchell. Last season, the six-foot, 227-pound Chicago native made 75 total tackles (74 on defence) over his 15 starts for Calgary, and also had three interceptions and two pass knockdowns.Sopik was a role player last season in Calgary, typically backup up fellow Canadian Cameron Judge at outside linebacker (the position also known as “will”) while also being active on special teams. The 25-year-old Toronto native notched 21 total tackles (14 defensive), two QB sacks and one forced fumble over 12 games last seasons. The six-foot, 209-pound Sopik played in 44 games across three seasons in Calgary. In his Ontario University Athletics days, he also helped the Western Mustangs win the 2017 Vanier Cup at Tim Hortons Field.
  • Wide receiver: Llevi Noel, a Canadian veteran who has been a special teams player throughout his career, has officially signed. His arrival was reported by 3DownNation late on Monday night.
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