May 8, 2024

National Linebacker Jordan Williams Informs Tiger-Cats He’s Retiring

On the cusp of training camp, it was most definitely not the news the Tiger-Cats wanted to hear.

About an hour before rookies took to the field Wednesday at McMaster’s Ron Joyce Stadium, Ticats GM Ed Hervey received a call from Jordan Williams – the National linebacker Hamilton obtained in a January trade with the Argos—who had decided to retire and would not be here when veterans report for full training camp this weekend.

“It’s unfortunate,” Hervey said, “We had big plans for Jordan to come in here. But usually going into training camp there is a player or two who changes his mind about playing and decides to do other things. We didn’t expect it to be Jordan,  but that’s the way it is.

“But as I said to our group, we’re not going to get into panicking. You treat these situations as someone is gone for the season, as if they had an injury on the first day of camp: how do we adjust?”

And it will be an adjustment, at least in roster conceptual thinking. Although he grew up and played all of his pre-CFL football in the U.S. Williams qualified as a National because his mother, who was in the military, is a Canadian.  He played linebacker, which makes him a ratio-breaker in the minimum-seven-Canadian-starter CFL.

Williams played middle linebacker in Toronto last year after two years in B.C. where he was named the CFL’s Most Outstanding Rookie in 2021 and broke Mike O’Shea’s record for most tackles by a Canadian rookie.

The Ticats had him earmarked for weak side linebacker, replacing the now-retired legend Simoni Lawrence. That would have given them enormous elasticity to use Americans at other positions

Earlier this week the Ticats signed Enock Makonzo, who was the Edmonton Elks’ first-round draft choice in 2022 and played in 21 games over two seasons before the Elks released him. He was among those who were to provide Canadian backup depth behind Williams but will now be among those who seek to fill his vacancy.

“We still feel that our depth, with respect to our Nationals, is there, and we’re going to find ways to utilize the Nationalized American and the ratio rules to our advantage,” Hervey said.

There are a number of scenarios, depending upon how training camp and exhibition games play out, for Hamilton to reach seven – or more — National starters. On offence, the centre and both guards will be Canadians and two others could come from using two Canadians at receiver or one at receiver and another at fullback/running back. Safety Stavros Katsantonis gives them one on defence and another could come on the line, or with an emerging linebacker, as well as judiciously using “Nationalized Americans”. (Who have played three years in Hamilton or five in the CFL.)

“Where the ratio rules and our flexibility play into it is that we have the nationalized  Americans rule that allows us to play that player for 25 snaps replacing a Canadian starter. Our roster this year has been built where  we have several Nationalized Americans  on the defensive line, in the linebacking corps and in the secondary. So it’s going to give us some flexibility on the back end. We’re allowed to have two players who do that.

“Given that, and with the signing of Enock Makonzo  we’re in a situation that allows us to be really flexible. And, again, Mason Bennett (and other Canadian linemen)  are on our roster and returning.

“I don’t think we’re in a mode where we’re really frustrated with the way our roster looks. Jordan was going to be an added player to give us more flexibility.

“The unfortunate thing is that’s he won’t be there, but that’s what training camp is there for: to find out where those players are going to come from.”

The Ticats moved down a couple of picks in last week’s draft as part of the deal with the Argos for Williams. When  Hervey  was the B.C. Lion’s GM he had moved up in the 2020 draft in a trade for the rights to Williams and was rewarded with Williams’ outstanding 2021 season.

“I talked to Jordan today,” Hervey said. “He was pretty adamant that this was it for him and that he had some other aspirations that he wanted to go in to. His mind was made up and we wished him well.

“The door is always open and–who knows?– he may change his mind down the line. People have to make decisions which are best for them and this was one of them.”