The Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Saskatchewan Roughriders faced off in November's Grey Cup, but when they do so again on June 29 in one of the most anticipated games of the CFL's 2014 opening week, a couple of former Tiger-Cats players will be on the other sideline. That's thanks to a trade made Monday, which saw Hamilton send Canadian defensive end/linebacker Shomari Williams and Australian punter Josh Bartel to Saskatchewan along with the eighth-overall pick in this year's draft in exchange for the Riders' first two picks in this draft, ninth and eleventh overall. This trade could work for both sides, as it allows the Riders to grab a couple of potentially-great players without giving up too much, but it lets the Tiger-Cats still get something (essentially, one second-round pick) for players who didn't seem to be in their future plans.
Williams is perhaps the most interesting addition here, as his success in Saskatchewan and Hamilton has been very different. The Riders chose him first overall in the 2010 CFL draft following a strong NCAA and CIS career that saw him play south of the border at the University of Houston and north of the border with the Queen's Golden Gaels, and while he was mostly used on special teams for his first couple of seasons, he became an important defender for them in 2012, often starting in the linebacking corps (a traditionally-American position, which, like Shea Emry, says a lot about his value) and finishing the year with 59 tackles, two sacks and an interception. That led to him signing with Hamilton in free agency in 2013, but that move didn't really pay off; the Tiger-Cats tried to switch him back to his college position of defensive end, but he wasn't able to make much of an impact for them, notching just one defensive tackle and six special teams tackles in the six games he played in black and gold. We'll see if he can find more success back in the Riders' green and white; if so, he might be a great pickup for them.
Bartel is also an interesting acquisition, though, and one who might give Saskatchewan's special teams a boost. The Australian punter was a valuable weapon for Hamilton last year, averaging 43.7 yards per punt and earning plaudits for his skill at return-limiting directional punts, something his Aussie Rules football background helped with. He also has another important feature; because he received his football training outside of the U.S., he counts as a non-import. That means the Riders will likely go with a mix of him at punter and recently-extended Chris Milo (another non-import) at kicker. While Bartel's raw punting average wasn't as good as Ricky Schmitt's last year, the ratio benefits he brings over the American should compensate for that, and Schmitt wasn't certain to return anyways; he's a free agent, and one the NFL's been showing interest in. Thus, bringing in Bartel should help compensate for Schmitt's loss at the least, and it could make the Riders even better when Bartel's non-import status is factored in.
While Saskatchewan added two valuable pieces (and moved up one spot in the draft), Hamilton didn't necessarily lose this trade, though. The Tiger-Cats gave up two players who didn't really seem to be a big part of their future plans (Bartel seemed rather expendable once the Ticats brought back import Justin Medlock) and moved down one slot in the first round, and for that, they received an early second-round pick. That's not a bad return at all.
Of course, though, there might be some concern amongst Hamilton fans that so many players from last year don't seem to be a part of general manager/head coach Kent Austin's plans going forward. This trade comes on the heels of several aggressive free agency moves and a quarterback change. The Tiger-Cats made it to the Grey Cup, so this kind of extensive turnover may seem like a bit much. Moreover, it could be seen as a bit problematic that Austin's approach is narrow enough that there isn't room for talented Canadian players like Williams within it. However, there's still a lot of time left in the offseason, so we'll see how their roster looks when the pieces stop moving, and we'll see how it comes together on the field in June. For the moment, this isn't a terrible deal for the Tiger-Cats, despite them giving up two talented players. If those players weren't in their plans, they are essentially getting something for nothing. The Riders might be even bigger winners, though, as they acquired two potentially-great non-imports merely for the cost of a second-round pick.