By Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press on February 1, 2024.
It wasn’t exactly the best start to Jordan Williams’ day.
The Canadian linebacker awoke Monday morning expecting it to be another day of preparing to help the Toronto Argonauts avenge a disappointing end to their 2023 season. But that all changed with one telephone call.
It was to inform Williams he’d been dealt to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats as part of a deal that included eight total draft picks and the rights to a negotiation-list player.
“I woke up to do my usual routine – work out, things of that nature,” Williams said during a telephone interview Thursday. “As soon as I woke up I got a call from the guys in blue telling me I’d been traded to the Hammer.”
But Williams said he was only mildly surprised by the move. Following the season, the Argos brass told players the club faced some very difficult off-season decisions given it had 32 pending free agents, including many veteran starters and key performers.
Toronto has locked up nine players, including linebacker Wynton McManis and offensive lineman Isiah Cage. But among those still unsigned are kicker Boris Bede, receiver Damonte Coxie, running back A.J. Ouellette, returner Javon Leake, linebacker Adarius Pickett (’23 East Division top defensive player) and defensive back Jamal Peters.
Last month, Toronto released Canadian offensive lineman Dariusz Bladek, who has since joined the Ottawa Redblacks.
“I’ve seen a lot of movement happening in the CFL around this time of year,” said Williams, with CFL free agency set to begin Feb. 13. “We had a team full (of people) who could start and everybody wants starter money but that’s not possible so they’ve got to make some restructures, cuts and trades in order to be under the cap.”
Toronto finished 2023 with a CFL-best 16-2 record, tying the league mark for most regular-season victories. But the Argos’ stellar campaign ended with a stunning 38-17 East Division final home loss to the Montreal Alouettes, who went on to beat Winnipeg in the Grey Cup.
The trade to Hamilton reunited Williams with Ticats GM Ed Hervey, who selected Williams first overall in the 2020 CFL draft as the B.C. Lions general manager.
Williams, 29, had 52 total tackles (five for loss) in 14 regular-season games last year, his first with Toronto. Williams was traded to the Argos in February, 2023 by B.C., which honoured the player’s wish to move to Ontario to play closer to family.
Williams was emphatic he hadn’t asked Toronto to be moved and wasn’t bothered the Argos didn’t give him a reason for the trade.
“I’m not one of those people who asks why,” Williams said. “That’s the business you sign up for when you put those pads and that helmet on.
“You know the saying: The players rent the jerseys and the coaches rent the whistles. We’re all just rotating in this game called football.”
The six-foot, 220-pound Williams has appeared in 46 career regular-season games with B.C. (2021-22) and Toronto (2023), registering 229 tackles, 16 special-teams tackles, one sack, one interception and three forced fumbles. He was the CFL’s top rookie in 2021 after setting a league record for most tackles by a first-year Canadian with 92.
Williams joins a Hamilton squad that finished third in the East Division last season with an 8-10 record before losing 27-12 to Montreal in the conference semifinal. The Ticats’ defence finished fifth in offensive points allowed (23.6 per game) and sixth in net yards allowed (358.1).
Williams, who has one year remaining on his CFL contract, doesn’t see himself having any trouble fitting into his new home.
“Hamilton is a blue-collar, hard-nosed city meaning these people work hard every day to earn their money,” he said. “They punch the clock and that’s how I was raised.
“My mom is in the military, she has to punch the clock every day to earn her pay. I’m used to that kind of lifestyle, that kind of living and that’s what I’m about.”
Williams played predominantly at middle linebacker in Toronto. Where he lands in Hamilton’s defence is dependent upon who the Ticats re-sign and/or add via free agency.
Hamilton will face Toronto four times this season with the first matchup coming June 23 at BMO Field. But Williams doesn’t have that date or the three others circled on his calendar.
“I’ve seen many guys play their former team,” Williams said. “They end up having a whole bunch of coverage busts or missed tackles because they’re just too emotional.
“You have to approach the game like they’re nameless faces. Like I said earlier, they’re just the guys in blue.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 1, 2024.