There have been plenty of free agency moves over the last couple of days, but those moves don't happen in isolation. Each signing is influenced not only by the player's talents, the team's scheme and its personnel needs, but also what other players are on the market; for example, it's highly unlikely that Chris Bauman would have received the magnitude of interest he did if several other prominent Canadian receivers had also been available. Each free agency deal also has effects on the players the club already has under contract, and one of the most interesting cases there comes with Hamilton middle linebacker Otis Floyd.
From several points of view, Floyd (pictured above during a Sept. 7, 2009 game against Toronto) had arguably his best season last year. He piled up a career-high 83 tackles, recorded four sacks and forced three fumbles, but his dominance went beyond the pure statistics. At middle linebacker, Floyd provided veteran leadership to the Hamilton defence, but he also flew around the field and made plays in both the passing and running game. He was one of the most important parts of their defence, and teamed with Jamall Johnson and defensive player of the year Markeith Knowlton to form perhaps the CFL's top linebacking corps. Yet, despite all that, it looks like he's now on his way out of town.
Why is an excellent player like Floyd suddenly deemed expendable? Well, it's because the Tiger-Cats just made an expensive free-agent signing at his position, bringing in Renauld Williams. Williams wasn't in the CFL last year, trying his luck with the Pittsburgh Steelers, but he struggled with injuries and didn't manage to get on the field. When he was in the CFL, Williams was a pretty impressive player with the Saskatchewan Roughriders, but even his best statistical totals in 2009 (59 defensive tackles, eight special teams tackles, three sacks and a forced fumble) didn't come close to what Floyd did last year. It says something about his talent that a team of the calibre of the Steelers picked him up, but the fact remains that he simply hasn't proven he can be a dominant force at the CFL level yet.
Tiger-Cats general manager Bob O'Billovich cited age as the key reason for the move, and that line of thinking certainly has some merit. No player can play forever, and linebackers often have a high toll exacted on their bodies as they get older. Floyd is already 34 and will be 35 by the time the season rolls around, while Williams is just 29 (he turns 30 next week). There's a line of thinking that you always want to get younger, and if the Tiger-Cats think Williams can provide similar production to Floyd for years to come, it's understandable that they want to make that move.
However, at least for this season, there's a good chance that Floyd might even still be the better player. As I've mentioned before, almost half of the CFL's divisional all-stars last year and many of the dominant players were over 30. Saskatchewan middle linebacker Barrin Simpson, a former teammate of Floyd's in B.C., led the league in defensive tackles with 105 and added three sacks and a forced-fumble. He was chosen as a divisional all-star, and I thought he should have been selected as a league all-star as well; he also happens to be 33. Here's what Simpson told me at Saskatchewan's Grey Cup breakfast about the benefits of experience:
"I think this was one of my best seasons. Going out there, it's getting easier because you know what to do, what to prepare for and how to prepare in the off-season. It's much easier now as a ten-year vet than it was as a five-year vet. ... I like to say I'm like fine wine, I get better with age."
Floyd's stats would suggest that he's also improving as time goes by, but demonstrating that on the field this coming season might not be easy for him. Despite his outstanding performance last year, he doesn't have a gig with his old team, and there aren't a ton of CFL teams still looking for starting middle linebackers (and willing to gamble on 34-year-old ones). Still, plenty of CFL players demonstrate every year that age is just a number. Floyd's always kept himself in excellent shape, and if he gets the chance to play, he might just prove that he isn't yet too old for this job.