It wasn’t exactly the best start to Jordan Williams’ day.
The Canadian linebacker woke up Monday morning expecting another day of preparation to help the Toronto Argonauts avenge a disappointing end to their 2023 season. But everything changed with one phone call.
This was to inform Williams that he had been traded to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in a deal that included eight total draft picks and the rights to a player on the trading list.
“I woke up to do my usual routine — working out, things of that nature,” Williams said in a phone interview Thursday. “As soon as I woke up I got a call from the guys in blue telling me I had been traded to the Hammer.”
But Williams said he was only slightly surprised by the decision. After the season, Argos officials told players that the club faced very difficult off-season decisions given that it had 32 pending free agents, including many veteran starters and key players.
Toronto 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 AJ Ouellette, returner Javon Leake, linebacker Adarius Pickett (best defensive player in the 23 East Division) 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 this time of year,” Williams said, with CFL free agent play set to begin Feb. 13. “We had a team full (of people) that could start and everyone wants the starting money, but that’s not possible so they have to do some restructuring, cutting and trading in order to stay under the cap.”
Toronto lost to Montreal in the East Division final
Toronto finished 2023 with a CFL-best 16-2 record, tying the league mark for most regular season wins. But the Argos’ brilliant campaign ended with a stunning 38-17 home loss in the East Division to the Montreal Alouettes, who went on to beat Winnipeg in the Gray Cup.
The Hamilton trade reunited Williams with Ticats general manager Ed Hervey, who selected Williams first overall in the 2020 CFL draft as general manager of the BC Lions.
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 British Columbia, which honored the player’s wish to move to Ontario to play closer to family.
Williams insisted he didn’t ask for Toronto to be moved and that it didn’t bother him that the Argos didn’t give him a reason for the trade.
“I’m not one of those people who wonders why,” Williams said. “This is the activity you sign up for when you put on those pads and helmet.
“You know the saying: Players rent the jerseys and coaches rent the whistles. We just go around in this game called football.”
The six-foot, 220-pound Williams has appeared in 46 career regular season games with British Columbia (2021-22) and Toronto (2023), recording 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.
Hamilton will face Toronto four times this season
Williams joins a Hamilton team that finished third in the East Division last season with an 8-10 record before losing 27-12 to Montreal in the conference semifinals. The Ticats defense was 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 integrating into his new home.
“Hamilton is a hard-working, hard-working town, which means these people work hard every day to earn their money,” he said. “They punch the clock and that’s how I was raised.
“My mother is in the army, she has to punch the clock every day to earn her pay. I’m used to that kind of lifestyle, that kind of life and that’s what I am.”
Williams played primarily at middle linebacker in Toronto. Where he lands in Hamilton’s defense will depend on who the Ticats re-sign and/or add via free agency.
Hamilton will face Toronto four times this season, with the first game taking place on June 23 at BMO Field. But Williams doesn’t have that date or the other three circled on his calendar.
“I saw a lot of guys play against their old team,” Williams said. “They end up having a whole bunch of coverage issues or missed tackles because they’re just too emotional.
“You have to approach the game like it’s anonymous faces. Like I said earlier, it’s just the guys in blue.”