O’Leary: Dane Evans finally gets his day in the sun

As Dane Evans settled into the Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ locker room, he looked around and sized up his competition.

A rookie in 2o18, he was familiar with all of his new fellow quarterbacks. There was the starter, Jeremiah Masoli. There was Vernon Adams Jr. and of course, drawing interest from sports fans on both sides of the border, there was Johnny Manziel and the long shadow he would cast over the team’s training camp.

Having gone through camp with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2017 and knowing the sting that comes with being released, Evans went into survival mode.

“Going into that camp I can distinctly remember just wanting to make the team, I didn’t care,” Evans told reporters on a conference call on Friday.

“I was doing holding, I think I was even doing some special teams things. I was just wanting to make the team at that point. I had been out of being on a team for a couple years. The NFL route didn’t work out, I knew I didn’t want to coach just yet so it was just whatever I could do to make the team.”

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Evans climbed his way up the Ticats depth chart over the last three seasons before being assuming unquestioned starting duties for the 2022 season (Thomas Skrlj/CFL.ca)

From that level of desperation, Evans is now the only one of those four that remains with the team. He agreed to a contract extension on Wednesday that solidified him as the Ticats’ starting quarterback through the 2023 season. Masoli is set to hit the free agent market on Feb. 8, bringing his eight-year stay in Black and Gold to an end.

It’s a bittersweet ending in Hamilton for Masoli and as elated as Evans is to have some clarity around his role with the club for the future, he knows that the vet he leaned on in the early days of his career played a part in getting him to this day.

“Initially, it probably is going to be a little different,” Evans said, adding that he and Masoli have spoken since the contract extension was announced. “I mean, every year I’ve been up here he’s been the one guy that I’ve consistently been with and been talking to. I don’t really see why that would change wherever he ends up.

“The one thing that’s promised in life is change. We’ll be fine with that and we’ll just keep on rolling.”

Evans said he was happy to have his free agent status taken care of as quickly as possible, not just for certainty with his future but to help the Ticats’ brass with its approach to free agency in the coming weeks. He admitted to the Hamilton Spectator that he settled on a salary in the $400,000 range. He said he wanted a salary that he felt was fair but that left the team room to get other high-calibre players.

Evans signed for an amount he was comfortable with but wanted to leave money on the table for the Ticats to strengthen the rest of their roster in free agency (John Kenney/CFL.ca)

“I was realistic, right? I knew I earned X number of dollars, but I didn’t want to be the guy that takes it all and then what would we have left?” Evans said. “I definitely got paid very nice. I’m very thankful for that. But I think we definitely left some money on the table (for) other guys. If they want to come here (they) can come and I think we can build a championship team.”

Evans will continue to spend time in Hamilton, where he’s getting treatment for the neck injury that took him out of the Grey Cup game. He figures he’s at 90 per cent and will be at 100 per cent in a week or so. He said he’s already throwing passes a few times a week and will ramp up his workouts in February and March. He expects to go into training camp fully healthy and wants to lead his team into its pursuit of a Grey Cup that over the last two seasons has fallen just out of the Ticats’ grasp.

“That’s all we talk about around here. We might not tell y’all every week that’s all we talk about, but we all know that’s our goal,” he said.

“That’s how we measure success, at least in my mind. Especially at the quarterback position. I could care less about any of my stats. If we run it 50 times or throw it 50 times, I just want to win and I ultimately want to win that Grey Cup. I want to do it next year and the year after that, but you’ve got to do it one at a time. We’ve gotten close a couple of times and we just have to figure out how to win that last game.”

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