Perennial Canadian Football League all-star middle linebacker Barrin Simpson says the Hamilton Tiger-Cats are one of the favourites among six league teams hoping to sign him for the upcoming season.
A blue-chip B.C. Lion linebacker for the past five seasons, Simpson, 28, is set to become a highly-coveted free agent at midnight Wednesday. He said he hopes to find a new football home by a week from tomorrow. It very likely could be Steeltown.
"Hamilton is probably among the top three on the list," the Mississippi State University product said in a telephone interview from his home in Starkville Miss. He has ruled out returning to the Lions as well as Montreal and Calgary because of their existing depth at middle linebacker.
An ordained minister, Simpson believes he is at the top of his career and hopes to play another five seasons before retiring with his new team.
"I feel I'm in my prime. I'm where I understand the game best and my ability is there to match it."
He certainly has the credentials. Simpson has been a four-time western division all-star and three times an all-CFL selection during his time with the Lions. If Simpson opts for the black and gold, the club would likely install him in the middle and move Agustin Barrenechea to outside linebacker which would be better suited for his range and speed.
"Hamilton is definitely one of the teams I'm interested in, number one it is a football city. They are definitely tops on the list," he said, adding Winnipeg, Regina and Edmonton are also attractive potential workplaces.
"The football cities are really high on my list because of the atmosphere you get when you go and play there. I know as a B.C. Lion you would go into those places like Hamilton, Winnipeg, Edmonton and Saskatchewan where you felt the vibe of football in the air and you couldn't tell it was a hockey town," he said.
While Simpson is seeking "market value" for his services, he said there is more than just money he will consider before signing with any particular club.
"Number one, I'm looking at how I fit in the defensive scheme of the team I'm planning on joining. I have to speak with the defensive co-ordinators to see how I will fit and what will be asked of me and will I be comfortable with that.
"The second thing would be the potential of the team. Does the team have the potential to win or have the tools to win when you look at the coaching staff on down.
"And the offer has to fit. The offer has to be fair market value. And it has to be a football city," he said.
Simpson would prefer to play middle linebacker, but he feels he has the tools to play weak-side linebacker or rush end. That versatility makes him that much more valuable.
Simpson, who once knocked former Ticat passer Danny McManus senseless two seasons ago in B.C. Place, said he decided to leave Vancouver because he felt he wasn't utilized to the best of his abilities in the club's defensive scheme.
"I felt coach (Wally) Buono was trying to change my style of play," he said. "I wasn't comfortable with it and I wasn't allowed to flow to the ball like I had done in the previous years. It was frustrating for me because I felt I couldn't help the team in the way I knew I could."
Simpson, who knows Ticat personnel director Craig Smith from his previous stint in Vancouver, said he likes Hamilton's rebuilding efforts, particularly the acquisition of former Edmonton Eskimo passer Jason Maas.
"They seem like a team on the rise. Anybody across the league who is a free agent has to like what they've done in the past couple of months with the organization. It's definitely a tempting situation," he said.