HAMILTON — And now the waiting begins for Bo Levi Mitchell.
The veteran quarterback's future remains Hamilton's biggest question mark heading into the off-season. The Montreal Alouettes eliminated the Tiger-Cats from Grey Cup contention with a 27-12 home victory Saturday in the East Division semifinal.
The loss capped a miserable campaign for Mitchell, who in January signed a three-year, $1.62-million extension with Hamilton. That move came roughly two months after the Ticats acquired Mitchell's rights from the Calgary Stampeders.
But injuries limited the two-time Grey Cup champion and CFL MVP to just six regular-season starts. And Mitchell had to watch most of Saturday's playoff game from the sidelines as veteran Matt Shiltz got the start for Hamilton.
Mitchell entered the game with just over six minutes to play and Hamilton trailing 24-12. The 33-year-old Texan finished 1-of-4 passing for six yards and was intercepted on his final throw as Montreal kept the Ticats out of the end zone.
Mitchell openly questioned his future in Hamilton in comments to TSN after the loss. On Monday, though, Mitchell said he wants to remain with the Ticats, but the decision isn't his to make.
"What I love about Bo is he speaks from the heart and he's going to wear everything on his sleeve," Orlondo Steinauer, Hamilton's head coach/president of football operations, said Monday. "Bo is a Ticat right now, he's under contract.
"The way things worked out this year, it wasn't ideal for anybody, including Bo. But we didn't sign Bo to a one-year deal. Bo is a Ticat and that's what it is right now."
Mitchell will reportedly be due a significant six-figure roster bonus sometime in January. Hamilton could opt against paying that and make Mitchell a free agent as the remaining $1.1 million -- Mitchell is said to have received $520,000 this year -- doesn't include any guaranteed money because the contact was Mitchell's first with the Ticats.
Steinauer said he and Mitchell spoke Sunday.
"Bo was in my office for 30 minutes (Sunday)," he said. "It was just like we were sitting there having a beer.
"There's no challenge there."
Mitchell completed 78-of-132 passes (59.1 per cent) for 1,031 yards with six touchdowns and 10 interceptions this season. Over his six starts, Mitchell compiled a 2-4 record.
Saturday's playoff loss was a bitter pill to swallow for Hamilton, which is hosting the Grey Cup game Nov. 19 at Tim Hortons Field. This was also the second straight year the Ticats had finished third in the East with an 8-10 record, then lost in the division semifinal to Montreal.
That followed consecutive Grey Cup appearances in 2019 and '21, Steinauer's first two years as head coach. Hamilton hasn't won a title since 1999 and owns the CFL's longest championship drought.
"Ultimately this is a sports entertainment business, we're paid to win," Steinauer said. "They (Ticats fans) deserve a champion.
"You don't rub a lotion on your hands and then you win. This is a game that's played by people and people aren't perfect. We're grinding. There's one champion, there's going to be one colour of confetti to fall, that's sports."
Steinauer also has questions to resolve within his coaching staff.
Senior assistant Scott Milanovich has been mentioned as a potential candidate for the Saskatchewan Roughriders' head-coaching vacancy. Milanovich, a three-time Grey Cup champion as a CFL coach, assumed offensive play-calling duties when the Ticats and offensive co-ordinator Tommy Condell parted ways in August.
"I'd love to keep Scott but we love to see people flourish," Steinauer said. "That doesn't mean we wouldn't put together something to try and keep Scott and other people we want.
"But at the same time, totally understand having been in that situation before when you're supported and when you're not."
Steinauer also faces having to keep many of his own players before the start of CFL free agency in February. Shiltz and short-yardage quarterback Kai Locksley are poised to hit the open market, along with veteran linebacker Simoni Lawrence and receiver Tim White, to name a few.
Lawrence, 34, had 84 tackles, five sacks, an interception and three forced fumbles while appearing in all 18 regular-season games. That earned Lawrence the nod as Hamilton's top defensive player.
Not bad, considering Lawrence signed a one-year deal last February after injuries limited him to just nine regular-season appearances in 2022.
Lawrence has spent 10 of his 11 CFL seasons with Hamilton and been named the East Division's top defensive player three times (2015, '19 and '21). The six-foot-one, 231-pound linebacker, whose gregarious personality and rugged play have made him popular with Ticats fans, plans to play in 2024.
"No, I haven't thought about retirement unless something drastic happens," Lawrence said. "For sure, '24 is on my radar, just go through the process.
"Your tape is your currency in this league . . . I think that with my level of play this year I put myself into another position to get an opportunity to compete again."
Ditto for White, who was the CFL's receiving leader with 75 catches for 1,269 yards (16.9-yard average) and eight TDs. But the 29-year-old feels he's capable of more.
"I think I have a lot more room to grow," he said. "This season has been tough, I definitely planned on having a bigger season and helping us win more games."
White says he wants to dtay in Hamilton.
"I do love it here," he said. "I love the building, I love how upstairs manages things and obviously I love my teammates.
"Nothing but great things to say about (being) here."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 6, 2023.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press