TORONTO - Brandon Banks says he doesn't have an axe to grind with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
The all-star receiver signed as a free agent with the Toronto Argonauts Sunday following eight productive seasons in Hamilton. In December, Banks said he couldn't see himself playing for another CFL team and was willing to take less money to finish his career with the Ticats.
Banks politely declined Tuesday to discuss the specifics of his departure from Hamilton, saying it was a mutual decision.
"To be honest, I didn't want to be the veteran who held up the organization because they're trying to be nice to me," Banks told reporters during a video conference. "It was just a mutual agreement … to move on and go our separate ways, that's pretty much what it was.
"At the end of the day I don't think it came down to money, they were just trying to go younger. They've got some good, young players there and I agree with them. There are no hard feelings."
The mercurial Banks — affectionately dubbed Speedy B — anchored Hamilton's receiving corps in 2019 when he was named the CFL's outstanding player after registering 112 catches for 1,550 yards and 13 TDs (all career highs). But the five-foot-seven, 155-pound Banks struggled with injuries last season, recording 44 receptions for 474 yards and two touchdowns in 10 regular-season contests.
And in both years, Hamilton lost to Winnipeg in the Grey Cup. But the 34-year-old Banks said he sensed shortly after the Ticats' 33-25 overtime loss to the Bombers on Dec. 12 at Tim Hortons Field that his time in Steeltown had ended.
"I pretty much knew," Banks said. "I have the utmost respect for that organization.
"It was just time to move on."
Banks registered 422 catches for 5,678 yards and 44 TDs in 111 career regular-season games with Hamilton. Four times he was a league all-star and was its top special-teams player in 2015.
He ranks first in franchise history in kick-return yards (3,773), punt return yards (3,049), missed field goal return yards (779) and missed field-goal return touchdowns (five). He's second in total touchdowns (62), combined yards (13,686) and punt-return touchdowns (seven).
The only accolade to elude Banks in Hamilton was a Grey Cup title. He came close in 2014, returning a punt 90 yards for a touchdown with 32 seconds left that was nullified by a holding penalty, allowing the Calgary Stampeders to hold on for the 20-16 victory.
If Banks is to hoist the Grey Cup, it will now be with archrival Toronto.
"To be honest, it still really hasn't hit me," Banks said of joining the Argos. "It won't hit me until I actually walk into the building.
"When I signed on the dotted line, it hit me that, 'Man, I'm going to go play for another team.' It is what it is and I'm ready for the change."
It won't take Banks long to face his former team. Toronto and Hamilton meet in their final exhibition game June 3 at BMO Field, then will square off four times between Aug. 6 (at BMO Field) and Sept. 5 (at Tim Hortons Field).
And there could also be a playoff meeting depending on where the teams finish in the East Division standings.
The Argos-Ticats rivalry is very, very strong in Hamilton. Yet Banks believes the Hamilton faithful will have moved on from his departure by the time the regular season begins.
"Time heals everything," he said. "I believe by then everybody will have moved on.
"Obviously I have to see them (Ticats) four times (during season) … it's going to be a fun battle. Hopefully we can bring more excitement to BMO Field and the atmosphere there."
Banks said while he doesn't feel he has anything to prove to the Ticats, he's anxious to return to the form that made him one of the league's most dangerous offensive threats in 2019. When Toronto signed Banks, head coach Ryan Dinwiddie said he was looking for the receiver to give the Argos a downfield passing threat.
"I do want to prove to people I can still play but I don't have any doubts about it," Banks said. "Obviously I'm going to have doubters out there but that's OK, I've always had doubters.
"I'm still going to go out there and continue to be me and hopefully stay healthy so I can show you all I can still be Speedy B."
And that would include returning kicks and punts, something Banks did effectively early in his tenure with Hamilton.
"That's one thing I definitely expressed when I was shopping myself, I was letting people know I still want to punt return," Banks said. "This off-season I'm approaching this differently than I usually have.
"I'm getting older so I'm trying to put on some more weight to get stronger so I think I can go back to punt returning. I expressed that to Pinball (Argos GM Mike Clemons) … if they need me to do that, I'm willing to do whatever they need."
Banks said the affable Clemons was a factor in his signing with Toronto.
"Over the years I've built a relationship with Pinball from afar," Banks said. "Every time (Toronto) played the Ticats, he went out of his way to speak to me and that obviously meant a lot.
"He's a very, very positive guy and that's the kind of people I like to be around."
Banks isn't the only veteran player Clemons has taken a flyer on this off-season. The Argos also signed veteran running back Andrew Harris, 34, who helped anchor Winnipeg's resurgence and consecutive CFL titles, after he and the Bombers couldn't agree on a new deal.
"I'm excited to play with a guy of that calibre," Banks said of Harris. "He's pretty much in the same situation I'm in.
"I'm just ready to bring my leadership there, try to fit in with those guys and help as much as I can."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 15, 2022.