If the Calgary Stampeders want to return to the Grey Cup game for a third straight season, much will rely on re-signing the secondary that limited opposition QB’s to a league-low 17 passing touchdowns in 2017.
While 10-year CFL veteran Brandon Smith recently re-upped in Calgary fellow defensive backs Josh Bell, Ciante Evans, Tommie Campbell, Joe Burnett and Jamar Wall are all potential free agents and no unit was more instrumental to the team’s defensive success.
All were starters in the vaunted Stampeders defence and the net loss could be catastrophic considering how often opposition quarterbacks were forced to throw underneath this season. Tommie Campbell allowed one touchdown this season while Wall and Evans combined for 108 defensive tackles, good for second and third on the team respectively.
Smith isn’t the only pending free agent the Stamps have extended, having started the off-season quickly by re-signing Kamar Jorden, Lemar Durant, William Langlais, and Brad Erdos.
Outside of the secondary as a whole, here are three other free agents the Stampeders should attempt to lock down before heading into the Free Agency Frenzy this February.
More than anyone left on the Stampeders potential free agents list, Roy Finch made a game-in-game-out impact that was most acutely felt when he was briefly out of the lineup. Playing in just 13 regular season and two playoff games, Finch amassed 2,445 all-purpose yards on his way to winning the league’s Mosts Outstanding Special Teams Player award. Finch led the league in both punt return and kick return average for players and was a danger to break for a touchdown anytime he touched the ball. Finch has been granted permission to work out with NFL squads but the Stampeders have to be saving a loonie or two in case this scat-back shakes loose.
Every year a playmaker seems to emerge across from CFL sack master Charleston Hughes. This year, following in the path of Cordarro Law, Shawn Lemon, and Frank Beltre it was Davis. Described by Coach Dave Dickenson as “a player we need to get on the field more” after the 2016 season, Davis responded by racking up nine sacks and making life difficult for offensive tackles league-wide. Davis averaged almost a sack per game and was a handful for anyone lined up against him. Davis has worked out with the Philadelphia Eagles of the NFL but will be a priority for the Stamps if he doesn’t stick down south.
There was a lot of talk heading into the playoffs that Jerome Messam had lost a step at age 33. So, with chip placed firmly on his shoulder, Messam went on to win the Most Oustanding Canadian award in the Grey Cup with a two-touchdown performance. Despite being suspended for 1.5 games following an altercation with Alouettes linebacker Kyries Hebert, Messam fell just 22 yards short of winning his second straight rushing title. While I can’t imagine more than a one year deal here, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Messam back at it in 2018.
John Hufnagel has done a spectacular job in recent years identifying which free agents he wants, and can afford, to keep in Calgary and often gets them to sign below market value. This year’s crop may take a little more convincing after back-to-back Grey Cup heartbreaks which may see players looking to financially guaranteed greener pastures rather than the chance of a ring.