For Stampeders fans, Tuesday began with cautious optimism, followed by a sense of dread, ending with a sigh of relief, coupled with a feeling of loss.
Got all that?
Stampeders general manager John Hufnagel has always said that you don’t find any bargains on day one of free agency and the numbers that have been thrown around have proven that out. He has also maintained two other philosophies during his time in office that were demonstrated in full force today.
The first is that he would rather sign his own guys than anyone else. Hufnagel followed that line of thinking by finalizing the contracts for Junior Turner, Eric Rogers and Juwan Brescasin before snagging the biggest fish in the free agency pond in Bo Levi Mitchell.
Mitchell takes the top spot for me because he is six years younger than Mike Reilly and hasn’t taken near the punishment. Combine that with his winning percentage being the best ever, it was no surprise to see him command what is now the second biggest contract in the league.
He returns behind the offensive line that has retained four of five starters as Spencer Wilson and Randy Richards, who both played right tackle this year, have not been offered contracts. At the moment, Justin Renfrow and Nila Kasitati are the likely front runners for the job, unless more bodies are brought in.
The second principle that Hufnagel swears by is that if you are interested in being the highest paid player at your position, someone may offer it to you but it won’t be the Calgary Stampeders.
Both Mitchell’s contract numbers, which as reported by our Justin Dunk are higher than most but below Reilly, and the offer that was reportedly presented to Micah Johnson, who eventually became the highest paid defensive player in the league to play for the Riders, were not at that threshold of making them the top player salary for their position.
Hufnagel has long maintained that by saving money on those contracts, he can better fill out a lineup with talented players at all positions. It is a strategy that has seemed to pay off yet again as Mitchell decided to stay in Calgary for less than he could have received on the open market. Mitchell’s deal at the moment anyway and based on the last CBA, allows for Hufnagel to bring in another minimum paid player or goose five of those guys by 20 per cent, not an insignificant amount.
Johnson, on the other hand, went to the highest bidder in Saskatchewan. Over the years, Calgary has frequently seen players leave to set new positional contract highs, while at the same time developing the next wave of talent to continue winning games.
Now a look at some of the other losses the Stampeders saw and their impact:
Tunde Adeleke, Hamilton – This national DB was praised by first year coach Joshua Bell as someone that was good enough to play in this league regardless of passport. Adeleke has versatility in the run game as well as playing a rotational safety spot. While he was eventually replaced as a starter by Adam Berger, Adeleke can prove to be a valuable piece to a Hamilton defence that was middle of the pack on pass stats.
Lemar Durant, B.C. – The Stampeders were essentially left with a choice between Durant and Juwan Brescasin. Durant was coming off a Most Outstanding Canadian performance in the Grey Cup and B.C. is home. One of many signings there, Durant is likely atop the depth chart as a national receiver there, something he may not have got in Calgary. After a few injuries slowed the start to his career, Durant has the chance to bloom on this one year show-me contract.
Patrick Levels, Montreal – Following in the footsteps of Tommie Campbell, Levels heads to Montreal. A rotational player who could fill in admirably all over the field, Levels will be missed in the rotation.
Spencer Wilson, Montreal – Wilson is headed to a place where he may get an opportunity to start. Constantly the sixth man in Calgary, Wilson is a jack-of-all-trades for an OL coach, capable of playing every position. His adaptability will be hard to replace with a single player.
DaVaris Daniels, Edmonton – Heading up Highway 2, Daniels looks to join new QB Trevor Harris and Greg Ellingson as part of a revamped Eskimo attack. Daniels was a very productive player for the Stamps, but with the emergence of Reggie Bagelton and Markeith Ambles to go along with the re-signings of Eric Rogers and Kamar Jordan, there are only so many passes to go around. It is a suddenly crowded receiving corps in Calgary and Daniels may have found himself to be the odd man out.
Micah Johnson, Saskatchewan – The Monster-in-the-Middle signed in Regina shortly after they missed out on Bo Levi Mitchell garnering a deal worth a quarter million dollars a year. A huge addition to their defensive line that already features Zach Evans and former and once again teammate Charleston Hughes. The loss makes the middle even more of a mystery after the departures of Alex Singleton and Jameer Thurman.
Day one was typical under the Hufnagel Era. Some high priced talent was pried away, some guys were priced out of Calgary’s market and he signed some of his own guys. Now comes the bargain hunting on Day two as the defensive line still needs substantial work as does the LB position after losing the ratio-breaking Alex Singleton to the Philadelphia Eagles.