Stampeders shocker: John Hufnagel signs five players on first day of CFL free agency

The first day of CFL free agency typically sees tumbleweeds blowing past the Stampeders’ football office.

It’s not that John Hufnagel doesn’t make phone calls, but in the past the league’s winningest general manager was more interested in retaining his own players than considering the options on the open market.

This year, with the advent of the “legal tampering” window, Hufnagel took a more active approach to the opening bell and before the day was over had secured five free agents while seeing a few of his guys find homes elsewhere.

Lets start with the additions.

Ronnie Pfeffer, punter/kicker

Pfeffer fills the hole left by Rob Maver’s decision to hang them up this off-season.

Pfeffer had an eight-punt game that resulted in just 290 yards at the end of the season that brought down his average. Eliminating that game sets his average above 48 yards, which puts him into the category for strongest leg in the league.

Pfeffer also had just one rouge but also only two punts inside the 10-yard line. It will be very interesting to see how Pfeffer develops as a directional punter, particularly since he’s taking over from one of the best ever in Maver.

The Stamps rarely go for the long field goal, instead relying on the punter to pin the other team as deep as possible. With a 45 percent outside the numbers rate, Pfeffer will be called upon to target the sidelines more often than he was in Toronto.

Connor McGough, defensive lineman

A former University of Calgary Dino, McGough is having a homecoming of sorts after signing with the Stampeders.

Seen as a solid special teamer with rotational defensive end upside, McGough was a player the Stamps probably would have liked to have drafted in 2017, but the Ticats snapped him up with the fourth overall pick. This sharpens into focus when remembering that the Stamps traded up to acquire Randy Colling with the sixth pick. Colling lasted just one season in Calgary and is now out of the league.

As a part of three Hardy Cup winning teams in the Canada West conference, McGough knows how to compete at a high level. Given the Stamps’ pass rushing woes last season — they finished with just 35 sacks — he will find time on the defensive line if he proves he’s able to get after the passer.

Dakota Prukop, quarterback

Dakota Prukop has three years of CFL experience but has thrown just 18 total passes, all of them in 2019.

With the factory approach run by Dave Dickenson, John Hufnagel et al, the quarterback position in Calgary has always produced. Seven games as a starter in Calgary’s offence got Nick Arbuckle a starter’s gig in Ottawa. Learning behind two-time Most Outstanding Player Bo Levi Mitchell can’t hurt either.

Prukop will have some competition, though, as the team also re-signed third-stringer Montell Cozart.

We will have to wait for the end of camp to see if the Stamps plan on carrying three quarterbacks, or if one of those two are cut.

 Branden Dozier and Richard Leonard, defensive backs

The last several years have seen the Stampeders populate the CFL and NFL with defensive backs. Tommy Campbell, Ciante Evans, Patrick Levels, DaShaun Amos, and Tre Roberson have all found new homes in the last few seasons, while stalwart defensive mainstay Brandon Smith retired.

Rather than heading back to the recruiting goldmine that has served them well the last few years, the Stampeders went to the well in free agency and secured Dozier and Leonard.

Stampeders’ defensive coordinator Brent Monson was pleased to get both of these guys, praising their “versatility and playmaking ability.” Leonard was an all-star last season, and Dozier hauled in five interceptions in 2018.

Now let’s take a look at the subtractions.

The Stampeders also saw four players head to other teams on Tuesday including receiver Juwan Brescacin, running back Don Jackson, defensive end Chris Casher and safety Courtney Stephen.

The biggest loss for Calgary might be Brescacin who had three touchdowns in four games before being lost for the season. He was looking primed for a breakout season that would have seen him become a focus of the offence, filling in the spot previously occupied by then-injured Kamar Jorden.

Jackson was the victim of injuries to both himself and to the offensive line and his numbers suffered to the point where the Stampeders did not make an offer for him to come back.

Stephen had been replaced by Royce Metchie, and would have been too expensive to retain as a backup.

Chris Casher found the quarterback seven times last year and had the spotlight opposite Codarro Law on a defensive line that didn’t get nearly enough pressure on opposing pivots. The Stampeders are hoping for a full recovery from Folarin Orimolade who won the job out of camp last season, but was injured in the very first week.

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