Ranking the Stampeders free agents by priority heading into an uncertain off-season

The Calgary Stampeders, like many teams, have a ton of free agents to re-sign this off-season.

In the wake of a season cancelled due to COVID, and the one-year contracts permitted by the expiring collective bargaining agreement, player movement has become such a fact of life for CFL general managers that wrist exercises need to be worked into the daily gym routine.

Here is a look at the pending free agent’s in the Stamps organization, grouped by importance to the team and why the horses would, or should, re-sign them:

Open the wallet: Ka’Deem Carey, Reggie Begelton, Jameer Thurman, Tre Roberson, Sean McEwen, Mike Rose, Rene Paredes

Carey led the West Division in rushing yards and all running backs in touchdowns on the ground. The Stampeders started to flourish when Carey started getting the rock on a regular basis. Re-signing Carey not only puts consistency at the running back position, but also puts doubt into the mind of defences allowing the Stamps to get more favourable coverage downfield.

Begelton, Thurman and Roberson all fit into the same category, should they not get another NFL look this off-season, the trio have been and can continue to be CFL all-stars. Signing either one to a longer contract would be a coup for the Stampeders

Paredes is still the best kicker in the league, with no apologies to Brett Lauther either. Paredes has five of the eight best kicking percentage seasons ever, and has never missed a game in 10 seasons. Lewis Ward is the only kicker with a better career average, but has trended down the last two seasons after a spectacular rookie season. The biggest concern in keeping him is potential off field opportunities, Paredes may look to his post-playing career much like former battery mate and friend Rob Maver did a season earlier.

McEwan was one of very few players that Stamps general manager John Hufnagel has ever signed for big money from another team and it paid off. Keeping the former University of Calgary grad in red and white may be a challenge financially, but some players you break the bank for. The only West Division all-star offensive lineman not wearing blue and gold, McEwen will likely get paid big bucks to stay.

Flipping to the other side of the line, Rose was a force of nature this year, once he figured out how to play disciplined football. Guilty of too many penalties early in the year, Rose was dominant at the defensive tackle spot, reflected in his all-star nod. Calgary has lost a lot of talented defensive linemen over the years, but the tap can only flow so long before it runs dry.

Priority phone calls: Kamar Jorden, Ucambre Williams, Darnell Sankey, Jonathan Moxey, and Royce Metchie, Malik Henry

Jorden would have been higher on this list but for his injury history. Now an eight-year veteran, Jorden has but 32 games to his credit. A few of the early seasons he bounced back and forth to the practice roster as a depth player, although he has never played more than 10 games in a season. A true talent, Jorden is a difference-maker when healthy. The question is if a team will pay him for his talent, or if they will offer based on his durability?

Williams is an incredibly versatile and talented offensive lineman no matter where you put him. He played on the blindside this season and helped keep his QB clean for the majority of the year and has previously played an entire season at centre at an all-star level.

Sankey was a CFL rookie this season and if he was able to be nominated likely would have taken down the award for best of the year. Once he grabbed a hold of the timing of CFL football, Sankey quickly rose up the tackle ranks, finishing with 98 total stops and one quarterback sack.

Moxey led the team in interceptions and had three in his first playoff game against Saskatchewan. Two of his interceptions in the regular season ended the comeback hopes of the teams he picked off in the fourth quarter. If Moxey can maintain the shutdown reputation of a defensive back that is always a threat to pick off the ball, it takes away a large piece of the field for opposing quarterbacks to throw to.

Metchie being injured hurt the Stampeders in more than just not being available to play. The young national safety also caused necessary shuffling that included Jamar Wall needing to move to the outlet spot. Former Stampeders defensive back coach Joshua Bell once remarked that passport had nothing to do with Metchie earning the starter’s job.

Henry was a superstar returner for the Stamps this season and was piling up yards at an incredible pace on both kickoffs and punts. An injury and the tragic loss of his brother prevented him from having a full shortened season but he compared favourably to special teams player of the year DeVonte Dedmon in both kickoff and punt return average and looked dangerous anytime he got the ball. When he wasn’t playing, it was obvious how big an impact he made.

Glue guys: Jake Maier, DeShaun Amos, Brandon Dozier, Raheem Wilson, Derek Wiggan

Maier rockets up this list if anything happens to Bo Levi Mitchell, but in limited starts this season, Maier did impress as the first CFL rookie to pass for 300 yards in his first three starts and set a franchise record for most consecutive completions to start a game. Maier could head elsewhere if a starters designation and paycheque are dangled in front of him, but the Stampeders certainly like what he’s shown so far.

Amos, Dozier, and Wilson all fit in as starters for this team that played incredibly well in the defensive secondary this season. Dozier was third in the league in special teams tackles and second on the team in total tackles with 66. Amos and Wilson largely held teams in check defensively and continue to improve with more experience.

Wiggan has been a mainstay in the trenches for Calgary since 2015 and would have set a personal best for defensive tackles if this season went the full 18 games. As a national he becomes even more valuable and did an excellent job plugging the rushing lanes and creating enough problems in the backfield that he couldn’t be ignored in favour of covering Rose instead.

National needs: Justin Lawrence, Ryan Sceviour, Zach Williams, Ante Milanovich-Litre, Charlie Power, William Langlais

A tier of their own, nationals along the offensive line need to be retained, and typically go high on draft night as well. Williams and Sceviour both finished the season as starters on the interior and Lawrence has made spot starts throughout his career as well. The emergence of Bryce Bell may see one of these three find a new home, but I’d expect that not to be very difficult to do.

In the backfield it will be interesting to see what happens with Power’s injury and if he can make a return from an early season Achillies tear. Langlais filled in at fullback and would likely be the answer if Power hasn’t recovered in time.

Milanovich-Litre had his least impressive season to date and the question that must be asked is whether this season was a combination of play-calling and bad timing or if he has dropped off? Once thought capable of being a starter if needed, his production this season leaves that thought in serious doubt.

The cold tub crew: Calvin McCarty, Cory Greenwood, Connor McGough, Jamar Wall, Nila Kasitati

Don’t be surprised to see any or all of the names above on the official retired list at some point in this off-season. McCarty was signed as insurance mid-season after the Power injury, Greenwood will be 37 years old in training camp next year, McGough has already retired, Kasitati was signed out of retirement, and Wall has hinted that he may be ready to follow Brandon Smith into the sunset.

Nice to haves: Micheal O’Connor, Markeith Ambles, Hergy Mayala, Colton Hunchak, Richie Sindani, Folarin Orimalade, Fraser Sopik, Nick Statz

Ambles struggled to be a focal point of the passing offence but makes a nice complementary piece. Mayala, Hunchak and Sindani all provided outlets but none individually were game-breakers. Mayala was expected to be a bigger breakout based on his 2019, but Mitchell wasn’t as accurate as he wanted to be either, so not sure which was to blame for the drop in production. Both Hunchak and Sindani made the most of their opportunities, but neither should be considered irreplaceable if they moved on.

Orimalade has been productive when healthy, but staying healthy has been difficult for the defensive lineman who was a playoff backup to Shawn Lemon after entering the season with a starting expectations.

Sopik is great on special teams and can fill in at linebacker if needed, being a national certainly doesn’t hurt.

Statz is a local product who the coaches like and continues to improve, so he’ll likely still be here when camp starts next year.

Likely leaving: Richard Leonard, Ronnie Pfeffer, Aaron Crawford, Roc Thomas, Shawn Lemon.

I hesitated to add Lemon to this list, as he continues to perform at a high level in games. He collected eight sacks in his 11 games, fourth most in the league but he seems to be a player that moves around a lot, having played for six teams in 10 seasons and some of them more than once.

Not sure what it is for Lemon who had the same amount of tackles and just one fewer sack than Jackson Jeffcoat — in one less game — and yet can’t stay in one place. His longest tenure in any spot was Toronto where he played 33 games before being traded.

Leonard will likely be the odd man out in the secondary if the others are retained given his veteran status and the salary expectations that come with it.

Pfeffer seemed to be an insurance policy this year, as he was scratched for every game, but the emergence of Cody Grace likely makes his salary expendable. A career 64 percent field goal rate also makes him an unlikely candidate to replace Paredes if he decides to retire.

Crawford is only on this list because of the optics of the Stampeders signing two long snappers right ahead of a government rule that prevented unvaccinated players from travelling. I can not speak with certainty to his status in any way, but it looked odd from this seat. Hufnagel was very clear after the season that he would not be signing unvaccinated players, and if I am correct, that would mean a new team for Crawford.

Thomas hurt his knee after being a late season starter. He would, if anything, be a training camp invite to see if he had recovered enough to attempt to crack the roster.

The Stampeders like to get a few signings out of the way before the new year, typically as signing bonuses paid would count towards the previous season’s cap, however with the CBA expiring and negotiations looming, players may be less willing to put their names on paper in anticipation of what may be to come.

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