Stampeders re-sign backup QB Montell Cozart, bolster defence on busy opening day
Blue Bombers, Eskimos, Redblacks also address defence; RB Chris Rainey back in B.C.
John Hufnagel wasn't kidding.
Traditionally, the Calgary Stampeders haven't been active when Canadian Football League free agency begins. But Hufnagel, the club's president/general manager, told reporters Monday that could change this year.
And once the free-agent period began at noon ET on Tuesday, Hufnagel was a man of his word as Calgary made three separate deals less than an hour into the process.
Before the start of free agency, Calgary signed Canadian kicker/punter Ronnie Pfeffer to a one-year deal after the Kitchener, Ont., native accepted the club's qualifying offer during the free-agent negotiation window. He fills a need with the West Division club with the retirement of veteran punter Rob Maver.
Then Calgary added Canadian defensive lineman Connor McGough, a former Calgary Dino who spent the last three years with Hamilton, and American defensive backs Richard Leonard (Ticats) and Branden Dozier (B.C.). The Stampeders also re-signed backup quarterback Montell Cozart, an important move after dealing Nick Arbuckle to the Ottawa Redblacks.
But the Stampeders weren't the only team busy Tuesday. Some other moves include:
- Ottawa shored up its defence by signing Canadian defensive lineman Cleyon Laing and veteran American linebacker Don Unamba. Laing, who spent last season with Toronto, signed a three-year deal while Unamba recorded 43 tackles, six sacks and one interception in 12 games with Edmonton last season. The club also added versatile Canadian running back/receiver Anthony Coombs, who spent last season with Hamilton.
- The Winnipeg Blue Bombers signed former Edmonton defensive back Josh Johnson, an American who registered three interceptions in Edmonton's East Division semifinal win over Montreal. The secondary was definitely an area of need with Marcus Sayles and Winston Rose both leaving to pursue NFL opportunities. The defending Grey Cup champions also re-signed linebacker Thomas Miles, a Winnipeg native who'll enter his fourth season in Manitoba.
- Edmonton also took to improving its defence by signing defensive backs Trumaine Washington and Jonathan Mincy -- both former Toronto Argonauts -- and Hamilton linebacker Justin Tuggle, all Americans. The Eskimos also added running back Brandon Burks, another former Argo. Washington had 23 tackles and three interceptions in 12 games last year while Mincy joined the Argos in last September after spending time with the NFL's Chicago Bears. Tuggle had 80 tackles, one on special teams, a sack and interception with the Ticats. Burks ran for 487 yards on 79 carries (6.2-yard average) in 14 career games with Toronto.
Argonauts sign Canadian O-lineman, receiver
- American quarterback James Franklin signed a one-year deal with Saskatchewan to back up incumbent Cody Fajardo. Franklin was released last week by Toronto. The Riders also re-signed Canadian defensive end Jordan Reaves.
- Toronto added to its Canadian content. signing offensive lineman Philip Blake (Montreal Alouettes) and receiver Juan Brescacin (Calgary Stampeders).
- Hamilton signed American running back Don Jackson, who played two seasons with Calgary. Safety Courtney Stephen, a native of Brampton, Ont., returns to Steeltown after spending last season with the Stampeders. Stephen spent his first six CFL campaigns with the Ticats.
- Running back/returner Chris Rainey returned to the B.C. Lions on a one-year contract after spending last season with Toronto. Rainey began his CFL career with Montreal in 2014 before spending the next five seasons in Vancouver. The Lions also signed Canadian defensive lineman Cam Walker of London, Ont., who spent time with Toronto, Hamilton and Ottawa, and defensive back Derek Jones, an Edmonton native who spent six seasons with Winnipeg, and American defensive lineman Chris Casher, a former Calgary Stampeder.
While opening day was indeed busy, there was almost an anticlimactic sense to the start of free agency. For the first time in a long time there were no elite quarterbacks available and Monday, defensive lineman Willie Jefferson - the CFL's top defensive player last year and regarded as the best available pending free agent - signed a two-year contract extension to remain with the Grey Cup-champion.
There was some activity prior to start of free agency. Among the moves:
- Ottawa re-signed linebacker Kevin Brown and defensive back Randall Evans, both Americans, to one-year extensions.
- Backup American quarterback Logan Kilgore signed a one-year extension with Edmonton while Canadian defensive tackle Mark Mackie was extended through the 2021 season.
- American defensive lineman Dylan Wynn re-signed with Hamilton. Wynn, who had a career-best 11 sacks last year, made the formal announcement on his Twitter account. He opened by saying he'd signed with the XFL but then said he was joking and donned a Ticats hat before rocking out to AC-DC's Back in Black.
- American defensive back Garry Peters signed a two-year contract extension with B.C. He had 63 tackles, four interceptions and a forced fumble last season.