January 9, 2019

Stamps bracing for off-season of unprecedented change

Graham Hughes/CFL.ca

CALGARY — John Hufnagel has had to overcome plenty of change in his time as general manager of the Calgary Stampeders. Just never quite like this.

Alex Singleton, Jameer Thurman and Marken Michel are among recent departures, all core players that have either signed NFL deals or are exploring their options south of the border. And while quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell is expected to follow, Calgary’s pending free agent list is dotted with stars like DaVaris Daniels, Ja’Gared Davis, Kamar Jorden and Micah Johnson.

Bleak as the situation may seem for the defending Grey Cup Champions, Hufnagel, now in his 12th season as the team’s GM after being hired in 2008, isn’t hitting the panic button.

“It’s the most players as a football team that we’ve lost to the NFL,” Hufnagel told CFL.ca’s Chris O’Leary. “But you’re going to lose players, there’s going to be change, whether it’s to the NFL or retirement or they just wanted to play for another team, you’re going to have change.

“You can’t allow it to paralyze you. You just have to move forward and keep plugging away.”

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Bo Levi Mitchell’s future remains unknown as the Stamps pivot pursues NFL opportunities (Johany Jutras/CFL.ca)

As presidents and general managers take part in the annual winter meetings in Mont-Tremblant, Que. this week, one of the biggest topics is the status of Mitchell, the Stampeders’ franchise quarterback and the CFL’s reigning Most Outstanding Player. It’s widely speculated he’ll get an NFL opportunity after taking part in several workouts south of the border, but so far, Mitchell has taken his time.

On Tuesday, Danny Austin of the Calgary Herald tweeted that the Stamps have asked Mitchell to make a decision for 2019 by the start of free agency on Feb. 12. At that time, should Mitchell sign elsewhere, the Stamps would likely pursue a veteran quarterback on the market.

Kevin Glenn, Travis Lulay and Zach Collaros are among 14 pending free agent quarterbacks that could fit the mold, while Jonathon Jennings and Dominique Davis are less proven options.

“Obviously we like the two guys, Nick (Arbuckle) and Montell (Cozart),” Hufnagel told CFL.ca. “But you always would like to have some experience. So we’ll just have to see how this plays out.”

Either way, Hufnagel is in the midst of his busiest off-season yet. The Stamps’ GM has re-tooled and rebuilt in the past, showing a strong penchant for scouting and developing American talent that’s allowed for long-term success. The change that’s in store now offers a unique challenge.

“I’m not saying it’s easy,” he said. “There’s a lot of good luck and good fortune behind that and hopefully we’ll continue to have that. We do a lot of work in the off-season for a reason and honestly we have to roll up our sleeves. I won’t say put more effort into it but we have some challenges.”