Free agent chalk talk

John Grace, the West nominee for defensive player of the year last season, is an obvious priority...

John Grace, the West nominee for defensive player of the year last season, is an obvious priority for the new Stamps regime as they enter crunch time in the free-agent off-season. (Calgary Sun File Photo)

DAN TOTH -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 7:35 AM ET

Tom Higgins argues fretting over the Stampeders' list of free agents, cleared to find new CFL homes as of Feb. 15, is waaaay offside.

He has a point.

Higgins hasn't been on the job long enough to find the coffee machine at McMahon Stadium let alone hash out contracts with everyone he wants to keep for the 2005 CFL season.

The new football boss is also quick to point out he hasn't shored up his coaching staff, while the deadline to re-sign players is still three weeks away.

Additionally, this week, the Stamps senior vice president of football operations/head coach is on the road, in Alabama scouting the Senior Bowl.

"We don't even have all our coaches together yet and I want their opinions and their evaluations, so it's not fair to even be talking about (free agents)," Higgins says.

"We don't have a whole lot. But if I start going after somebody and the coach says, 'I don't know if we want to have him,' or whatever ... I want to be very careful."

Although Higgins is reluctant to reveal who he wants to re-sign or cut loose prior to training camp in May, the rest of us need not be so politically correct.

Of the 10 Stampeders listed by the CFL as potential free agents, six have a real chance of signing deals under the new regime.

Import linebacker John Grace, West nominee for defensive player of the year last season, is an obvious priority. He'll be fielding offers from across the league if the Stamps can't sign him before the deadline.

Import wide receivers Wane McGarity and Albert Connell should also receive offers to re-sign. McGarity, when used correctly, has been a key ingredient in the offence and as a dangerous special teams threat.

Connell, although injury prone in his two seasons in Calgary, was a legitimate NFLer and could be offered an incentive-laden deal to pull on a Red and White jersey again.

There's also the intriguing possibility two high-priced stars eligible for the market Feb. 15 -- Edmonton's Ed Hervey and Montreal's Jeremaine Copeland --could wind up in Calgary.

Veteran quarterback Marcus Crandell, thought to be finished in Calgary after falling out of favour with the previous coaching staff, could be resurrected as a backup under Higgins.

Crandell spent three seasons (1997-99) in Edmonton when Higgins was Eskimos GM. Conventional wisdom is then-Eskies head coach Don Matthews deemed Crandell expendable but the veteran pivot could have an ally in Higgins if he's willing to accept a hefty pay cut to assume a backup role.

"I think we had a pretty good relationship (in Edmonton)," Crandell says of his history with the Stamps' new boss. "We'll see. You never know. It's weird how this business is, how you keep meeting up with the same people (in different organizations)."

The former Grey Cup MVP might accept a modest offer if no other CFL bidders emerge with starting QB money.

The fate of import defensive backs Omar Evans and William Fields could also be determined by a new secondary coach when one is hired.

Canadian receiver Don Blair, defensive back Aldi Henry and import defensive back Payton Williams are listed as free agents but have retired, although their contracts remain on the books until Feb. 15.

Canadian receiver Denis Montana is also eligible for free agency in three weeks.

"There's some we're talking to aggressively contractually right now," Higgins says, unwilling to tip is hand.

"There's others I've had the opportunity to talk to.

"I've tried to touch base with every player under a Stampeders contract from last year. If I haven't talked to him personally, I've left a message or talked to an agent."

Even though Higgins is unwilling to reveal his free agent priorities, at least he's opened lines of communication with his club.

That was a dire miscalculation of former GM/head coach Matt Dunigan, who failed to contact key players after taking charge of the franchise in December 2003 opening a wound that never healed.

It was a fumble he never recovered, something Higgins is working hard to avoid.


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