Calling all players

The Stampeders made a splash by signing receiver Jeremaine Copeland when last year's CFL free agent...

The Stampeders made a splash by signing receiver Jeremaine Copeland when last year's CFL free agent period opened. When the 2006 signing season kicks off tonight, expect Calgary to be fairly quiet. (Calgary Sun File/Stuart Dryden)

DAN TOTH -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 11:07 AM ET

The Calgary Stampeders won't blitz the free-agent market today as they did one year ago.

The rebuilding CFL club was the boldest player in the field last February, whipping open its chequebook to sign quarterback Henry Burris, receiver Jeremaine Copeland, offensive lineman Alex Gauthier and defensive back Anthony Malbrough in rapid-fire succession.

The additions fuelled a renaissance that rocketed the Red and White into the West semifinal, its first playoff appearance since 2001.

The aggressive signing spree by Tom Higgins, Stampeders head coach and senior v.p. of football operations, is in stark contrast to the team's approach in 2006.

The Stamps are expected to kick some tires and look for bargains but are unlikely to sign any marquee talent when free agency kicks off tonight at 10 p.m. Calgary time.

"With a year under our belts we feel so much more confident that although we still have to keep working to get better, we're starting at a much higher level than we were a year ago," Higgins said.

"Definitely not as busy ... but we're definitely not going to be as aggressive going out (as last year).

"We'll be a lot more selective and if something does present itself in an area where it might help us, we're in.

"Last year we stayed here into the early morning working feverishly because we knew we had to but this time we really don't think that will be the case. We'll come in on Thursday and start seeing what happens and what shakes down."

While the Stampeders have just one player eligible for free agency -- Canadian receiver Mike Juhasz -- a few intriguing prospects elsewhere will test the waters.

Heading the list are Edmonton Eskimos import wide receiver Jason Tucker and Winnipeg kick return specialist Keith Stokes.

Higgins has a relationship with Tucker from his time in Edmonton and could use the league-leading receiver's breakaway speed to add a dangerous element to the offence. Tucker could field offers in the $200,000 per season range.

"He is someone who should garner attention from the eight other teams besides the one he plays for," Higgins said. "I don't want to mention names ... that's tampering. But there are a lot of good football players and it all depends on what your needs are. We're very fortunate in that we don't have as many needs as we had a year ago.

"You're always looking for depth, although there's not one area on our football team that we'd never consider trying to update."

With the Stampeders' new infrastructure in place for a year, the team has the luxury of not having to out-bid other CFL clubs for free agents. Instead, much of its new talent in 2006 will come via free agent signings discovered by GM Jim Barker and through the Canadian College Draft in April.

"We're now at a point in time here we can be selective and a lot of time players are looking for pots of gold," Higgins said. "We'd still like to be players but there's a line we won't go over. It has to fit in with our team chemistry.

"You're looking for chemistry now because we have started to develop a synergy and a feeling you don't want to mess too much with (the team), although we'd still welcome a change that could take us to another level."

THEY'RE FREE

Big names on market:

Josh Ranek, RB, Ottawa

Matt Kellett, K, Ottawa

Antonious Bonner, LB, T.O.

Michael O'Shea, LB, T.O.

Barrin Simpson, LB, B.C.

Bobby Singh, OL, B.C.

Mike Juhasz, WR, Calgary

Malcolm Frank, DB, Edm.

Shannon Garrett, DB, Edm.

Jason Tucker, WR, Edm.

Paul McCallum, K, Sask.

Elijah Thurmon, WR, Sask.

Keith Stokes, WR, Winn.


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