All quiet on Western front

DAN TOTH -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 10:25 AM ET

The poker-faced Calgary Stampeders must like the hand they're holding.

Stamps brass were noticeably quiet on the opening day of CFL free agency, although two other clubs were quick to draw some high-profile cards from the deck.

Tom Higgins, Stampeders head coach and senior v.p. of football operations, said his team's relative inactivity was to be expected.

After all, what's not to like? The team posted an 11-7 record last season while earning a semifinal berth, negating the need to break the bank making expensive changes.

"We knew that would be the case, although we did have a group of free agent players call us and that's a good thing," said Higgins, who made headlines a year ago by signing Henry Burris, Jeremaine Copeland, Anthony Malbrough and Alex Gauthier.

"There are some possibilities out there right now but nothing major.

"It bodes well for us and is a reflection on us that players out there think we're doing things the right way and players would like to be here."

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats were the most active bidders on the opening day of free agency, signing three players including Josh Ranek, one of the league's top rushers last season with Ottawa.

The rugged Ranek, 27, finished fourth with 1,157 yards on the ground. He also grabbed 76 receptions for 756 yards, recorded seven touchdowns and was named a CFL East Division all-star as Ottawa's most potent weapon.

"I'm excited to be with a club that is really going in the right direction," said Ranek. "With all of the moves they've made in the off-season, I really think that the team will be competitive now and in the future."

Adding the 5-ft. 10-in., 209-lb. Ranek was necessary to fill the Ticats' void at running back, created when Hamilton traded Troy Davis to the Edmonton Eskimos last season. The 'Cats also lost Canadian back Jesse Lumsden to the NFL's Washington Redskins, leaving a considerable void.

The Ticats also beefed up their offensive line with another former Renegade, non-import offensive lineman George Hudson, Ottawa's nominee for the CFL's Most Outstanding Lineman award in 2003 and '04.

Hamilton also signed former Toronto Argos non-import linebacker Ray Mariuz while all-star linebacker Barrin Simpson inked a long-term deal with Winnipeg.

Simpson, 28, a four-time CFL all-star, enjoyed a team-leading 71 defensive tackles for the B.C. Lions last season.

The 5-ft. 11-in., 228-lb. native of Starkville, Mo., added six sacks, one fumble recovery and one interception. He was named the CFL West Division's top defensive player in 2001.

"It's no secret that we needed to improve our defence," said Blue Bombers GM Brendan Taman.

"The addition of Barrin addresses that issue and we expect he will have an immediate impact on this football team, both on the field and in the dressing room."

The Simpson signing is the first move in an attempt to re-establish the Bombers as a Western power, especially with the club hosting the Grey Cup game in November.

"I remember coming to Winnipeg to play in 2001 and 2002 and how tough it was coming in here to play," said Simpson, who'll move from the West Division champions to a club that won just five games in 2005.

"When it came time for me to choose a team, it really came down to my desire to be in a football city. Everybody loves football (in Winnipeg).

"That was one of the greatest reasons I wanted to be here."

The Grey Cup champion Edmonton Eskimos, always flush with cash, also found the greenbacks to re-sign all-star wide receiver Jason Tucker, who reportedly wanted $200,000 per season.

The league's top pass-catcher last year, Tucker racked up 89 receptions for 1,411 yards and 11 touchdowns and will ensure the Eskies once again have the CFL's deepest receiving corps.

As for the Stampeders, a quiet free-agent period is a positive sign its most important player moves happened a year ago.


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