Stamps keep Mr. Versatility

The Stampeders re-signed versatile Canadian Markus Howell. (SUN MEDIA/file)

The Stampeders re-signed versatile Canadian Markus Howell. (SUN MEDIA/file)

IAN BUSBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:34 AM ET

On a day John Hufnagel was getting recognized for being a great coach, he was busy as a GM.

The Calgary Stampeders re-signed versatile Canadian Markus Howell and basically cut ties with punter Burke Dales among a handful of moves announced yesterday shortly after Hufnagel was named a candidate for the CFL's coach of the year award.

Howell, who can play receiver, defensive back and returner, was set to become a free agent Monday but signed on for what could be his final contract.

Hufnagel also added quarterback Matt D'Orazio and Canadian punter Mike Renaud, essentially going in a different direction from Dales, who will become a free agent.

"You can read between the lines," Hufnagel said. "I went and signed the best available punter for a certain reason."

Dales spent the past four seasons with the Stamps, briefly losing his job to Duncan O'Mahony in the 2007 season before being part of the Grey Cup winners this past November.

Renaud was a two-time all-Canadian with Concordia (coincidentally the same school Dales attended) before graduating in 2006. He went to training camp with the Alouettes that year and played last season in Europe.

D'Orazio, 32, spent the past nine years in the Arena League.

Hufnagel said he was looking for a veteran to compete as a backup to Henry Burris.

The biggest move, though, was locking up Howell, who was arguably the Stamps' most important pending free agent.

The 33-year-old was the main punt returner last season after moving over from receiver to play defensive back.

"We have a full stable of receivers, so I see myself on the defensive side again," Howell said. "I'll be used everywhere. I'll be getting three playbooks again. It's business as usual for me."

Howell, who lives in Winnipeg during the off-season, became a father for the first time Jan. 25 to a daughter named Jada.

He plans on finishing a Master's degree in sports administration to prepare for the end of his playing days.

After winning his first Grey Cup in an eight-year career this past season, Howell said returning to the Stampeders was a no-brainer.

During the celebration, Howell couldn't believe how he went from a severe low point -- being with the Ottawa Renegades when they folded -- to the CFL's highest peak.

"I was so close with Winnipeg in 2001. Then you make some career choices, you feel you will get another shot soon," Howell said.

"In Ottawa, we had some good pieces but it was about getting through the East. When that crashed and burned, I just wondered where I would end up.

"Then Calgary picks me up and we get knocked out early two years in a row. We lost our head coach, then we were wondering what next? We just kept plugging away.

"It all came together and we pulled it off."

The win makes Hufnagel the frontrunner for coach of the year. Montreal's Marc Trestman and Saskatchewan's Ken Miller are also nominated for the award, which will be handed out March 3 at CFL congress in Hamilton.

"It's truly an honour," Hufnagel said. "It's a tribute to the entire organization from ownership, management, the coaching staff and support staff, but especially the players. I'm just proud to be part of this."


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