CALGARY — Dave Dickenson’s 20th year with the Calgary Stampeders is his first time pushing contracts across the table for players to sign.

When John Hafnagel handed over the reins to his head coach in December after 15 years on the job, Dickenson began gearing up for his first foray into the CFL free agent, which opens Feb. 14.

“I have a good role model,” Dickenson said Tuesday at McMahon Stadium. “I may not have put in that many hours in January and February, but it was fun.”

The 50-year-old from Great Falls, Montana, was a Calgary quarterback from 1997 to 2000 and played his final CFL season in 2008 with the Stampeders, joining the team’s coaching staff the following year.

Dickenson took over as head coach of Hufnagel in 2016 after studying with him for seven years. Hoofnagel continued the succession plan when Dickenson added GM to his job.

Hufnagel, 71, remains at the Stampeders as president and talent consultant.

Dickenson and assistant general manager Brendan Mahoney have been hard at work re-signing as many players as possible at the $5.51 million salary cap before the free agent bell rings next week.

“When you’re heading towards an open market and free will, it’s kind of free and exciting, yes, but it ends up being a little less sleepy,” Dickenson said.

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Offensive lineman Derek Dennis, wide receiver Reggie Begelton, defenseman Jonathan Moxey, linebacker Cameron Judge and star kicker Rene Paredes were among a dozen players who chose to re-sign with the Stampeders rather than test the market.

Dickenson also brought back former Stampeder defensive lineman James Waters after a three-year stint in the NFL.

But linebacker Jameer Thurman, star offensive lineman Sean Lemon and longtime Stampeder wide receiver Kamar Jorden were still among the potential free agents on Tuesday.

“You kind of feel like you have an idea about the numbers and where the guys fit in and you know what the rest of the league might think and then sometimes some big numbers come out,” Dickenson said. “You’re like, ‘Wow, that’s confusing our negotiating position or where we’re at with our team.’

And on the other end, surprise. I thought he’d get more. Now, okay, maybe we can find a player in that range who can help our team.” Before, I really was not privy to such things. Now I really see the numbers, I talk to agents.”

While Calgary can avoid a hectic bid for quarterback with Jake Mayer signed until 2024, there are other gaps in Stampeder that need to be filled.

Dickenson, who coached Calgary to a 12-6 record in 2022, doesn’t believe he’s necessarily lost a player to free agency if he can’t sign him by Feb. 14.

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“We also said to some guys, ‘Hey, we can’t give you what we think you deserve, it doesn’t fit with our structure, go to free agency, see what’s out there. If you get a lot, go for it. If there’s something you don’t like or don’t want, get back to us and see if it works for our team.”

“It’s inconvenient, especially with veterinarians. Guys who gave you so much and so much blood and sweat and tears and then saying “hey go look elsewhere and if you don’t like what you get come back” it’s just hard for me to really watch watch guy in the eye and say it even though it’s true. Ultimately, I think they respect it, but it’s still hard.”

There will be competition for 34-year-old defenseman Lemon, who last season was nominated for the CFL’s best defenseman from the Western Division.

“In fact, he really played cheap last year and he realizes he deserved a raise and now we have to see where we are,” Dickenson said.

“Once again, this is another one of those veteran guys. Complicates. I don’t know what they’re offering him, but he should be the guy who ends up getting promoted and I think he deserves it.”

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Canadian wide receiver Richie Cindani, who is due to serve a two-match suspension for drug violations, is moving to free agency, Dickenson said.

The Calgary general manager was confident that global player Cody Grace would return to Calgary after working with NFL teams.

The two-year extension of the judge’s term was vital to Dickenson because he “grows into that role of closing cases.”

Meanwhile, Dickenson’s off-season work to build a championship team continues before he can take charge of the field at training camp.

“All of our players are aware of their position,” the coach and general manager said. “I feel good about this.

“I don’t know how many times I’ve run into free will as a player, but I’ve always felt that if you know where you are and can make an informed decision, I think that’s how it should be.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on February 7, 2023.



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