Dave Dickenson has begun his first full off-season in the general manager’s seat with a bang.
On Thursday, the Calgary Stampeders roster boss executed the re-signing he believed was most pressing.
That was to bring back sack-master James Vaughters, who returned to the CFL club ahead of last year’s gridiron grind but played in just a handful of games before getting hurt.
“That was an injury, probably if you look at, it was the hardest for us to replace,” said Dickenson of defensive end Vaughters, in doing an autopsy of the Stampeders six-win season of 2023.
“Pass-rushers are tough to find — probably offensive tackles and pass-rushers are the toughest to find,” continued the GM. “We really love having James on the Calgary Stampeders. So the goal would be to have him back and playing like he was before he got hurt.”
Indeed, after getting sidelined by a season-ending arm injury in the Stamps’ sixth game of the regular schedule, Vaughters was missed monumentally by the Red and White.
The 30-year-old veteran returned to Calgary for 2023 after a four-year hiatus from the league, and he recorded five sacks in the first five contests of the campaign.
He was the beast they wanted — and needed — him to be when they gave him a one-year deal.
But the injury cut that celebration short.
“It opened up new doors for other people,” said fellow defensive lineman Mike Rose, who went on himself to lead the Stamps with personal-best 11 sacks year-long. “I’d say you got to see a lot of Canadian Isaac Adeyemi-Berglund, and you got to see (Derek) Wiggan get more opportunity because that happened. Nothing positive comes from getting hurt, but you got to see those guys kind of step up.
“But I will say that, in my opinion, James Vaughters is a big part of our pressure packages, and I do think losing him hurt us a lot.”
So Dickenson made sure to bring him back, inking him to a two-year contract that will keep him with the club through the 2025 season.
It’s the first of many free-agent moves he’s faced to deal with during the off-season.
And arguably the most important.
“We won’t get everybody back,” admitted Dickenson, which could be for the better given the team’s sub-par 6-12 regular-season record and early playoff exit. “But I’m more concerned with guys — especially our hurt guys — coming back and being who they are supposed to be and finding ways to increase our talent level.”
Vaughters tops that list, too.
Others include star running back Ka’Deem Carey, veteran offensive lineman Hugh Thornton, drafted linebacker Silas Stewart, young defensive lineman T.J. Rayam, talented defensive back Titus Wall and a trio of pass-catchers in Malik Henry, Clark Barnes and Jalen Philpot.
In 39 career regular-season games with the Stampeders, Vaughters has accumulated 65 tackles including three tackles for a loss, eight special-teams tackles, 16 sacks, three pass knockdowns and one forced fumble. He first signed with the Calgary club in 2016 and played 33 games over the 2017 and ’18 seasons before heading to the National Football League.
The 6-foot-2, 260-lb. Chicago native made three stops south of the border with the Chicago Bears, the Atlanta Falcons and the Pittsburgh Steelers, with whom he combined to appear in 27 games — posting 33 tackles and 2.5 sacks — but was never tapped on the shoulder to be a starter.
Then Vaughters, an NCAA star with the Stanford Cardinal, opted to return to the CFL and the Stampeders, by agreeing to a one-year deal last January.
The Stampeders are mourning the death of Harald Hasselbach. A member of the Stampeders’ 1992 Grey Cup-championship team, Hasselbach was 56.
Hasselbach’s family announced on Thursday that the Dutch-born, Canadian-raised defensive lineman had been battling cancer.
“Harald was a great Canadian and a championship-calibre player for the Stampeders at a significant time in the franchise’s history,” said Stampeders president John Hufnagel, a member of the club’s coaching staff during Hasselbach’s playing days with the Red and White. “We extend our condolences to his family and friends.”
An alumnus of South Delta Secondary School in Tsawwassen, B.C., and a star with the NCAA’s Washington Huskies, Hasselbach was a fifth-round draft pick by the Stampeders in 1989. He went on to play 50 games for the Red and White from 1990-93 and was a West Division and league all-star in 1993.
Hasselbach joined the NFL’s Denver Broncos in 1994 and played 112 games over seven seasons. He was part of a pair of Super Bowl-winning clubs in Colorado.
REYNOLDS, WELDON RE-UPPED
Earlier this week, the Stampeders re-signed American quarterback Chris Reynolds and American offensive linemen Brandon Weldon.
Both players made their professional debuts with the Red and White during the past season.
Reynolds was the Stamps’ No. 3 quarterback for the first nine games of the 2023 regular season and saw action in one contest, completing one of two passes for five yards in Week 10 at BC. He finished the season on Calgary’s practice roster.
The NCAA’s UNC Charlotte product was in uniform for both of the Stampeders’ pre-season games and completed 16-of-21 passes for 181 yards and one touchdown. He also had four carries for seven yards.
In college, Reynolds played 46 games over five seasons and established numerous UNC Charlotte records including career passing yards (10,266) and passing touchdowns (84), most passing yards (2,684) and touchdowns (26) in a season, most passing yards (448) and touchdowns (five) in a game as well as best career completion percentage (62.3) and most career 300-yard passing games (eight). He completed 794 of 1,274 passes and also had 375 carries for 887 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Reynolds was a team captain his final three seasons with the 49ers and was a four-time honourable mention for all-Conference USA honours.
In his rookie CFL season, Weldon played three games for the Stamps and made three starts at left tackle including his debut in a Week 13 victory over the Edmonton Elks in the Labour Day Classic. Weldon finished the season on the Stampeders’ practice roster.
Before turning pro, Weldon played 48 games over four seasons at Sacramento State. He was voted first-team all-Big Sky Conference in 2022 after starting 13 games — 11 at right guard and two at left guard — and helping the Hornets set school records with 3,163 rushing yards and 36 rushing touchdowns. Weldon earned second-team all-Big Sky honours in 2021 as he made 12 starts at right guard and was part of an offensive line that allowed just 18 sacks. During his sophomore season, he started 13 games at right tackle.
Earlier this month, the Stampeders re-upped American running back LeVante Bellamy, American defensive linemen Damontre Moore and Will Choloh and defensive backs Clifford Chattman and Tyler Richardson and signed Mazzi Wilkins and quarterback Kyle Vantrease.
Chattman, Choloh and Richardson all spent time on the Stampeders’ practice roster during the 2023 season, while Vantrease and Wilkins are newcomers to the organization.
Bellamy appeared in seven games for the Red and White during the 2023 season, and he accumulated 187 all-purpose yards, including 23 carries for 70 yards, five receptions for 22 yards and four kickoff returns for 95 yards. He also had a punt block.
Prior to coming to the CFL, Bellamy played five games for the NFL’s Broncos during the 2020 season and had four carries for 11 yards, one catch for five yards and two tackles.
In college, Bellamy played 48 games over five seasons for the NCAA’s Western Michigan Broncos and had 617 career carries for 3,720 yards and 35 touchdowns as well as 57 receptions for 370 yards and one score and 19 kickoff returns for 358 yards. He was the Mid-American Conference offensive player of the year as a senior in 2019, when he led nation with 23 rushing touchdowns, while rushing for 1,472 yards in 13 games. The 1,000-yard season was the second of Bellamy’s career, as he rushed for 1,228 yards as a junior.
The Indianapolis product earned first-team all-conference honours in both of his final two seasons and Bellamy finished his Broncos career as the fourth all-time rusher in school history.
Moore first signed with the Stamps in October and appeared in one regular-season contest, recording a pair of defensive tackles. He finished the season on the Stampeders practice roster. Earlier during the 2023 campaign, Moore spent time on the Montreal Alouettes practice roster, and in 2022, he played one game for the Toronto Argonauts.
Before coming to Canada, Moore had an extensive career in the NFL, playing 66 games over eight seasons with the New York Giants, the Miami Dolphins, the Seattle Seahawks, the Dallas Cowboys, the Oakland Raiders and the San Francisco 49ers.
Moore accumulated 97 tackles including 12 tackles for loss, 11 sacks, four forced fumbles and one fumble recovery during his time in the NFL. He also played for the San Diego Fleet in the Alliance of American Football in 2019.
Collegiately, Moore played 38 games over three NCAA seasons with the Texas A&M Aggies. He was first-team all-Southeastern Conference for the Aggies in 2012, after accumulating 12.5 sacks and 85 tackles, including 21 tackles for loss in 13 games.
Moore finished his Texas A&M career with 197 tackles including 45 tackles for loss, 26.5 sacks, one interception, eight forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and two blocked kicks.
Chattman, who spent time on the Stamps practice roster during 2023, attended training camp with the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons earlier this year and saw action in three pre-season games, recording six tackles including two tackles for loss and a sack.
Chattman finished his collegiate career with two NCAA seasons for the UTSA Roadrunners, playing 18 games and producing 90 tackles — including two tackles for loss, 0.5 sacks, five interceptions, one forced fumble and 15 passes defended. He was named first-team all-Conference USA following his senior season in 2022, after accumulating 72 tackles and five interceptions in 14 games.
The New Orleans native transferred to UTSA after two seasons with Texas A&M. In 17 games for the Aggies, he had 35 tackles including two tackles for loss, one interception, one fumble recovery and five passes defended.
With the NCAA’s Troy Trojans, Choloh — who was also on the Stamps practice roster in 2023 — was honoured on the Sun Belt Conference’s all-star team on four occasions, as he was on the first team in 2022 and the second team in ’19, ’20 and ’21. In 62 career games for the Trojans, he had 200 tackles including 34 tackles for loss, 20.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and three blocked kicks.
Earlier this year, Richardson — another Stamps practice-roster player in 2023 — attended rookie mini-camp with the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts.
Before turning pro, Richardson played 37 games over four NCAA Division II seasons with the Tiffin Dragons. He earned all-Great Midwest Athletic Conference honours on three occasions — he was second-team all-conference in 2019 and ’20 and third-team all-star in 2022.
Over the course of his career with the Dragons, Richardson made 113 tackles and also had three interceptions and a half-sack.
Vantrease, a newcomer to the Stamps, earned third-team all-Sun Belt Conference honours in 2022 with the NCAA’s Georgia Southern Eagles, after throwing for 4,253 yards and 27 touchdowns. Both totals established single-season school records for the Eagles, as did Vantrease’s 371 completions and 604 attempts.
Vantrease transferred to Georgia Southern after playing 35 games over five NCAA seasons with the Buffalo Bulls. As a member of the Bulls, he completed 387 of 654 passes for 4,755 yards and 25 touchdowns.
Wilkins has seven games of NFL experience with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Baltimore Ravens, recording three tackles. And he attended training camp with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 2021. He has also been with the Alphas in The Spring League and with the Philadelphia Stars in the United States Football League.
In college, Wilkins played 47 games over four NCAA seasons with the South Florida Bulls and accumulated 110 total tackles — 78 solo and 32 assisted — including two tackles for loss. He also had a half-sack, three interceptions, one fumble recovery and 19 pass breakups.
Wilkins participated in the 2019 East-West Shrine Game and intercepted a pass by Oklahoma State Cowboys quarterback Taylor Cornelius, who later signed with the Edmonton Elks.