What’s going on with the struggling Stampeders?
By Gage Smith, Sports Editor
The Calgary Stampeders haven’t finished a season worse than second place in the West Division since 2011. They’re on track to finish dead last in the division this season.
It isn’t just the division standings that are looking rough for our ‘Stamps. theScore has them ranked second last in the league on their midseason power rankings, saying they “appear to be a shell of their former selves.” 3Down Nation’s Ryan Ballantine has them ranked seventh out of the nine Canadian Football League teams. The CFL website also ranks them at seventh.
A Crumbling Cornerstone?
It didn’t help that Bo Levi Mitchell broke his leg in August. He’s the Stampeders’ longtime starting quarterback and franchise cornerstone, with a Most Outstanding Player award, three West Division all-star selections, and two Grey Cup championships with Calgary under his belt. He’s been back on the field since early September but hasn’t seemed like himself so far, with two passing touchdowns and seven interceptions at the time of writing.
He’s battling a serious injury, so a step down in production is to be expected, but it’s unclear how much of the blame should be placed on his leg. There are signs that he may just be having a down year.
For example, Mitchell was benched in the fourth quarter of a Sept. 17 loss to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. He’s missed some playing time due to injury this season. That time, he was sat for nothing more than poor performance.
When Ballantine asked him about the decision, Stampeders Head Coach Dave Dickenson said he was “looking for a little momentum,” and that “Bo needs to elevate his game.” Not exactly encouraging for ‘Stamps fans praying for Mitchell to give the squad the boost they need.
Jerome Messam. Alex Singleton. Nick Arbuckle.
All of these players were instrumental in Calgary’s winning ways in recent seasons. Messam was an all-star running back, Singleton was an all-star linebacker, and Arbuckle was an effective backup quarterback and special teams piece. They were all fan-favourites and a big part of the team’s identity.
The Stampeders traded Arbuckle to the Ottawa Redblacks in 2020. Singleton went south of the border to play for the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles in 2019. Messam was signed by the Saskatchewan Roughriders in 2018 before his career ended due to a criminal charge.
Calgary would probably not be faced with missing the 2021 playoffs if they were able to retain some of those players. That being said, the front office isn’t entirely to blame.
If you’re a CFL team, having a revolving door of talent is par for the course. There’s always a chance that your best players are enticed by an offer from an NFL team for multiple times the pay. Sometimes, you need to just cut key players who ask for too much money in free agency. The CFL just isn’t the NFL. We don’t have the budgets their teams do, especially post COVID-19.
And sometimes your second-best player turns out to be a criminal. It happens (apparently).
But in order to get back on their feet, the Stampeders need to retain more of the young talent they have under their roof today.
The Path Forward
Speaking of that young talent, the Stamps have had some bright spots emerge in this down season. Rookie quarterback Jake Maier’s sound decision-making stood out in Mitchell’s absence.
As Maier grows even more accustomed to the CFL and Mitchell continues to recover from his injury, the Calgary quarterback situation could start to look a lot better. Running back Ka’Deem Carey has also played well, rushing for 365 yards on the season, placing him in the top five of the league.
A playoff appearance isn’t completely out of the question for the ‘Stamps yet. If they can win even one of their three games in four weeks against the Roughriders, one of the best teams in the league, then all hope is not lost.