If Fred Stamps didn’t already know his value to the Edmonton Eskimos, he learned it on Tuesday.
With the sticky-handed slotback’s contract headed toward its option year at the end of the 2013 Canadian Football League season, Eskimo general manager Ed Hervey made a pre-emptive strike and re-signed Stamps through 2014.
“We didn’t want to go into next year with Fred being a free agent. I think we learned our valuable lesson in locking up the guys you want for the foreseeable future,” Hervey said, having signed the majority of the Eskimos’ flood of talented players who were headed toward Friday’s 10 a.m. MST kickoff of free agency. “Keeping (key players) here in Edmonton, this also bodes well for us as we move toward free agency,” Hervey continued. “Showing the commitment from a player like Fred Stamps, for players who are curious as to who we’re going to have here, I think what we’re trying to do is give ourselves a chance to be competitive for 2013 and, with Fred signing, we’re getting that opportunity to move forward.”
Stamps was his usual reserved self when he spoke about securing his future. His good spirits couldn’t be bottled up, though.
“Easy decision,” he said. “I love Edmonton, I love the fans, I love being here. It’s like my second home. It’s where I want to finish my career.”
Of his six seasons in the CFL, all of them with Edmonton, 2012 was arguably the 31-yearold’s most impressive. He and quarterback Steven Jyles had no chemistry and Stamps’ streak of three consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons seemed doomed early on. He had just 110 yards four weeks into the season and only 664 yards after a Sept. 22 loss to the BC Lions.
When Kerry Joseph and Matt Nichols came in at quarterback for the remainder of the season, Stamps’ productivity skyrocketed. He had a 204-yard game with Joseph in a win against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Oct. 5; racked up 128 yards, most of them from Nichols, in a loss at Montreal to the Alouettes on Oct. 28; and had a 152-yard game with Nichols in the regular-season finale, a loss to the Calgary Stampeders on Nov. 2.
Despite six games with less than 50 yards receiving, Stamps still finished second in the league, just 18 yards behind Toronto’s Chad Owens (1,328 yards). Getting those yards came at a price, particularly in the early portion of the season. Stamps took a beating from defences around the league, but managed to play all 18 games for just the second time in his career.
The positives weren’t enough to outweigh a 7-11 season and a thanks-for-coming-out playoff loss to the Argos, though. “I’ll tell you one thing: I was glad to put 2012 behind us,” Stamps said. “It’s a new year, we have a new situation with quarterbacks and we have two quarterbacks that are really capable of taking over a No. 1 spot on any team.”
Eskimo head coach Kavis Reed said he’s watched Stamps become a leader on and off the field during his two seasons around the veteran receiver.
“Fred is a very tough individual who is willing to do what is necessary and sacrifice his body. He’s a constant pro,” Reed said. “He’s an example for the younger guys and represents what the Eskimos are about, which is class and (involvement) in the community, as well as championships on the football field.”
The sacrifices appear to have extended into his contract negotiations. While both parties said Stamps didn’t take a pay cut in the extension, his new deal helps the team financially.
“I didn’t have to give up anything,” Stamps said. “We’ve done a few things that helped the club out, that helped to keep other players around. That’s one of the main things that I always want to do. I want to keep the same core of guys around and we want to help the team win. We have one goal and that’s to win the Grey Cup.”
Hervey quiet on free-agent moves
Hervey didn’t go into any specifics for the start of CFL free agency on Friday, but when he was asked if he’d be holding a news conference Friday, he grinned and said: “I’m sure we’ll do something.”
He said that any players not yet re-signed would become free agents. Defensive halfback Weldon Brown, defensive lineman Julius Williams and receiver Marcus Henry are the highest-profile players still unsigned. “I wanted the guys who were committed to the Eskimos and that’s where it stands,” said Hervey.