The CFL Players’ Association has taken Ottawa Redblacks general manager Marcel Desjardins to task for his assessment that the league’s current salary cap won’t see a substantial increase in upcoming labour negotiations.
Desjardins did an interview with TSN radio in Ottawa earlier this week where he offered his take on the cap, one year contracts, the threat of the AAF and his strategy going into free agency without a CBA in place.
“For me, my approach is going to be to try and secure and get as many guys back as we can as early as possible under the assumption – I have a pretty good sense that the cap isn’t going to move a whole lot, if at all. That’s how I need to proceed. If for some reason the cap does go up a little bit, then so be it, but if it goes up it will only be marginally and it won’t impact the salary of any one single player it will be just a big picture type of thing,” Desjardins said.
“What’s disappointing about this whole dynamic is because of one-year contracts, there is just so much turnover on the roster from one year to the next and it makes it extremely difficult for fans to identify with players. We obviously want to maintain that continuity not only from a football perspective but so their fans can continue to identify with those guys. That’s something that’s lacking in our league right now because there’s so much movement.
“I have a pretty good sense that the salary cap is not going to move a whole lot, if at all. If it goes up, it’ll be marginally and won’t impact the salary of any one single player,” Desjardins said.
Sportsnet’s Arash Madani – a former 3Down contributor – took those comments to CFLPA executive director Brian Ramsay, who promptly unleashed both barrels.
“I’m not sure why the GM in Ottawa would choose to comment on impending CBA negotiations. We are unaware that he would be part of the CFL’s bargaining committee. However, Mr. Desjardins does bring up a good point in terms of one-year contracts,” Ramsay wrote in a message to Madani. “Right now, players would consider every contract in our league to be only a one-year commitment as the teams are able to release a player at any time without salary or benefit protection. I am confident our members would be willing to commit to a team for multiple years if the level of commitment was shared by both parties.”
Ramsay then took a shot at the pay disparity between players and their football operations overlords, while pointing out that contracts for coaches and general managers are guaranteed.
“Seeing as most management salaries are 4-5 times the average player salary, while also being guaranteed we would be happy to dissect those numbers with CFL management in a solutioned-based effort to find continuity across our league,” Ramsay said.
While Desjardins’ comments on the cap garnered the most attention there were a couple of other interesting tidbits including another confirmation that bonuses are not being paid to players – including those signing extensions right now.
“We cannot give players any money between now and the time the CBA is ratified. For them, they need to understand whether they sign a contract today for 2019 or they sign a contract in April, under either scenario they are not getting any money until the CBA is ratified. There’s not a lot of downside in terms of upfront money whether you signed today or not,” Desjardins said.
Desjardins said players who are looking for a big raise may find themselves on the outside looking in next spring.
“A lot of players may decide to wait until the CBA gets ratified before they commit to signing a contract. If we look back to 2014 when this last occurred, we were in training camp when the CBA was ratified so there’s a problem there with the timeline from a player’s perspective if they’re going to wait,” he said.
“If they are expecting a big jump in what the cap number is going to be, that’s their prerogative to wait. It’s not how we’re going to approach it and it’s not going to change our dynamic as to what we feel the value of a player is for this league and for this team,” he said. “I think some of the players who are more role guys understand what their value is. Some of the guys who are more key contributors, they may feel they warrant a significant raise but if we decide to do that, and that’s a big ‘if’ that’s going to have to sacrifice somebody else along the way.”
Desjardins also addressed the issue of the Alliance of American Football and whether CFL players who become free agents in February might try and play in the league this season.
“That league goes to training camp in January. Our players’ contracts don’t expire until early February so those players wouldn’t be eligible to sign in that League until it had already started its season,” Desjardins said. “Most of the time, once you’ve gone through a training camp you’re going to move forward with those players, I don’t think they’d be signing a whole bunch of new guys who become free agents in the CFL but you never know. I’m sure there would be some exceptions but I don’t think it would be an across-the-board thing,”
These CBA negotiations were always expected to be contentious and this exchange between a CFL general manager and the CFLPA – albeit through an intermediary – is in some ways just a ratcheting up of the rhetoric. But it also shows the CFL establishment and the players have very different views on what they expect to come out of the CBA and provides a little insight on how general managers intend to exert pressure on players into signing deals despite the absence of a signing bonus.
And it appears to be working on some players at least. Ottawa re-signed Canadian defensive Antoine Pruneau to a new three-year deal while fullback JC Beaulieu inked a new two-year pact.
Should be an interesting off-seaon, to say the least. Let’s just hope there’s a season at the end of it.
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