A vote or two to change CFL free agency

So that was some week of CFL free agency this year. Winnipeg fans discovered you actually can sign players from other teams. Edmonton fans wondered if Chris Jones would order a minivan for all the players he took to Saskatchewan or a commercial jet. Even Lions fans had reason to stay interested for more than a day.

What if this process could last a little longer, or start earlier?

The changes to the current collective bargaining agreement has given players unprecedented access to chase a slightly larger salary pool. But it puts a larger emphasis on teams being able to make the right decision quicker.

It’s why general managers like Ed Hervey in Edmonton and the Lions’ Wally Buono have been talking about making a proposal to extend the process by having an opening prior to the start of free agency enabling them to reach out to players before making and signing contract offers.

There’s a good chance the pair will make a recommendation to the league at management council meetings next month.

“There should be a window so you can get your ducks in order, whether it’s to get a player in for an exam before you make an offer,” Buono suggested. “It’s difficult for teams who must make very quick decisions once free agency begins currently.” Hervey (above)  laid out his case recently to the Edmonton Journal.

Teams aren’t allowed to talk to players until noon ET on the second Tuesday of February but there’s nothing stopping players and their agents from calling general managers to pitch the services of their clients.

The process has led to an entire nudge-nudge, wink-wink underground network. Hervey identified it famously earlier in the off-season, which meant he was fined $1,500 by the league so he wouldn’t be so honest ever again:

“As far as this league, we know that tampering does happen. It does. We do it. Everyone does it. It’s just a part of the CFL,” he said.

The Lions say they followed league guidelines and didn’t start contacting players Tuesday until allowed to do so, which perhaps explained why they were one of the last teams to sign a player once free agency got underway.

Certainly nobody wanted to get close to the modern indoor record also set a couple of seasons ago by Hervey, who continues to prove he is every bit as aggressive in his current post as he was catching passes. In 2013, he was dinged $10,000 for announcing the signing Odell Willis four minutes into free agency.

It’s different for management than players. Years earlier, former Lions lineman Nautyn McKay-Loescher phoned a reporter three minutes into free agency to say he’d signed in Hamilton. It all depends on who is doing the talking.

Giving management types more time to work should not draw the objection of the CFLPA as can only benefit players further, and besides, they’ve recently created a similar early-talking window in the NFL. It only makes sense for this league to do the same, especially considering another large pool of players who signed one-year contracts will be on the market again next year. And while they’re talking, maybe the league will also get around to understanding the benefit to public discourse associated with salary disclosure.

Lowell Ullrich has covered the Lions since 1999 and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2014. He is also a contributor to TSN1040.