A veteran’s perspective on the pros and cons of CFL free agency

This week, Ottawa Redblacks linebacker Taylor Reed used Twitter to offer up 140 characters worth of advice to the more than 200 CFL players slated to become free agents on Feb. 14.

Reed certainly speaks from experience. After stints with Dallas, New England, and Minnesota of the NFL, Reed was encouraged by Hamilton Tiger-Cats special teams coordinator Jeff Reinebold – his former college coach – to try the CFL. After a stint in Winnipeg, he joined the Ticats in the spring of 2014, then re-signed with the club the following season.

But in 2016, Reed became a free agent for the first time in his CFL career. He signed with the Calgary Stampeders, was released in September to make room for Canadian starter, Alex Singelton, and signed with the Ottawa Redblacks the following day. Now he has a Grey Cup ring.

Slated to become a free agent again February, Reed elected to forego hitting the open market and re-signed with Redblacks in January. Given his wide range of experiences – and his willingness to offer advice – we asked him to discuss the challenges of finding a team, making money and finding a home in the CFL. Not surprisingly, he needed more than 140 characters.

3DOWN: What were your expectations when signed in the CFL and were surprised by the compensation level? Do you feel you were out of options when it came to continuing your football career?

T-REED: The compensation in the CFL was not a big surprise. My most pressing expectation was to have the opportunity to play the game I loved and allow those in decision making positions to see the value I could bring to the position and the team. Not then nor now have I ever felt I was out of options—I’m confident in my abilities as a player and know I’ve always had faith I will end up in the right place.

3DOWN:  Did you have an agent or anyone advising you of your rights when signed in the CFL? In retrospect do you wish you handled it differently?

T-REED: I had an agent and other trusted advisors who advised me of my rights. I don’t wish I had done anything differently.

3DOWN: When you got to free agency after first CFL contract, what were your expectations? Did you think you were going to get paid? What did other players say?

T-REED: After having a solid rookie season, being voted team rookie of the year, and leading the team in tackles the following year, I believed I had the reasonable expectation that I would see an offer that was reflective of that season’s success and I am pleased with how that turned out. I was encouraged by other players to remain in Hamilton.

3DOWN: The following year, what was your approach to free agency? Did you want to stay in Hamilton? Did you want to explore the market?

T-REED: While I truly enjoyed my time in Hamilton, both on and off the field, my desire to land a spot where I could bring ultimate value to a team and play a bigger leadership role drove me to explore my options.  I cannot devalue the time I spent in Hamilton nor the relationships that were forged as a result of it, but if you aspire to do more, your sights must always be pointed toward doing better/doing more, so I explored the market.

3DOWN: Were you surprised by how negotiations went? Did you have an agent? Do you wish you handled it differently?

T-REED: No surprises in how the negotiations went and yes, I did have an agent. Like I said before, no regrets.

3DOWN: What ultimately led you to sign in Calgary? Did you get the money you wanted and/or expected?

T-REED: Calgary had a void to fill at middle linebacker, with a recent release. I saw this as my opportunity to accomplish exactly what I set out to do by waiting for free agency.

3DOWN: Is it upsetting to watch other players, particularly Canadians, get paid significantly more based on their nationality?

T-REED: To be honest, when an international player takes 40 per cent more snaps, produces far more, in many cases and hears national players boast confidence in securing a position, strictly on nationality rather than merit, it can be discouraging. I believe international players bring a significant value to the league and if the CFL put more concern in retaining good players (perhaps with a national/international salary cap) and factoring in the exchange rate which causes international players to bring home significantly less at the end of the season, international players may be less interested in getting back to the states to play and more concerned in making long-term careers in Canada. While understanding the ratio requirements, I feel there are things that the CFL/CFLPA could do to make the decision to play in Canada more attractive which will insure the teams/fans good seasons year after year.

3DOWN: You ultimately signed a one year deal. Why?

T-REED: While some may believe that my decision is related to some desire to return to the NFL, that is not the case. I ultimately want a full season that reflects who I am as a player, what I bring to a team, and makes the offer and the decision to sign a multi-year deal a win/win for both me and the team.

3DOWN:   Even after signing in Calgary, you were released. Was that upsetting? What’s your ring size?

T-REED: Of course, I would be lying if I said I was not upset to be cut in mid-season, when we appeared to be clearly on the road to the Grey Cup.  But things happen for a reason and within 24 hours, I was in Ottawa with that termination letter posted up in my locker—it was my motivation. I can’t remember the ring size but I know it will fit quite perfectly.

3DOWN: This time around, you signed a contract extension in Ottawa without hitting the open market. Why the difference in approach?

T-REED: I felt like Ottawa was a good fit. I instantly felt at ‘home’ and fit into the defensive scheme. It doesn’t get much better than ending the season with a Grey Cup. The opportunity at a full season was too much to second guess.

3DOWN: Does the CFLPA do enough to support free agents, particularly American ones?

T-REED: Having been in the CFL four seasons, being a player advocate in the CFLPA is on my to-do list. My participation would be motivated to make things better for all players in the league.

3DOWN: You recently tweeted that your advice to potential FAs that that grass isn’t always greener. What did you mean by that?

T-REED: Some guys who hit the open market may get the dollars they’re looking for, while most others may be disappointed.  Winning and losing is the ultimate goal, so it’s important for players to consider the connections to coaching staff, teammates, and fans that help make playing this game all the more worth it. When a player finds a team that feels like home, he needs to make sure he gives that team everything he’s got because those connections to a team are more satisfying than any salary you can be given.

3DOWN: Having been through the process and having handled it differently this time around, what are your feelings on the process?

T-REED: You have to understand that it is a process.  You have to know what you want, be patient, prioritize your goals, and stand firm with your decisions. As long as we are physically able to perform, these are our chosen careers–this is how we make a living and take care of our families. Every aspect of it must be carefully thought out. I love what I do and I’m excited for the new season.

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