‘I am a pawn in their game:’ Victor Butler lashes out at Argos for not allowing him to pursue NFL opportunities

Another member of the Grey Cup-champion Toronto Argonauts has criticized the CFL team for not allowing him to pursue NFL opportunities this off-season.

On Friday, defensive lineman Victor Butler wrote in a bylined story to 3DownNation, a website covering all Canadian football, the Argos are going back on a gentleman’s agreement to let him out of his CFL deal to return to the NFL. The story’s headline is: The Argonauts are holding me hostage.

Earlier this week, running back James Wilder Jr. announced he was sitting out the ’18 season after Toronto wouldn’t allow him to pursue opportunities south of the border. Wilder has one year remaining on his CFL contract.

Butler said he signed a one-year deal, plus a team option, with Toronto last February but with the understanding following the ’17 season he’d be allowed to pursue NFL opportunities. If unsuccessful, then he’d return to rejoin the Argos.

But shortly after Butler signed, Toronto hired Jim Popp as its GM and Marc Trestman as head coach. According to Butler, Popp has given him two choices: Play for the Argos or retire.

“Because to them, I am not a person, my family doesn’t matter and our happiness and well-being are the furthest thing from their mind,” Butler said. “I am a pawn in their game, one where I am expected to shut my mouth know my role and be grateful for whatever scraps they throw me.”

When contacted, the Argos offered no comment.

The six-foot-two, 248-pound Butler registered 10 sacks with Toronto last season, his first in the CFL, and helped the Argos beat Calgary 27-24 in the Grey Cup game.

Prior to joining the Argos, Butler spent seven years in the NFL with the Dallas Cowboys (2009-12), New Orleans Saints (2013), Arizona Cardinals (2014), Indianapolis Colts (2014) and New York Giants (2015).

As a seven-year veteran, Butler, 30, would stand to make at least US$915,000 in the NFL this season, compared to the $60,000 he said he’s scheduled to earn with Toronto. Butler is a married father of one with a second child on the way.

“As a professional athlete our careers are limited, as a football player you can cut that in half,” Butler said. “At 30-years-old, it’s only a matter of time before I am; too old, too broken, and too tired to do what I do.

“At that point will Jim Popp or the Argos start a Go Fund Me for my family? Is there a college fund with my children’s names on it somewhere? Hell, will I get health insurance after I am done? The answer is NO!”

Butler was also critical of the Argos’ practice facility at a former Toronto high school. But because the football field there isn’t in good enough condition to practise on, the players must take a bus to other venues for practices.

“As a player, having no stability in our routine was very difficult,” Butler said. “Even after settling on a facility, it was a run down old school complete with live bats in the restroom and the threat of vandals and arsonist looming around every day.

“As a professional, I was shocked and appalled when we were forced to beg and plead for breakfast to be provided, and then to have those meals taken out of your already small game cheque. I had to find creative ways to care for my body as an elite athlete because we are unable to afford simple maintenance, which is KEY to performing as a professional athlete. There should be a professional standard, and if that was it, then it’s no wonder why we couldn’t fill BMO stadium on a good day.”

Butler’s issues didn’t stop there.

“Off the field things were even tougher, trying to find a safe and secure place for you and your family to live with little to no time or help, proved to be mentally and emotionally challenging,” he said. “Especially when you’re given a housing budget of $1,000 a month CDN which for those of you who stay in the greater Toronto area know is next to impossible.

“It is extremely difficult on an entry-level CFL salary to maintain a home not to mention transportation, groceries, renting internationally and taxes in two countries. It adds up quick and the math isn’t very pretty.”

Butler said because he has a family, this situation isn’t only about him and doesn’t feel the Argos appreciate that.

“I am extremely disappointed and disgusted because this organization and league preach professionalism and family values yet they refuse to practice these things,” he said. “At the end of the day, we as human beings just want to provide for our families and create a sense of security and happiness for them.

“The league has to change if it is to thrive or keep heading down this dangerous road and remain trapped in obscurity while hockey, baseball, basketball, and even soccer continue eclipsing this great sport in the North. I am vexed that anyone would want to be a part of a league that preys on the dreams of young men, then holding them and their talents hostage until they submit to a position of powerlessness.”