CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie addresses contract issue in statement

Commissioner Randy Ambrosie reiterated the CFL’s stance on players under contract wanting to be released so they could pursue NFL opportunities Thursday.

Earlier this month, running back James Wilder Jr. and defensive lineman Victor Butler expressed frustration that the Toronto Argonauts wouldn’t let them out of their CFL deals so they could pursue NFL opportunities. Both players have one year remaining on their respective contracts, a fact Ambrose addressed.

“Our rules and procedures are clear,” he said. “Players are required to honour their contracts as they are registered with the league.

“In two recent cases that have garnered media attention, the Toronto Argonauts have honoured these rules and procedures as they should.”

On Wednesday, linebackers Jeff Knox Jr. and Micah Awe were released by the Saskatchewan Roughriders and B.C. Lions, respectively, to pursue NFL opportunities. Knox Jr. had an expiring contract – he was scheduled to become a free agent Feb. 13 – but Awe, who signed with the New York Jets, still had a year remaining on his CFL contract, a fact not lost on Ambrosie.

“Teams are not allowed to make side deals with players entering the league,” Ambrosie said. “Recently, one of our teams announced they had released a player halfway through his first CFL contract so he can pursue NFL opportunities.

“The CFL has discerned this action was a product of such a side agreement and the team faces a heavy fine for not following our rules and procedures. We have the utmost respect for our players, their careers and their ambitions. Like any league, we also expect them to respect their contractual obligations as our teams will respect theirs.”

The CFL used to have an option window, which gave players entering the final year or option year of their deals roughly a six-week stretch to work out for and sign with NFL teams. But as Ambrosie pointed out, that practice ended in 2012.

“Such a window does not exist,” he said. “It has not been in place or in practice since 2012, when it was phased out.”

This month, Ambrosie will meet with fans in all nine CFL centres, as well as Halifax. He said while he’s open to change, it’s too late in the year to amend this situation now.

“But if a better approach to this issue – or any issue, for that matter – is available, we will move forward with it,” he said. “There are differing views on this issue within our league and I look forward to hearing all sides of the debate as well as from people with innovative new ideas.”