Was Justin Zimmer released by the Alouettes so he could sign in the NFL?

The Montreal Alouettes appear to have released a player under contract so he could pursue an NFL opportunity – something CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie has specifically warned teams against.

The timing of the transactions is a little funny, too.

On April 18,  the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons announced that defensive tackle Justin Zimmer was one of three players who had signed with the club. The release included a line that referenced his time with the Alouettes.

But Montreal didn’t announce that Zimmer had been released until April 25 – a full seven days after he’d been signed by Atlanta – and the move still hasn’t shown up on the CFL’s transactions page.

It’s certainly possible that the Alouettes released Zimmer before he signed with Atlanta and just neglected to announce it (the CFL transactions page reflects when moves are announced by the teams not registered with the league, which is dumb but also an issue for another day.)

But it doesn’t explain why the Alouettes would release Zimmer in the first place.

According to the CFL transactions page, the Alouettes signed Zimmer to the practice roster on Sept. 19 last season then added him to the active roster on Nov. 2. He started in the team’s final game against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Nov. 3, making three tackles and registering one sack. He then remained on the roster until this week, a clear indication that he was under contract for next season.

This Nov. 17, 2017 story from Zimmer’s hometown paper certainly makes it seem like he was planning to go back to Montreal this season while hoping to eventually get another shot at the NFL.

While the timing of the release could be a coincidence, it looks as though the Alouettes released him so he could sign with the Falcons (it actually looks like they released him after he signed with the Falcons.) And that could run them afoul of Ambrosie.

The commissioner made it clear in February that he does not want CFL teams releasing players from their contracts to pursue NFL opportunities. The B.C. Lions were “heavily fined” after releasing linebacker Micah Awe, despite the fact that he had a year remaining on his CFL contract. Awe subsequently signed with the New York Jets.

“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.”

We’ve reached out the Alouettes and the CFL for comment.