The CFL allowed the Montreal Alouettes to sign defensive lineman Justin Zimmer to a contract that included an out clause if he received an NFL offer – in violation of their own policies.
On April 18, the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons announced that Zimmer was one of three players who had signed with the club, despite the fact that he was still listed on the Alouettes roster. The 25-year-old joined Montreal last September and started in the team’s final game against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Nov. 3.
The Alouettes announced they had released Zimmer on April 25, raising questions about the timing of the transaction and whether the club had cut a “side-deal” that allowed Zimmer to pursue the NFL. A “side deal”, in CFL parlance, is a handshake agreement between team management and a player that he will be released from his contract if an NFL opportunity presents itself.
Such arrangements violate CFL policy and commissioner Randy Ambrosie made it clear in February that he would crack down on them. 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.
But the league now admits it allowed the Alouettes to sign Zimmer to a CFL deal that included language that made such an arrangement part of the actual contract.
“In this case, a contract for Justin Zimmer was registered with the CFL in November 2017. That contract included a clause that would grant Zimmer his release should he receive an NFL offer. This did not constitute a side deal,” the league said in a statement. “Having said that, such a clause is against our procedures. That contract should not have been registered by the CFL. ”
The league has also cleared the Alouettes of any wrongdoing.
“That error rests with the CFL and so the Als are not under investigation,” the statement said.
According to the league, the Falcons actually signed Zimmer on April 17 but that contract was voided because he had an existing deal in the CFL. He signed with Atlanta the following day after securing his release from the Alouettes.
“His release was shown on the CFL’s roster report on the 18th even though the Alouettes did not announce the transaction until April 25,” the statement said. “Under our media policy, teams can announce roster changes ‘at their discretion’ during the offseason.”
The issue of a so-called “NFL window” has been a contentious one this season. In addition to the Awe fine, Toronto Argonauts James Wilder Jr. and Victor Butler claimed they were being denied NFL opportunities – despite promises made by team management. The league came out strongly in support of the Argonauts decision to hold the players to their contracts. Wilder Jr. ultimately signed a contract extension with the club while Butler remains on the roster but has said he won’t play this season.