Five reasons why creating a quarterback salary cap is a bad idea

Last month’s free agent frenzy drew speculation that the CFL could look to cap quarterback spending as part of its new collective bargaining agreement (CBA).

Mike Reilly and Bo Levi Mitchell are now earning well over ten times the league’s minimum salary from a year ago ($54,000), creating an income disparity that some players find unfair.

“It doesn’t make sense that one guy can make $750,000 and some other guys can barely afford to live on their salaries,” Redblacks’ safety Antoine Pruneau told the Ottawa Sun on Thursday. “I would try to cap the maximum. What happens is every time you increase the cap, the quarterbacks are taking most of it … To me, that’s nonsense.”

With all due respect to Pruneau, creating a quarterback salary cap isn’t the answer to ending the disparity between player salaries. The CFL needs to raise its minimum player salary — that much is clear. But to arbitrarily cap spending at one position doesn’t make sense.

I’ve got five reasons why.

Paying a quarterback big money isn’t inherently an advantage

The CFL player salary cap was 5.2 million dollars in 2018. Though we won’t know what next year’s cap will be until a new CBA is ratified, many believe the cap won’t be going up very much.

This means that Mike Reilly’s salary of $725,000 could eat up as much as 14 percent of the B.C. Lions’ cap in 2019.

Reilly is an excellent player — that much is clear to anyone who’s seen the former Most Outstanding Player under centre. What’s not yet clear is whether or not paying one player such a high percentage of the cap can allow a team to be successful.

The Lions are currently without a proven commodity at boundary slotback, right tackle, weak-side linebacker, defensive end, and safety, all of which were positions of strength last season.

That isn’t to say the Lions can’t uncover new talent at the positions in question. But spending exorbitantly at quarterback will hurt the club’s ability to field a well-rounded starting line-up with adequate depth.

The same is true in Calgary where the Stampeders lost a number of excellent players due (in part) to Bo Levi Mitchell’s new $700,000 salary.

Micah Johnson, Ja’Gared Davis, DaVaris Daniels, Lemar Durant, and Tunde Adeleke all left for more money elsewhere. Those are five key contributors to last year’s Grey Cup run that Calgary will miss having in the line-up.

Reilly and Mitchell are great. The question is how many roster holes their greatness can compensate for.

It would hurt the competition for players

The Saskatchewan Roughriders and Toronto Argonauts chasing Bo Levi Mitchell during this year’s free agent frenzy was one of the most exciting story-lines in the recent history of the CFL.

Players like Bo Levi Mitchell almost never reach free agency. The guy is a two-time Most Outstanding Player, two-time Grey Cup champion, and still just 29 years of age.

Mitchell elected to stay in Calgary, but his decision-making process was compelling entertainment for fans across the country. The saga would have only become more intriguing had Bo signed elsewhere — something that would never have happened had the CFL already capped spending on quarterbacks.

Because that’s what a cap would do — eliminate the ability for teams to compete for the services of big-money quarterbacks.

There would have been no incentive for Mitchell to leave Calgary unless another team was given the opportunity to outbid the Stampeders for his services. The lack of a cap created drama, intrigue, and gave the Argos and Riders a fair shake at the league’s most sought-after free agent in years.

It would limit player earning potential (and hurt player recruitment)

Everyone deserves to maximize their value in an open-market economy. If an organization wants to pay a player a large percentage of their salary cap they should have the freedom to do so.

Mike Reilly and Bo Levi Mitchell are top-tier quarterbacks who give their teams a good chance to win every time they line-up under centre. That’s a rare ability.

Let’s not forget that high quarterback salaries can also be a selling feature to prospective CFL players south of the border.

The first search result that autofills when you type “CFL” into a google search is “CFL salary.” Other popular searches include “CFL average salary,” “CFL player salary,” and “CFL salary cap.”

These searches are being made by American players, coaches, and agents who are looking for employment opportunities north of the border. Having salaries in the $700,000 to $750,000 range — more than the NFL’s minimum salary — is a nice selling feature for the league.

It would make other leagues more attractive

The AAF is currently paying out quarterback salaries of $100,000 USD, while the XFL is rumoured to be offering significantly more for their inaugural season in 2020.

As much as these fledgling leagues have struggled to take the world by storm, losing a quality quarterback to a rival league would be devastating for the CFL.

Developing quarterbacks takes time, effort, and money. There already aren’t enough starting-quality quarterbacks to go around. Having a top-tier CFL pivot bolt for more money in the AAF or XFL would be bad for the team, its fans, and the league as a whole.

It creates an underground economy

The CFL’s “brown bag” days are (mostly) over, but a quarterback cap could see their return in a big way.

Every dollar a team pays to its players counts against the salary cap, but there are other ways to compensate guys.

Endorsement deals, speaking engagements, and off-field perks like the use of a vehicle, house or apartment are all ways that players can make money off the books. Some of it can be lucrative.

Capping quarterback salaries won’t necessary curtail spending — it would simply push player spending off the books.

The CFL has worked hard in recent years to get rid of handshake deals and backroom agreements. Creating a quarterback spending cap would only force more of the league’s dealings out of the public eye — something that the CFL (and its fans) doesn’t want.