CFL owners holding millions in off-season bonuses due to players

Canadian Football League team owners are holding approximately $6 million in off-season payments due to players, per sources.

The CFLPA issued a memo to all players and their agents in December 2017 stating the league was directing the nine teams not to pay off-season bonuses – including signing, roster and report and pass bonuses – starting Jan. 1, 2019, in an attempt to “add pressure on the CFLPA and its membership to rush a settlement at the bargaining table.”

As a result, contracts signed after the directive was issued included language that made bonuses only payable upon ratification of the CBA – a significant departure from the league’s usual practice and one designed to apply financial strain on players.

“The CFL’s directive states that while Players and Clubs can enter such arrangements for the 2019 season, payment for the pre‐season bonuses cannot occur until a new Collective Bargaining Agreement has been reached between the CFLPA and the CFL,” the memo reads.

By not paying bonuses in 2019, the CFL has kept a number of players from receiving off-season payments as veteran players usually have such provisions in their contracts. The CFLPA asked the league to rescind the directive, but that request was denied by commissioner Randy Ambrosie even though it was his predecessor Jeffrey Orridge who enacted it.

“I can say with confidence that if you’re going to withhold payments to a membership that is going to create animosity,” CFLPA executive director Brian Ramsay said in February. “That’s definitely not a good way to start showing fair treatment and respect by withholding payments that are already to the membership.”

The current CBA expires on May 18, ending a five-year agreement that was ratified on June 13, 2014 – nearly a month after the original deadline. The CFLPA said Wednesday that the CFL has elected to delay further talks for two weeks, putting further pressure on players who are already without their off-season funds.

“I feel like both sides are trying to get over some distrust, it all started with withholding the bonuses. You talk about good faith and, in my opinion, when you withhold bonuses and some would say try to starve the players, that’s not, in my opinion, building good trust,” B.C. Lions linebacker Solomon Elimimian said.

“When the league did that it started off rough for a lot of players and it’s frustrating. You talk about fair treatment, you talk about good faith negotiations, and when they did that, they once again reminded us that they didn’t have the same intentions as we have and that’s partnership.”

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