Exploring the CFL’s new collective bargaining agreement

The 2019-2021 CFL collective bargaining agreement first found its way to the public in a January 7, 2020.

The CBA that the league and players agreed on was published by Calgary Sun/Herald reporter Daniel Austin and 3DownNation has a copy of the comprehensive document. For analysis we will rely on a comparison to the prior 2014-2018 CBA that can be found at the CFLdb.ca.

If you are interested in a memo of the major changes in the CBA, without context, the CFLPA sent it out to its players listing the differences without indicating what the prior text or consequences were for each switch. Parallel to my examination I found that this memo does extract the most interesting of changes. However, judging the impact of the changes does require prior knowledge of the previous CBA.

What follows here is my guess at how the CBA will be interpreted and impact the future season. It is important to note that some particular issues that will be discussed, such as ‘nationalized Americans’, NFL option year, and two designated quarterbacks still appear uncertain, even for CFL general managers like Kyle Walters. Some of my guesses will likely be wrong, but hopefully the material still makes for an interesting exploration.

Article 3 – Standard Player Contract

Subject to Section 9.02, when a non-veteran Player signs a C.F.L. Standard Player Contract or Practice Roster Agreement with a Member Club (herein referred to as the “First Contract”), the Member Club must offer the Player a one year C.F.L. Standard Player Contract with an option to renew. For greater clarity, a Player’s “First Contract” means any contract signed prior to attaining veteran status. In addition, on a Player’s First Contract, it is still open to a Member Club to provide the Player with alternatives to a one (1) year C.F.L. Standard Player Contract with an option to renew for one (1) year. Those alternatives could include multiple one (1) year contracts for three (3) years or more with no option year.

The only change to this section was the removal of a limitation from previous CBA that did not allow option years after first contracts.

I would speculate there were cases where players technically had qualified as post-first contract but otherwise did not have more than a couple games of CFL experience. Team’s likely desired the option to present more than just one or more year contracts and wanted to retain the ability to present one plus one option year type deals.

Section 3.08 Two Way Contract

Starting for 2020, all Standard Player Contracts will contain both an Active Roster salary and a Practice Roster salary (Two Way Contract). When signing the contract, the amounts for both categories must be inputted and registered with the C.F.L. (and can be negotiated).

This provision of registering SPC as both active and practice roster will allow teams to move players between rosters without registering each contract with the league each time.

There are a number of rules below this section which define the rights of the player in regard to movement between the two. The most important seeming to be:

  1. If terminated from Active Roster for purpose of movement to Practice Roster, then players sign that they are aware and have 24 hours to either move to the Practice Roster or find Active Roster employment with another team.
  2. Teams can still attempt to claim another teams Practice Roster player. The original team has 24 hours to activate the player to Active Roster for the next game, or the player goes to the other team and is guaranteed a game cheque.

This will reduce CFL GMs having to engage in negotiation repeatedly with players who move between the two rosters multiple times. I would speculate that it is possible a previous practice roster players who had gained a game or two of active roster experience may have demanded a better practice roster deal in the past. However, the rules still carve out the right of the player to go to another team if that team desires them.

Article 6: Practice Times

Section 6.01.5 Training Camp Period 

In the event the C.F.L. decides to schedule the Grey Cup Game earlier, the C.F.L. shall provide the C.F.L.P.A. with one year’s notice of such a change and the training camp period may commence prior to May 1st during that year provided that all other terms and conditions in this Article 6 are complied with. The parties have agreed that the provision of the document entitled “Key Schedule Dates” provided to the Union on April 29, 2019, has satisfied the notice requirement in this article for the 2020, 2021 and the 2022 seasons.

CFL has already cleared the next three years for the possibility of moving the Grey Cup up. This required the CFLPA to be made aware that it would result in moved dates for training camp as the season moves up.

6.02.7 Out of Camp Period

During the Out of Camp period, there shall be no practices with contact, with the following exceptions:

  1. Injured Players: when returning from injury… [as required]
  2. Player Development: Players who are on practice roster agreements … [limited]
  3. QB’s, Long Snappers, Kickers and Punters may, at their option, wear shoulder pads during practices for the purposes of performing their specialized responsibilities.

2014 agreement allowed one contact practice with gear in a regular week during the CFL season. New agreement has no contact (in pads) practices. However, there is a carve out from the rule that allows for functional reasons, unrelated to contact in pads that would create injuries, for players to wear pads to maintain the game feel in practice.

Section 6.04 Voluntary Off-Season Workouts


6.04.1 Each Member Club shall be allowed to have one voluntary off-season workout prior to the commencement of the training camp period in each season

Gone are off-season mini-camps. Tryouts to find players will proceed but NFL-type OTAs (organized team sctivities) are off the board.

Article 9: Minimum Compensation

For 2020 and 2021 the minimum base pay for Global Classified players is $54,000 and for American and National Players it will be $65,000 (this is the base salary and excludes all pre-season (camp) pay, play-off pay, Club pension contributions and any payments put into an addendum). If any player is scheduled to make less than the minimum their Club will “automatically bump” their pay up to the minimum.

The minimum base pay was $54,000 in 2018. So in 2019 the base pay for players remained the same. However, this year the base pay will jump by $11,000 to $65,000 which means players will make 120 percent of the previous base. However, global players remain on the previous $54,000 base pay number.

This could have significant impacts on teams salary caps for 2020. One reported reason Bo Levi reworked his contract, in addition to shifting 2020 money to the 2019 unused Stampeders cap space, was because the CFL salary cap did not rise as expected.

The increase in minimum player contract amounts left less cap space for the team to sign replacements for players like Tre Roberson or Reggie Begelton. Bo Levi’s recent surgery and uncertainty around start of season playing time is also a reason the team would desire a smaller cap hit if he missed a couple games to start season before they activated him.

A team like the B.C. Lions who also have a large cap hit quarterback — Mike Reilly — didn’t appear to try and take advantage of the same restructure opportunity as the Stampeders. The Leos may find themselves with less cap space than last year as the cheapest option at every position just increased 120 percent in cost.

Section 9.02 Length of First Contracts (starting in 2020)

All Nationals will be required to sign a minimum 2 + 1 first contract and follow the salary grid at outlined below (this term does not apply to Nationals who signed registered contracts in 2019):

The grid classifies players by round: first/second, third/fourth, and fifth or greater and UFDA (undrafted free agents) are grouped together. All players make $65,000 in year one and two and can negotiate for $65,000 to $71,500 for their third option year.

All players can make bonus money based on snaps (up to?) $7,500 each year. No other bonuses are permitted. Each of the three groups has a different maximum signing bonus and housing amount starting at $7,500 and dropping to $5,000 and $2,500 for the other two groups.

This strict limitation to draft picks follows what the NFL and other sports have done of late to limit draft pick negotiating and the power of agents. Holdouts that were seen in prior years will likely be less common as well.

The cap for first overall picks would appear to be $80,000 and not all of that is guaranteed unless the snap amount is reached. For comparison, in recent years No. 1 picks signed for nearly $100,000. In 2015 Alex Mateas received $80,000 guaranteed, 2016 Josiah St. John $77,000 guaranteed, 2017 Faith Ekakitie $88,000 guaranteed, and 2018 second pick Trey Rutherford reportedly near to same as Akakitie.

Teams have put a break and even reversed the increased cost of drafting high in the CFL. There had been discussion that multiple high draft picks were risky in CFL due to cost of retaining them before evidence they would become productive CFL players.

The usage of the term option year follows that of standard player contracts which would imply to me that this is a team option year. That would mean that players might not be able to sign two-year deals like recent draft picks seem to have negotiated for. Tunde Adeleke appears to have had a two-year deal, having left Calgary for Hamilton last year after playing only two years with his draft team.

All Global players will be required to sign a minimum 2 + 1(option) first contract.

All American players will be required to sign a minimum 1 + 1(option) first contract.

Note: No restrictions on bonus payments to Global or American Players.

Global players will have have to sign 2+1 contracts but don’t have bonus restrictions (although they do have a lower minimum base pay). American players have the higher minimum base pay for 2020, no restrictions on bonuses, and only have to sign a 1+1 deal.

Article 14: Rules and Regulations

6. The following Players shall be classified as National Players:

2019 – An American or Global Player who is draft eligible no earlier than the 2021 Draft and has played football for a minimum of three (3) year at a USports institution and has graduated with a degree at that institution.

There is some uncertainty for the USports rule if the player would need to be active rostered for the three years, or have active stats in the three years. Graduation with a degree will also make for an interesting determination given that draft eligibility may be determined late for individuals completing degree requirements in Canada during April for a May draft.

A fifth-year player this year like Dinos standout defensive back Sterling Taylor may be an odd man out with this rule. He appears on the roster from 2017 through to 2019 but has apparent stats for only the final two years. At the same time his USports eligibility ended this 2019 year. It is unclear if he would be eligible under the years played rule, or, if he was, whether or not he could wait until 2021 to attempt to declare for the draft.

In Canada West, Regina Ram’s kicker Aldo Galvan and UBC’s offensive lineman Diego Alatorre from Mexico are two players who may be looking to take advantage of this rule in coming years.

2020 – In addition to the 2019 amendment above, the following will take effect the day before the start of training camp in 2020: An American player on a roster with the same CFL team after three (3) consecutive years or four (4) years in the CFL.  These players apply only to the starter ratio and not the roster allocation.

This rule addition comes into play later in the CBA when game day roster and starters are applied.

7. The following Players shall be classified as American Players:

(a) A Player other than a National Player or a Global Player.

8. The following Players shall be classified as Global Players:

(a) Any player who does not hold Canadian or American citizenship and has not been physically resident in Canada for an aggregate period of five (5) years prior to attaining the age of eighteen (18) years, or who does not qualify as a National in any other way.

It is further agreed that wherever the word International appears in the C.F.L. Constitution, By‑Laws and Regulations it will be read as “American”.

The CBA has moved terminology from International to American. Global players are simply not American citizen or CFL National.

Article 23: Roster Size

For the 2020 and 2021 seasons, the active Roster size of each Member Club in the C.F.L. for regular season, playoff and Grey Cup games shall be a minimum of forty-four (44) Players and a maximum of forty-five (45) Players.

Note here that the maximum roster size in the 2014 CBA was 44 and that in 2019 under the first year of the CBA it increased to 45 with the requirement of one player being under Global designation.

For the 2020 and 2021 seasons, there shall not be more than twenty (20) American Players, which shall include four (4) designated American Players and which shall exclude quarterbacks on the Active Roster of each Member Club for regular season, playoff and Grey Cup games.

This remains the same as the prior CBA. Technically under the new CBA there is no change to ‘counted’ American players. Remember that quarterbacks are not counted under the roster ratio numbers.

For the 2020 and 2021 seasons, each Member Club shall have two (2) Players on its Active Roster who are considered Global Players for each regular season, playoff and Grey Cup games.

The Global player count is increasing by one. However, the active roster size is unchanged. This will have a practical consequence for American players, however, technically the counted maximum 20 Americans remains unchanged.

For the 2020 and 2021 seasons, each Member Club must dress at least two (2) quarterbacks for each regular season, playoff and Grey Cup games.

This is a change. In the 2014 CBA and 2019 the number here was (3) quarterbacks. This is a minimum. This statement itself does not say teams can not dress three quarterbacks. However, it does mean that teams must dress two and remember that these two are restricted in what type of football activities they can participate during a game.

1. … each Member Club shall, in accordance with a timetable prescribed by the Management Council, establish its active Roster at:

a maximum of 45 Players, including 2 Players who shall be identified as quarterbacks and 43 other Players, of whom not more than 20 may be Americans

This appears to again state that the roster limit remains 45. Two players will be quarterbacks which means they do not count to ratio limits but are also restricted in what they can do on field. Also that at most 20 of the remaining 45 can be American.

5. A Member Club shall be permitted to dress for a regular season or playoff game or League Championship Game its active Roster as described in paragraph 1. The Players identified as quarterbacks shall be permitted to alternate for each other during the game at the quarterback position exclusively and shall not be permitted to enter the game at another position, under any circumstances. For the purposes of this paragraph, the duties of the quarterback position may include punting, place kicking, kicking off or holding the ball for the kicker on a convert or field goal attempt. A National quarterback will be considered one of a Club’s starting National Players as long as he remains on the field at the quarterback position. When the Member Club dresses its full quota of American Players four shall be designated Americans and designated as special team Players who may enter the game at another position only upon the understanding that another American Player is required to leave the game for that play.

This statement remains the same except for the addition that a National quarterback will count as a National starter if he comes on as a quarterback. For example, this would allow teams to substitute a National receiver or other position for an American offensive linemen for short yardage or in another package with another American receiver.

This statement also likely is leading to the uncertainty of GMs around the two quarterback rule. You can note that in the CFL quarterback is a designated position which limits participation in game day play. At the same time the roster limitations indicated that only two designated quarterbacks do not count in ratio considerations.

Unless the league declares in the future the rules don’t appear to limit you dressing a third quarterback. Only that you must have two. This means if you dress a third quarterback this quarterback, if American, counts in your total of 20 Americans. Given most teams used this position for American backup quarterbacks, if you were maximizing your 20 Americans on the active roster, you must shift an American away from another position. The person left to fill this position is the added Global player.

However, what I see is an opportunity for National quarterbacks. If your third quarterback is a National, then you would still have 20 American positions available as you did in 2019 for Americans. You would be losing a depth National position to a Global player instead if you maximize your Americans on the active roster. However, this National quarterback would also count as a starter whenever they entered the game.

Teams will be eligible to name as National Starters a maximum of three (3) Players per game who have become National Players by virtue of the Amended definition of National, i.e. Americans who have played with the same C.F.L. team for three (3) consecutive years or who have played four (4) years in the C.F.L. These three (3) players only apply to the starter ratio, and not to the roster allocation.

In the event of a game injury to any of the Club’s ten (10) National Starters, the injured player(s) can be replaced by either a National or any other American on the roster who qualifies under the Amended definition of National above.

We finally return to the nationalized American complication. The simple idea is that the National game day starter count goes to 10. Of these initially declared started at most 3 can be nationalized Americans. During the game, if any of these 10 get injured they can be replaced by Nationals or by other nationalized Americans.

The loophole often discussed here is that teams will have National starters fake injuries in order to be replaced by a nationalized American. One danger for this strategy is that American players that qualify are likely to be on a second contract with the league which means they aren’t cheap replacements to carry. The Nationals they replace may get cheaper as a result of this rule, but their own contracts likely will benefit due to this rule.

At the same time, CFL veterans of four or more years begin to get their contract guaranteed starting at the 11 game point of the season. As a result, there are some season-long monetary restraints from attempting to game this rule from the start.

The league has yet to indicated how injury tracking will work. For designated American players the player they replace is not allowed to re-enter the game. Similar penalties for the replacement of National players would make it prohibitively costly in-game to deliberately play short players just to replace a National starter with a nationalized American. I would also suspect that the usage of this rule would be monitored by league and teams judged to be exploiting it consistently would face a penalty.

Article 30: Recognition of Economic Conditions

Section 30.01 Salary Expenditure Cap

2019 – $5,250,000.00

2020 – $5,300,000.00

2021 – $5,350,000.00

The cap continues to increase by $50,000 year over year like in the previous agreement however there are two ways the cap can be increased from these numbers.

A. C.F.L. 2.0 (no TSN/ESPN) Broadcast Revenues (20% of total)

B. TSN “Ratings Fee” Payment (20% of total)

The consequence of these two escalators is interesting but under-reported. Reports from 2017 indicated that the maximum salary cap over which teams would be penalized matched exactly the value under Article 30 in 2017-2018. However reports indicate that the 2019 cap may have been as much as $5.7 million which would likely indicate these escalators increased the cap as much as $450,000. However, I haven’t found determinant reporting on the CFL cap for 2019 or what it will be for 2020. The league’s audit of teams’ cap compliance likely will not be reported until the spring again.

Article 36: National Football League

Section 36.01

A Player who has signed a C.F.L. Standard Player Contract with a Member Club may sign an N.F.L. Standard Player Contract with a National Football League Member Club (hereinafter referred to as an “N.F.L. Club”) from the date following the day that the C.F.L. season has ended for the Player until his Contract has expired or the second Tuesday in February in the following season, whichever is earlier; provided that the said Player is about to enter his option year in the year following the season just ended, or has played out his option and his Contract will be expiring on the second Tuesday in February in the year following the season just ended.

In the event that the N.F.L. Club terminates the Player’s N.F.L. Standard Player Contract, and the Player’s C.F.L. Standard Player Contract has not expired, the Player’s C.F.L. Standard Player Contract and any renewal thereof between the Player and the Member Club shall become effective and shall remain in effect until its expiration date, and all benefits in accordance with the said C.F.L. Standard Player Contract and Collective Agreement shall continue to remain in effect.

Effective 2020 and going forward, all players under contract will be eligible for the NFL Option Window, described herein, at the end of each season, regardless of the length of their contract. This proposed clause is subject to agreement from the NFL.

The report is that the NFL effectively said no to this agreement. Part of the issue between leagues appears to be the language that only NFL standard player contracts will result in CFL players being released. These are different from NFL practice roster agreements. It is believed that the NFL/NFLPA does not allow players to tryout with such a restriction.

CFL teams have followed previous practices and continued to release 2020 free agent players and allow them to work out. However, the CFL has told teams that option year players can not be allowed to work out in NFL. This forced the Bombers to release defensive lineman Jonathan Kongbo who had agreed to sign only based on option year availability and the Stampeders to release defensive back Tre Roberson who had a similar understanding when he signed with the team.

This leaves both teams at a disadvantage as if either player returns to CFL in 2020 the Bombers and Stampeders will be negotiating on equal ground with those players as free agents with the rest of the league.

Section 34.24 Supplements

Each team in the C.F.L. will provide appropriate NSF, Informed Choice or GMP certified supplements to their Players without charge. The list of supplements will be developed by mutual agreement, based on professional advice. Pending approval from the C.F.L.P.A., the C.F.L. will also be able to provide supplements with the Informed Sport label. It is agreed that no supplements can be guaranteed to be free of prohibited substances and athletes continue to be solely responsible for any supplement that they choose to use and any repercussions that come from an adverse analytical finding.

This section was not in the 2014 CBA but was likely an amendment agreed upon as part of the more recent drug testing policy before the new 2019 CBA was agreed to.

Hudson is a Ph.D. graduate and instructor in computer science at the University of Calgary. He is a fan of football in all its forms