Free agents wise to sign early while cap space still available

Free agency is all about risk. For players, signing too soon could mean leaving money on the table; signing too late could spell disaster if teams decide to move on, focusing their attention on other free agents.

Playing the waiting game didn’t pan out for Chris Ackie and Anthony Thompson in 2019. The pair of national defenders didn’t sign during last year’s free agent frenzy and it ended up costing them money.

Ackie signed a one-year contract with the Montreal Alouettes on July 7. The deal was worth just over $85,000 in hard money with incentives that maxed out at a little under $120,000.

The fleet-footed linebacker was coming off a career-year at the time having recorded 88 tackles, two interceptions, one sack, and one forced fumble in 2018. Ackie received offers from two teams in February 2019 worth $150,000 per season — solid money for an elite Canadian defender.

He chose not to sign either deal while he focused on pursuing an NFL contract. That didn’t materialize.

Thompson signed with the B.C. Lions on June 4 for $100,000 in hard money, which is modest for a national defensive back capable of starting at safety and cornerback. His contract did not include any incentives.

A pair of national defensive backs signed during last year’s free agent frenzy and it paid off in spades.

Taylor Loffler cashed in with Montreal on a three-year deal that pays him just over $145,000 per season. Tunde Adeleke inked a large contract with the Tiger-Cats, signing for $130,000 in 2019. He has since agreed on an extension with the club through 2021.

Ackie and Thompson are both represented by American agent Johnathon Hardaway. Hardaway has a history of keeping clients from signing CFL deals with the hopes of generating NFL interest. This has worked out before with players like Cory Greenwood and Henoc Muamba earning NFL opportunities in the past.

The same strategy hasn’t always worked out. Missing training camp early in their careers has stunted the development of national players like Josiah St. John, Nate Behar, and Kaion Julien-Grant.

And the waiting game didn’t pay off for Ackie or Thompson, either.

The league’s new CBA has bumped the minimum player salary to $65,000 despite the cap increasing by just $50,000 overall. Teams don’t have a lot of money to spend heading into this year’s free agent frenzy, which means it will disappear quickly.

Players looking to cash-in will need to make the most of February’s new negotiating period, securing a deal quickly and prudently. Free agency is always a gamble, but waiting too long to sign a deal could mean missing out on a big payday — this year more than most.

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