Last week I wrote an opinion piece about why the CFL should embrace restricted free agency. I welcome you to revisit the article, but the argument essentially boils down to this: every other league has restricted free agency and it’s good for a number of reasons.
I thought it would be interesting to take a glance at how restricted free agency could look in the CFL. There are lots of ways to potentially implement it, most of which limit the movement of young players and/or compensate teams for losses in free agency.
The NFL awards compensatory draft picks using a complex formula based on the quality and quantity of players each team loses in free agency. These extra selections fall in the third to seventh rounds of the draft.
The Baltimore Ravens were the top beneficiaries in this year’s draft, getting two extra third-round selections and one in the fourth (No. 98, 106 and 143, respectively). That is significant considering prospects selected in that area are expected to take on fairly substantial roles as first-year players.
I don’t think this type of compensation is something the CFL should pursue because it could actually increase the amount of player turnover league-wide.
Fans want teams to re-sign their own players, allowing them to enjoy longer and more marketable careers. Unless a player is elite, teams may choose not to re-sign a player if they are entitled to a compensatory draft pick following his departure.
Instead, I’d like to see the CFL implement a compensatory pick system similar to how offer sheets function in the NHL. These allow rival teams to sign restricted free agents, but require the forfeiture of draft selections in order to do so.
Let’s use Nick Arbuckle as an example.
Ottawa traded a third-round pick to Calgary to acquire Arbuckle’s exclusive negotiating rights six weeks ahead of free agency. The teams also swapped first-round selections as a condition of the quarterback signing an extension with the Redblacks a few weeks later.
The trade was a no-brainer for Calgary given that the team would have received nothing had Arbuckle left via free agency. Trading him early for a draft pick was a shrewd move.
Arbuckle entered the league in 2017 and threw only 25 pass attempts until last season, during which he started seven games. Calgary invested three years of time, money, and energy into developing him — if he leaves before finishing his fourth year in the league, I believe the Stampeders should be entitled to compensation for his departure.
Consider the NHL’s offer sheet system (see below). Rival teams can offer contracts to restricted free agents, but they have to part with draft picks in order to finalize the deal.
$1,395,053 million or below — No draft pick compensation
More than $1,395,053 to $2,113,716 — third-round pick
More than $2,113,716 to $4,227,437 — second-round pick
More than $4,227,437 to $6,341,152 — First- and third-round picks
More than $6,341,152 to $8,454,871 — First-, second- and third-round picks
More than $8,454,871 to $10,568,589 — two first-round picks, one second-round pick and one third-round pick
More than $10,568,589 — four first-round picks (can be spread over five-year period)
Arbuckle is slated to make $420,000 in hard money this year with bonuses maxing out at $470,000. That’s serious money, making him one of the league’s highest-paid players.
As such, I’d propose a restricted free agency compensation system for the CFL as follows. Keep in mind that this isn’t something I’d write in stone — it’s just a preliminary look at how compensation could work.
$75,000 or below — No draft pick compensation
More than $75,000 to $90,000 — eighth-round pick
More than $90,000 to $105,000 — seventh-round pick
More than $105,000 to $120,000 — sixth-round pick
More than $120,000 to $140,000 — fifth-round pick
More than $140,000 to $170,000 — fourth-round pick
More than $170,000 to $220,000 — second-round pick
More than $220,000 to $350,000 — first-round pick
More than $350,000 — first-round pick and third-round pick
This means that Calgary wouldn’t have had to trade Nick Arbuckle ahead of free agency. Instead, the Stampeders could have waited for the passer to sign his lucrative deal with the Redblacks. Ottawa would have had to send their first- and third-round picks to Calgary to finalize the deal, which is a serious price to pay.
This type of compensation would reward teams for developing young talent while making it easier for teams to retain it. Remember — with Arbuckle not having yet played his fourth CFL season, Calgary would have had the option to match Ottawa’s offer before his contract with the Redblacks could be signed.
It may have also given a team like Ottawa pause before offering such a lucrative deal to a young quarterback. It’s possible the club would have considered a veteran option — Matt Nichols, for example — before poaching a rising star away from Calgary.
This also illustrates how this system could prolong the careers of older players. If a two-year veteran is set to hit free agency, signing him may not be as attractive for a rival team if it means giving up a sixth-round pick. As such, the club in question could instead opt to sign an older player to avoid providing compensation.
It’s in the best interest of the CFL and its fans to prevent young players from switching teams. Having regional stars is critical to the marketability of the league, while giving players the time to develop roots in communities across the country.
Provided player wages aren’t compromised, a compensation-based restricted free agent system could help set up the CFL for long-term success.