CFL teams are bending the rule on salary cap floor spending ahead of free agency: Scianitti

It appears colluding to limit spending to the salary cap floor requires a level of collective organization that CFL teams simply don’t possess.

With big name contracts beginning to pile up ahead of CFL free agency next week, TSN’s Matthew Scianitti joined Dave Jamieson on TSN 1260 in Edmonton to explain why some teams are loosening their hardline stance on spending.

“What I’m finding interesting in hearing from across the league is even though there has been this kind of generally accepted narrative everyone will spend to the cap floor, the issue becomes what happens if you are, for example, [Edmonton GM] Brock Sunderland and you think you are close enough to get a Grey Cup so you want to spend an extra $100,000,” Scianitti said of the situation in the hyper-competitive league.

“Certainly some teams are going to bend it a bit. I can tell you that there are personnel staff members across the league who are starting to crunch the numbers of other teams and sending me texts saying I don’t know how so-and-so is thinking that he can go ahead and get all this even under the salary cap ceiling.”

Due to the financial ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic and the canceled 2020 season, the CFL has advised teams to spend only to the salary cap minimum of $4.75 million. It was a move called “blatant collusion” by some, but cracks are showing in their gentlemen’s agreement.

With fewer signing bonuses given, some surmise that the extra spending will be clawed back from the players through training camp cuts, but a franchise’s desire to win might trump the pocketbook when a window is presented.

Teams who initially took hardline stances are now sizing up their competition and loosening their belts ever so slightly. One such team is the Toronto Argonauts, who have made a flurry of high profile moves in recent days.

“Up until last week, of all the players they signed, there was no signing bonuses. Then Nick Arbuckle gets $150,000, we’re hearing Eric Rogers got a bit of a signing bonus and I imagine that Charleston Hughes didn’t come with a wink, a nod and a handshake,” Scianitti said.

“The Argos, on the surface, went from a team that was looking a little mediocre to now being a team on paper that has taken a big swing to make a push for the Grey Cup in the event, god willing, that we have a season.” 

While commissioner Randy Ambrosie has promised plenty of football in 2021, that season is still not guaranteed by any means. The cash on the table has many feeling optimistic however.

“Everything that has happened, even though players have certainly taken pay cuts, the amount of money that’s being spent before free agency means you’re starting to get a sense these teams are really, really optimistic there’s going to be a season,” Scianitti told listeners. “I don’t think I’ve seen that amount of movement before free agency in my time covering the league.”

Nevertheless, the CFL is still dealing with significant financial issues and a lot of has to go right for 2021 to happen as planned. Once the free agent frenzy is over, the league has work to do.

“After everything that will happen this week, it’s CBA and public health measures and it’s about crossing fingers that everyone stays safe because it would be damaging to the CFL to have another third wave.”

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