All is fair in love, war and CFL contract negotiations.
Recently released Riders defensive end Charleston Hughes — who signed with the Toronto Argonauts early Thursday — mutually agreed to part ways with his former team prior to the start of free agency, but explained to Rod Pedersen on Instagram Live just how petty things can get when contract talks reach an impasse.
While Hughes wanted out before his deal expired of February 9, the Riders made the move on their timeline, not his.
“The players, we have government assistance coming up so if we had waited until February 6 I would have collected all my government assistance, but [Riders GM Jeremy O’Day] didn’t feel the need to let me wait,” Hughes explained.
Talks between Hughes and the team fell apart over a perceived difference of value of just $15,000 and O’Day was unwilling to meet his star pass rusher halfway. That hurt Hughes, but he’s remained relatively cordial when discussing his former bosses. The lost government assistance didn’t amount to much, but it was salt in the wound.
“When it boils down to it, I ended up losing money on all accounts. That’s the only sucky part about it. I at least could have got an extra $300 or $400 dollars off the government assistance on top of being released,” Hughes said. “But, whatever, it is what it is in the end.”
The 37-year-old led the CFL with 16 sacks during the 2019 season, adding 50 tackles, four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and one defensive touchdown in 17 games. Hughes was scheduled to earn $157,500 in 2020, however, he only received $10,000 due to the CFL season being cancelled. That earnings shortfall was being covered by government assistance.
After the league’s board of governors voted to cancel the 2020 season, the CFLPA qualified a large group of athletes — 441 — for the Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy program. Players who received signing bonuses or off-season money from their new teams remain eligible for the government funds.
Employers themselves can apply for CEWS through the Canadian Revenue Agency. It is expected employers will cover the remaining 25 percent of the employees’ wages in one of the financial aid programs the federal government pointed out to the league.
The CEWS program is currently supporting nearly two million workers across the country, covering 75 percent of wages for employees in hard-hit businesses. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has extended the wage subsidy until the summer through June 2021.
Hughes reiterated that there was ways to keep him in Saskatchewan, he even offered to take a pay cut, but the Riders were unwilling.
“I don’t feel like they wanted me back. If they wanted me back, I’d be back,” he insisted.
The Riders’ loss became the Argos’ gain when Hughes signed his new deal Thursday morning. Their interest in Hughes put his mind at ease as he reached a crossroads with Saskatchewan.
“They let me know how badly they wanted me,” Hughes said. “They made me feel comfortable knowing that, you know what, if you do make it to free agency this is what we got for you. This is what we can do for you, we’ll make this home for you.”
While he might not have government assistance in hand, at least Toronto is putting Hughes’ welfare first.