CFLPA desires more continuity in player contracts under new CBA

Photo courtesy: CFLPA

The Canadian Football League’s collective bargaining agreement is set to expire in May 2022, providing the league with an opportunity to address the issue of player transiency that has become a common complaint among fans.

Canadian Football League Players’ Association (CFLPA) executive director Brian Ramsay told 3DownNation in a recent telephone interview that players would “certainly prefer more continuity in their contracts,” provided that teams chose to honour them.

“Our members that have had long careers with one team have also had a great impact in their communities and of course it’s beneficial for the team and the league as well,” said Ramsay.

The CFL declined 3DownNation’s interview request to discuss this issue with commissioner Randy Ambrosie.

“The challenge is it just can’t be a one-way commitment. Our membership wants a higher level of certainty. The players want to not only make an impact on the field, but also off the field in the communities, and that takes a mutual commitment and we need to work with the CFL to find a solution to that,” said Ramsay.

Veteran players were permitted to sign one-year contracts for the first time when a new CBA was ratified in June 2014. The change was trumpeted by the CFLPA’s leadership at the time who believed that the elimination of mandatory option-year clauses would increase salaries.

The results have been disastrous for the league, players, and fans. Free agent lists have grown to comical lengths with hundreds of players eligible to hit the open market each year, many of whom are household names. The few players who sign long-term contracts are at constant risk of facing pay cuts or getting released.

“In reality, there is no such thing as a contract longer than one year as the teams have the ability to change the terms or cancel the contract. That is common practice in our league. Players are signing one-year deals because there is really no such thing as anything longer in our league when you look at how a multiyear contract is now treated,” said Ramsay.

Ramsay indicated that the players are currently holding internal discussions to determine how they’ll approach CBA negotiations this off-season. He believes it’s too early to identify their top priorities, but said that the desire to sign long-term contracts has been a point of discussion for a long time.

“There needs to be continuity and that takes a commitment from both sides. This is something that we’ve discussed with the CFL over the last few years and it’s about finding that right solution, to find that commitment,” said Ramsay.

NFL and NBA players cannot become unrestricted free agents until they have accrued four years of service. For MLB players, that number grows to six years. It takes NHL players the longest to qualify for unrestricted free agency — they must have seven years of service or have reached the age of 27.

In the CFL, it’s commonplace for a player to sign their first contract just before training camp and become an unrestricted free agent after the following season. I’ve suggested in the past that the league should embrace restricted free agency, but that’s just one way to end the league’s issues with player transiency.

“There are solutions that work in other leagues. We are not saying that you have to take one solution and place it in as-is, but you can look at other leagues and use elements that work for what we’re trying to do. I’m a big believer in that it has to be developed into our system,” said Ramsay.

The CFL thrives when fans are able to identify with players who root themselves firmly in their local community. The accessibility of players is what differentiates the CFL from the NFL in how they visit schools, sign autographs, and interact with fans.

“Our members tell us all the time how much they enjoy their community work. As a membership across the country, we want to have that impact and expand it much further. I think it speaks as well to different aspects of the league and growing the fan base with player recognition, jersey sales, and merchandise sales, which are all equally beneficial items to the players, teams, and league,” said Ramsay.

“All we’re seeking from a players’ perspective is to make it a mutual investment. We’ll invest into the team and into the community but there has to be a commitment from the teams as well. When we find that, you will see growth in the game and more fans in the stands.”

John Hodge is a Canadian football reporter based in Winnipeg.