The Winnipeg Blue Bombers signed reigning CFL M.O.P. Zach Collaros to a one-year contract extension last week. The veteran quarterback never considered signing a long-term extension with the club due to what he described as an issue with the league’s collective bargaining agreement.
“The way the CBA is set up right now, it makes it difficult for people to sign long-term deals. I think that players would like to, but I don’t think it’s in our best interest to do so, to be quite honest. That’s why we ended up doing the one-year thing. I’m not even sure (general manager) Kyle (Walters) and my agent talked about a two-year thing just because of how everything is set up right now,” said Collaros via videoconference.
Teams are permitted to include off-season roster bonuses in multi-year contracts, but Walters indicated that teams have become more hesitant to issue large sums before the season in order to protect themselves. Player salaries are exempt from the cap if they suffer a long-term injury during the season, but any off-season money they receive counts against the cap in full regardless of whether or not they play.
Players have also grown skeptical of teams and their willingness to honour off-season roster bonuses. It’s common practice in the CFL for teams to release players days or even hours before they are to collect off-season roster bonuses, which are typically scheduled for January or the first week of February.
“Zach’s agent and I had a good talk about that and he was like, ‘If he has a bad year, you can just cut him if you’re not going to give him all that money. If he has a good year, then why wouldn’t we just try to go at free agency again and get some signing bonus money?’ It’s a whole shift,” said Walters.
“If we’re limiting how much of that off-season money we’re allowed to spend and God forbid something happen to one of those players, you’re still limited. You’re basically taking money out of the club’s pockets to be able to re-sign guys. I think it’s just the reality of the situation of the way the contracts and the businesses have restructured.”
Collaros is hoping that CFL players will have more incentive to sign long-term contracts when a new collective bargaining agreement is struck later this off-season. The current CBA, which was ratified on May 22, 2019, is set to expire when training camps open later this year.
“That’s been something that we’ve talked about just in our meeting room in Winnipeg as an important issue of wanting to sign longer-term deals to stay in a city for the fan base, for familiarity, for your families. We think it’s important, but just the way it’s structured right now, you don’t have any leverage at all if you sign two, three, four-year deals,” he said.
“It’s kind of how football is, even the NFL is set up that way. If you look at other leagues, you can sign an eight-year contract and it’s all guaranteed. Football’s not like that. Basically, you sign a one-year deal every single time, even if you’re signing an extended deal because the way that it’s set-up is the organization has complete control of it all.”
As the general manager of the back-to-back Grey Cup champions, Walters isn’t a fan of the recent trend towards one-year contracts. He recognizes that it works in favour of struggling teams, however, as it allows them to pursue a large number of free agents.
“It’s a painful process. It’s not fun going through this every single year and trying to piece your team together. It’s beneficial for the teams that didn’t have very good years and need to flip their roster. I think the benefit for those teams is you can put a whole new team together in a year and go from being not very competitive to being very competitive,” said Walters.
“That’s a good setup for the league in that it enables the teams that had a bad year to improve very quickly, but it is tough for the teams that have had some success to try to keep everybody together. In the spirit of parity, it might be a good thing but it’s tough when you’ve had some success.”
Winnipeg used free agency to kickstart their rebuild under Walters with players such as Stanley Bryant, Jermarcus Hardrick, and Darvin Adams signing with the team back when they were perennial bottom-feeders. Player transiency is now working to Winnipeg’s disadvantage as they look to keep together a back-to-back Grey Cup-winning team.