‘There’s no continuity’: Riders legend Jeff Fairholm blames one-year contracts for CFL’s offensive woes

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/CFLPhotoArchive.com

Over the course of his nine-year CFL career, Jeff Fairholm was known for making big plays down the football field.

Now happily retired, the Riders’ Plaza of Honour inductee believes there were too few players doing that last season.

“I was really disappointed. I’m quite opinionated, especially the offences, I’m not sure why it happened, but the offences just seemed to be dead,” Fairholm said in an appearance on The Rod Pedersen Show, refusing to blame the canceled 2020 season.

“It’s not like people weren’t in shape and it’s not like the quarterback forgot how to throw the ball and the offensive line forgot how to block and the OCs forgot how to call plays. I don’t know what happened — I don’t get it.”

Many have speculated as to the causes of the CFL’s massive dip in offensive production in 2021, but Fairholm believes he knows one contributing factor. After a listener wrote in to suggest the rash of one-year contracts as a cause, the former all-star receiver quickly jumped on board.

“You might have hit the nail right on the head. There’s no continuity and you’re having to move to a different town and learn the whole offence again,” Fairholm said.

“You look at what OBJ did when he went to the Rams, I’m shocked that he was able to pick up the offence as quickly as he did. These things are complicated. If you’ve ever heard a quarterback call a play in the huddle, it’s extremely complicated.”

Beyond stagnating offensive production, Fairholm shares the opinion of many fans that short-term deals harm the league’s ability to attract viewers. Having played in just two markets, Saskatchewan and Toronto, over the course of his career, the Canadian pass catcher knows what can happen when you stick around.

“I’m not a fan of the one-year contract. I’m a person who — although I left Regina after six years for personal reasons — went to Regina, rented a house, then quickly bought a house. I planned on living there, I spent all my off-seasons there and a lot of players still do,” Fairholm explained.

“That’s hard to do with one-year contracts and it’s hard for fans to get accustomed to the people, especially in a town like Regina where it’s small enough where you see everybody all the time and you get a chance to shake their hand and get an autograph.”

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/CFLPhotoArchive.com

Both the CFL and the CFLPA have expressed a desire to incentivize longer contracts in the upcoming CBA negotiations, but one-year deals were a change brought in to favour the players. With contracts not guaranteed on the team end, players want to maximize their earnings each season instead of being cast aside at inopportune times.

Having seen the game from that side of the business, Fairholm has a differing perspective and believes players are being hurt just as much.

“I was different as a player, I was quite happy signing a two, three, four-year contract and have some incentives in there and I lived good,” he recalled.

“I don’t like the one-year contracts, I just don’t. I just don’t think it’s good for the league, I don’t think it’s good for the player. If you’re married, if you have kids and you’re pulling your kids up and uprooting them and moving them, I don’t think it’s good for anybody quite frankly.”

Regardless of Fairholm’s feelings, one-year deals are unlikely to disappear as an option going forward. Both the league and the players will have to bear the cost of them.