The salary cap.
It seems to dominate off-season conversation in the CFL, with accusations of reckless spending and impropriety thrown from one fan base to another with increasing regularity. Yet in reality, nobody knows a thing, with CFL contracts carefully concealed from public view.
It’s about time someone changed all that.
3DownNation has obtained the bulk of CFL contract data for the upcoming 2022 season and, for the first time ever, has attempted to project the salary cap spending of every team. The result is a well-educated guess at the financial standing of each club at this stage in the off-season, finally giving fans some basis for their mud-slinging.
The calculations must come with several important caveats, the first being that the salary cap is a figment of the collective imagination until the end of the 2022 league year.
Heading into training camp, every team in the league is carrying more contracts than can be fit under the cap. It is not until camp cuts that a true projected cap can take shape and even then teams do not have to be cap compliant until the end of the year, with injuries and mid-season cuts providing ways to get under the bar after your initial roster has been set.
This season, collective bargaining negotiations between the league and the player’s association add another element of uncertainty. With the previous CBA expiring, we do not know what next year’s roster rules will look like or what the salary cap will be. Currently the sense around the league is that it will fall around $5.3 million, so we will use that as the basis for our assessment here as well.
In order to calculate salary cap spending, I projected each team’s 45-man roster for 2022 based on last season’s ratio requirements, then added an additional five players who would be likely candidates to stash on the one-game injured list, where salaries also count against the cap. I then added up the hard money on each of the 50 player contracts and made determinations on each performance bonus, adding in those that could be reasonably expected to be earned based on recent past performance and leaving unexpected bonuses aside.
The resulting number is based on those assumptions and a little bit of guesswork, coming up with a rough estimate of what each team might be expected to spend in a world where no major injuries occur and all players stay in their expected roles.
As teams continue to add talent through free agency and the draft, these projections will become outdated, but should provide a measuring stick of how teams are faring with little less than three months remaining in the off-season.
Money to spend
9. B.C. Lions projected spending: $4,877,900
With starting quarterback Nathan Rourke set to make a maximum of $79,000 next season, it’s not surprising the Lions had plenty of money to spend in free agency. What is shocking is how little of a dent they made in things.
After a reported $260,000 offer for Kenny Lawler fell through, the Leos spent big on help for the defensive line and in the secondary, but still couldn’t get over the $5 million mark. Even paying Woody Baron a whopping $190,000 barely made an impact.
With few options on the market, expect the Lions to lap up other team’s salary cap casualties and go hard after any NFL cuts.
8. Montreal Alouettes projected spending: $4,965,110
After re-adding Trevor Harris, the Als have a decent chunk of change tied up in two quarterbacks with eyes on a starting job. Fortunately for them, Vernon Adams Jr.’s $190,000 signing bonus came before January 1 and won’t count towards the 2022 cap.
In an act of managerial savvy by Danny Maciocia, the same is true for Eugene Lewis and basically the Alouettes’ entire Canadian contingent on the offensive line. That flexibility has allowed them to pay key special teamers like Kerfalla Exume ($95,000) and Tyrice Beverette ($87,500 plus incentives) but there is still money left in the bank for a choice addition or two.
7. Saskatchewan Roughriders projected spending: $5,068,880
Yes, even after sinking $255,000 into Duke Williams, the Saskatchewan Roughriders appear to have some money to play with.
As it stands, the Riders’ savings come from the relative inexperience of their defensive line and secondary, where most returnees from last season are making near the league minimum. That’s part of what makes it feasible for two starting-calibre middle linebackers in Darnell Sankey ($110,000) and Larry Dean ($84,500) to make the roster at the same time.
More of the savings have been spent in retaining receivers Kyran Moore ($110,000) and Shaq Evans ($130,000) for the benefit of Cody Fajardo, but the Riders have the wiggle room they need if Brendon LaBatte wants to mount a comeback.
6. Calgary Stampeders projected spending: $5,149,500
John Hufnagel said that all he could afford in free agency was McDonald’s and while that’s not necessarily true, it does give you an indication of the number that a team with a history of excellent cap management wants to be at this time of year.
The Stamps are another team benefitting from going cheap on the the defensive line, with some added savings in the secondary after extending Tre Roberson in December and keeping $35,000 of his contract in 2021. Still, what defines Calgary is decent value across the board without any dramatic overpays at any position.
Empty war chest
5. Ottawa Redblacks projected spending: $5,229,100
The Redblacks’ front office spent time worrying about the Elks’ cap situation ahead of free agency, but their own spending spree has brought them close to the salary high-watermark. With the lack of talent that new GM Shawn Burke was facing, that was simply a necessary evil.
Of the projected 50 players used for this calculation, 18 are new to Ottawa this season. Among the highest price tags league-wide, franchise quarterback Jeremiah Masoli will command at least $450,000 if he plays every game next year and returning defensive tackle Cleyon Laing has $200,000 in hard money on the way.
Add in a few high-cost Canadian special teams additions like Llevi Noel ($127,000 hard) and Jackson Bennett ($85,000 hard) and you are right up against it.
Fortunately for R-Nation, all the heavy lifting has been done. They may have just enough room to bring back Micah Awe and that is about it.
4. Hamilton Tiger-Cats projected spending: $5,248,200
After losing two straight Grey Cups, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats are not sitting on their wallets in the hopes of a third appearance.
While many teams have found savings on the defensive side of the ball, the Tabbies have a combined $405,000 in hard money tied up in the defensive tackle trio of Dylan Wynn, Micah Johnson, and Ted Laurent, with plenty more on the table in likely incentives. Simoni Lawrence ($150,000 hard), Jovan Santos-Knox ($110,000 hard), Jumal Rolle ($117,000 hard) and Tunde Adeleke ($161,000 hard) haven’t come cheap either, making for a high-priced defensive unit.
Now fully committed to Dane Evans, the Ticats are once again spending like a contender to finally get over the hump.
3. Edmonton Elks projected spending: $5,248,500
Segments of the Elks’ roster are enough to give you a stroke, with unproven NFL journeyman Daniel Ross set to make $127,000 in hard money for what will presumably be a backup defensive tackle role. However, Edmonton isn’t in as bad a shape overall as Shawn Burke might have you believe.
Other Chris Jones’ specials, like Duron Carter, Matt Elam, Adarius Bowman, Manny Arceneaux and presumably Martavis Bryant, will come in at or near the league minimum. That allowed him to throw $305,000 at Kenny Lawler without worry, particularly given Jones’ ruthless history of renegotiating contracts.
Until recently, the Green and Gold were lower down this list, but sometimes spending is necessary. The recent signing of Sergio Castillo has added another large contract, but also considerable peace of mind in the kicking game, his 2022 contract number is in the $135,000 range.
2. Toronto Argonauts projected spending: $5,304,400
Fan outrage is often misinformed and misdirected, but in the case of the Toronto Argonauts it appears the rumours are true. While there is no telling what their ultimate number will end up being, the Argos are poised to exceed the CFL salary cap as their roster currently stands.
All across the roster, Toronto is paying top dollar for players. Defensive end Ja’Gared Davis will rake in upwards of $230,000, national running back Andrew Harris comes with a $165,000 price tag and linebacker Wynton McManis should have $160,000 coming his way, but there are certain position groups that stand out.
In the defensive backfield, as many as five Argos could reasonably expect to make $100,000 or more, including $150,000 for Royce Metchie. Meanwhile, Dariusz Bladek, Philip Blake, Shane Richards and Justin Lawrence all commanded decent guaranteed money and significant playtime incentives along the offensive line, though who will start remains uncertain.
The health status of Juwan Brescacin and suspension of Chris Edwards could provide some cap relief to start the year, but the team may need to fiddle with a few contracts to feel comfortable on opening day.
Editor’s Note: The Argos were originally the top team on this list with $5,414,400 in projected spending. After publishing, the team released starting right tackle Jamal Campbell ahead of a $7,500 offseason bonus. Campbell was expected to earn $200,000 next year and his release has moved the team much closer to the projected cap. (Campbell will still cost the team $7,500 based on a previous bonus.)
1. Winnipeg Blue Bombers projected spending: $5,310,300
When you are back-to-back Grey Cup champions, keeping your veteran core together doesn’t come cheaply — even when your stars aren’t maximizing their market value.
Even with Lawler and Andrew Harris now in different cities, the Bombers will be hovering around the cap threshold after making Zach Collaros the highest-paid player in the CFL at $550,000. With a crew of returning all-stars, many of whom demanded raises, there aren’t many areas on the roster where the team doesn’t have a substantial financial commitment.
Due to inconsistent information, I’ve chosen not to include current injuries in my calculations. In the case of Winnipeg, we can expect safety Brandon Alexander to start the year on the six-game injured list, resulting in some savings. Unfortunately though, the all-star’s new deal is only slated to be worth $77,000 this year, meaning it won’t free up much room compared to a rookie.