Q&A part one with CFLPA president Solomon Elimimian: guaranteed contracts will ‘definitely be impactful for the players’

Photo: Michael Scraper/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

Solomon Elimimian spent 10 years terrorizing opposing offences as one of the fiercest linebackers in the CFL as a member of the B.C. Lions and Saskatchewan Roughriders. After retiring in 2021, the 2014 Most Outstanding Player was voted into the role of Canadian Football League Players’ Association president.

In part one of his sit down with 3DownNation, Elimimian shares the players’ perspective on the monumental seven-year collective bargaining agreement and what guaranteed contracts mean for the players.

Justin Dunk: The league and CFLPA signed a landmark seven-year CBA that includes — for the first time in league history — guaranteed money. How impactful is that for the players?

Solomon Elimimian: “It’s definitely impactful for the players. Our belief is the players are the stars of the show and you want to highlight them. We heard from our great fans about continuity. For us, it’s about helping our members stay in their cities as long as possible. I was fortunate to play nine years in B.C. and I was able to form a lot of relationships to help me in the business world outside of football. So I see the benefit of members staying in the city as long as they can and guaranteed contracts will definitely help with that.”

Dunk: We’re talking about substantial money. Zach Collaros signed a three-year extension with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the final year of that deal is partially guaranteed for $300,000. No matter what happens, the team could release him after one or two years, he gets that money. That makes general managers, talent evaluators, and coaches really look into this more if they are going to give players that kind of money. What type of stability does it give players?

Elimimian: “It’s huge. For the next few years, you’re going to know that Zach is going to be the leader of that team. He’s going to be there so you can go out and market Zach, you can go sell season tickets and jerseys because you want the fans to make sure they get value in the money that they spend. They can go and get a Zach Collaros jersey knowing that he’s going to be with the franchise and now the franchise can go and market Zach around the community.”

“Right now we have three guys that have signed guaranteed contracts and we’re talking to other agents that are discussing guaranteed-portion contracts with their clients and their team so hopefully this thing continues and snowballs.”

“I just have to be patient. I’m someone that wants to go, go, go, let’s get everybody, all our stars, guaranteed. I know it’s going to take time but the Winnipeg Blue Bombers did right by Zach. Jake Mayer in Calgary and [Taylor] Cornelius over there in Edmonton, they both have guaranteed portions in their contracts.”

Dunk: How difficult was that to get done to get the guaranteed money? And on the flip side of that, how do you think that can impact your players long term?

Elimimian: “It is tricky because the teams are going to approach bargaining as what’s best for the team. We’re going to look at it from how do you protect our members? How do you make sure the members get an equal share of the pie? But there’s another component there and that’s the fans.”

“I think that’s where the guaranteed contracts, the guaranteed portions, plays a role and that is for the fans, which are consuming the product. You always have to cater to the fans and I think that we were able to have really good conversations about how this is a win-win for all parties. A rising tide lifts all boats. That’s how we see our guaranteed contracts. It’s good for the players, it’s good for the teams and it’s good for our fans.”

Dunk: That rising tide has also shifted to the salary cap and the minimum salary. So how does that help out players across the league who are coming in or guys that are making their way up the salary tiers?

Elimimian: “We also instituted revenue sharing so players have an equity piece of the pie, so to speak now. That’s going to include all revenues, that’s going to include Grey Cup as well. We’ll be able to go in and audit all revenues and we’ll set 2022 as a baseline, and revenue sharing will take effect in 2024. Whatever that difference is, wherever the new money is, we’ll be able to allocate a portion where we see fit. So if we want to raise minimums, if you want to put it in guys’ pensions, increased playoff pay. Whatever our members are saying, we want to see this increased, we have a role in doing that and we can do that as we see fit.”

“So it’s a beautiful thing. It’s partnership. We heard this word thrown around so many times and you really can’t have partnership without equity. Now we are a stakeholder in the game, in the CFL, and I think it’s going to help us work more closely together. Everything’s more aligned because we see things from the vantage of what’s best for everybody. How do we increase revenues? Obviously, player safety is a primary goal of ours, but also now increased revenues because the more revenue the CFL makes, the more revenue our players make. So it’s a positive thing.”

Dunk: Does the PA feel like they’re true partners with the league now, because of the revenue sharing, or is there still more work to be done?

Elimimian: “There’s still more work to be done but one other thing was we negotiated a seat on the venture’s board. The venture’s board, which will include Genius Sports, is in charge of new ideas and increasing the revenues of the CFL. So we’ll be able to understand the long-term goals of the CFL and also provide insight, provide comments because our objectives are aligned now. I think having a seat on that venture’s board is going to be very important to making sure that we also know what’s going on. And we also can help with the stability and increased revenues of the CFL.”

Dunk: How do you think the guaranteed money, salary cap going up, minimum salary going up, the partnership with CFL, and the seat on the board, helps the CFL going forward?

Elimimian: “For them, they have seven years of labour peace. For them, they can focus on the business. Remember in 2019, we had negotiations as well; 2020 the season was cancelled, but we also were negotiating as well, due to COVID; and 2021, it was a truncated season, we played 14 games, and we negotiated a deal as well for that truncated 14-game season. It’s been tough for the CFL to actually maybe focus on the business, dealing with maybe the instability of not having labour peace. So they have seven years of runway to focus on business, knowing that they won’t have to fight us.”

“For us, we can be aligned, be able to provide insight and be able to help drive revenues as well. That’s what the players want. The players want to be part of the game. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, our members are the best. They’re in the communities. They’re doing many events with fans, with kids, they’re very accessible. They put a lot of effort into these communities and they are the stars of the show, and we want to be able to highlight that. I think we’ve done that in this collective agreement. Is it perfect? No, but I think that there are fundamental pieces in there that will help us grow to our shared common goal of raising revenues and really building this thing out to where everyone can profit.”

Justin Dunk is a football insider, sports reporter and anchor.