3DownNation has undertaken a project to take fans behind the scenes ahead of the 2023 season.
Over the next week, our publication will be unveiling the CFL’s highest-paid players from each position group. It starts with the game’s most important position and check back for the league’s top-earning running backs and fullbacks as all the groups will be done.
“Hard money” is a CFL term used to refer to any portion of a contract that is paid even if a player is hurt. This includes base salary, signing bonus, housing money, workout bonuses, travel allowances, off-season roster bonuses, and report-and-pass bonuses.
Any additional portions of the contract — often referred to as “playtime or incentives” — are outlined in part or in full in the paragraph accompanying each player. These bonuses are often tied to how much a player sees the field, yardage production, touchdowns, being named an all-star or winning a league award.
Please note that “N” denotes national players (ie. Canadians) and “A” denotes American players.
1) Zach Collaros, Winnipeg Blue Bombers (A)
Hard money: $600,000
Maximum value: $600,000
The CFL’s two-time reigning Most Outstanding Player will be the league’s highest-paid player again in 2023, earning the full value of his contract in hard money. Collaros had a $300,000 signing bonus allocated for this year to sign a three-year extension with Winnipeg in October 2022.
2) Bo Levi Mitchell, Hamilton Tiger-Cats (A)
Hard money: $502,000
Maximum value: $520,000
The two-time CFL M.O.P. received a $300,000 signing bonus to sign a three-year contract with the Ticats after his rights were acquired from the Calgary Stampeders via trade. The vast majority of his new contract is hard money, though Mitchell can also earn $1,000 each time he plays more than 51 percent of his team’s offensive snaps in a game.
3) Trevor Harris, Saskatchewan Roughriders (A)
Hard money: $500,000
Maximum value: $500,000
The 36-year-old signed a two-year contract with the Riders during free agency and the terms of the deal couldn’t be much simpler. He earned a $250,000 signing bonus with the rest of his money being paid in base salary, housing money, a travel bonus, and community appearances.
4) Jeremiah Masoli, Ottawa Redblacks (A)
Hard money: $425,000
Maximum value: $433,000
The nine-year veteran signed an extension with Ottawa through 2024 and received a $175,000 signing bonus to do so. He will earn a $5,000 bonus if he is named the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player in 2023 along with a $10,000 travel bonus.
5) Jake Maier, Calgary Stampeders (A)
Hard money: $405,000
Maximum value: $447,000
The new face of the franchise in Cowtown had a $210,000 signing bonus allocated for this year to ink an extension through 2024. His contract for 2023 includes a $2,000 bonus each time he plays more than 51 percent of Calgary’s offensive snaps in a game as well as smaller bonuses for being named a West Division all-star, a CFL all-star and the league’s M.O.P.
6) Taylor Cornelius, Edmonton Elks (A)
Hard money: $392,000
Maximum value: $432,000
The dual-threat passer signed an extension through 2024 last fall, which included a $106,500 signing bonus. He received a $50,000 off-season roster bonus on Jan. 1, will collect another $46,500 after reporting to training camp and passing his physical, and will earn an additional $2,222 each time he takes more than 51 percent of Edmonton’s offensive snaps during the regular season.
7) Cody Fajardo, Montreal Alouettes (A)
Hard money: $371,000
Maximum value: $425,000
The former West Division M.O.P. collected a $125,000 signing bonus to join the Als following a four-year run with the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Most of his compensation is in the form of hard money, though he will earn a $3,000 bonus each time he plays more than 51 percent of Montreal’s offensive snaps in a game this season.
8) Vernon Adams Jr., B.C. Lions (A)
Hard money: $285,000
Maximum value: $350,000
The six-year veteran received a $115,000 signing bonus to ink a new deal with the Lions and will collect another $20,000 when he takes his first snap in 2023. He will also receive a $2,500 bonus each time he plays at least one percent of B.C.’s offensive snaps in each of the club’s regular season games.
9) Nick Arbuckle, Ottawa Redblacks (A)
Hard money: $130,000
Maximum value: $229,000
The 29-year-old received a $25,000 signing bonus to remain as the backup in Ottawa and has a number of other incentives he could reach depending on how much he plays. He will earn $2,500 each time he plays more than 51 percent of the Redblacks’ offensive snaps in a game, $20,000 if he does so for seven games and $25,000 for 14 games.
10) Matthew Shiltz, Hamilton Tiger-Cats (A)
Hard money: $125,000
Maximum value: $205,000
The dual-threat passer collected a $20,000 signing bonus to re-sign with the Ticats and serve as the backup behind new franchise quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell. His deal includes some large incentives he could unlock if Mitchell misses games for whatever reason, including a $10,000 bonus for playing over 51 percent of Hamilton’s offensive snaps in eight games, $14,000 for doing the same in 14 games and $30,000 for 17 games.
11) Dane Evans, B.C. Lions (A)
Hard money: $94,000
Maximum value: $151,000
Evans takes a $300,000-plus pay cut from what he made with the Tiger-Cats last year after a season marred by turnovers, including a league-high 16 interceptions. The 29-year-old reworked his contract for a trade to the west coast to fit in as a backup to Vernon Adams Jr. He’ll get $10,000 for playing one percent of any offensive, defensive or special teams play. If he’s forced into a starting role, Evans can earn $2,000 per game for playing 51 percent of all the offensive plays.
12) Caleb Evans, Montreal Alouettes (A)
Hard money: $90,000
Maximum value: $364,700
The 24-year-old has one of the league’s most incentive-laden deals as he will collect $5,000 for starting and playing more than 51 percent of Montreal’s offensive snaps in five games, $10,000 for doing so in 10 games and $30,000 for 15 games. He will also collect $2,000 each time he plays more than 51 percent of Montreal’s offensive snaps in a game this year.
13) Dominique Davis, B.C. Lions (A)
Hard money: $90,000
Maximum value: $143,000
The seven-year veteran will collect a $2,000 bonus each time he starts and plays more than 51 percent of B.C.’s offensive snaps in a game and another $10,000 bonus if he plays 1 percent of an offensive, defensive or specials teams snaps over the course of the season. He received a $5,000 signing bonus to join the Lions following a one-year stint with the Als.
14) Chad Kelly, Toronto Argonauts (A)
Hard money: $87,000
Maximum value: $248,000
The new starting quarterback in The Six has relatively little hard money on his deal but there are plenty of incentives he’ll have the opportunity to hit as Toronto’s new QB1. He will collect a $3,333 bonus each time he plays more than 51 percent of his team’s offensive snaps in a game, $10,000 if he throws for 4,000 yards and $15,000 if he throws for 5,000 yards, among others.
15) Dru Brown, Winnipeg Blue Bombers (A)
Hard money: $82,000
Maximum value: $97,000
The Oklahoma State product has a $75,000 base salary with $7,000 in housing money and will collect $500 each time he plays more than 51 percent of Winnipeg’s offensive plays in a game.