Rick Zamperin: Money talks, and some CFL players walk

Toronto Argonauts running back James Wilder Jr. (32) celebrates his touchdown against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, in Hamilton on Friday, June 16, 2017.
Toronto Argonauts running back James Wilder Jr. (32) celebrates his touchdown against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, in Hamilton on Friday, June 16, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Peter Power

The headlines that a few Canadian Football League (CFL) players are making this offseason could very well play a significant role in what happens next offseason.

What is happening?

Two members of the Grey Cup champion Toronto Argonauts have released statements to 3DownNation, in short, saying that they want out of their current contracts to pursue a job in the much more lucrative National Football League (NFL).

Can you blame them? No. Careers in professional football are extremely short in comparison to what we would consider a ‘normal’ job.

The Argos hold a team option on the contracts of defensive end Victor Butler and running back James Wilder Junior, meaning that Toronto has the option to keep both American players for one more season or release them from their contracts. They can also trade the player’s rights to another CFL team.

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But Argonauts general manager Jim Popp clearly wants to retain both Butler and Wilder Jr. under their existing deals valued at $60,000 and $56,000 a season, respectively.

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Where does that leave both players?  Well, the duo can stay with the Boatmen in 2018 and take another run at a championship or sit out and raise a stink.

Butler and Wilder Jr. have chosen the latter, claiming the team is preventing them from earning more money in the United States.

And they are absolutely right. But they also knew that signing their current contracts would keep them in the CFL for up to two years and that the NFL will not touch a player who is under contract with another league.

Popp can release both players and allow them to crack the NFL but then he wouldn’t be doing his job, which is building the best team he can.

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2018 marks the final season of the five year collective bargaining agreement between the CFL and CFL Players Association and the issue of contract length, minimum salary and the salary cap will again be key issues on the table.

I’m all for increasing the salary cap from the current $5.2 million. Why not make it an even $6 million? It’s not my money we’re spending here so I can understand if the owners balk at that figure.

If the owners want to keep the cap where it is then the answer should be to raise the floor. Make the league minimum, say $70,000 a season, instead of the current $54,000.

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Back to that $6 million cap idea.  That would give a 56-man roster an average annual salary of $107,142.86.  Not every player is going to hit that figure, not with injured lists, practice rosters, mid-season free agent pickups, etc.

Another option that I think has some merit is a salary maximum. If the league minimum is $70,000 then why not make the max $400,000? By the way, the NFL’s minimum rookie salary in 2018 will be $480,000.

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Now, let’s not kid ourselves here. A higher minimum salary wouldn’t stop American players from wanting to bolt for the greener pastures of the National Football League. The disparity in pay is absurd.

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But the CFL should be inclined to offer a more than decent paycheque to players as opposed to changing the CBA to allow one-year contracts and run the risk of the constant roster jumping (or league jumping) that would result.

As per usual in these cases, it all comes down to money. And as it stands right now, the players must realize that there is only so much moolah to go around in the CFL. Canada does not have four national TV networks that spend $5 billion on CFL television rights like the NFL enjoys.

If American players are willing to pursue their dream of playing in the NFL and they choose to play in the CFL in order to get there, they should have to play by the current rules.

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