On the Forthcoming CBA Negotiations

Published on September 2, 2013 2:05 PM by dbo.

The current Collective Bargaining Agreement between the CFL and its member clubs and the Canadian Football League Players’ Association expires after the 2013 season. Signed before the 2010 season, the four year deal was purposely arranged to expire before the introduction of the next television contract. Formal negotiations will not likely begin until the upcoming offseason where the league will be negotiating from an unprecedented level of growth, revenue and stability. How this new contract should be structured and what it should bring for the league and the players is already a hot topic across the land. An examination of the possible priorities of both parties as well as the desires of external interests is laid out below.

Update: Revisited my thoughts here based on new information.

Update 2: Reloaded thoughts based on new information April 2014

Possible Player Priorities

  • Increase the salary cap
  • Increase pre and post-season compensation
  • Increase the minimum salary
  • Increased benefits - medical, pension and travel allowance (per diem)
  • No job loss through roster changes or classification changes

Players Not Likely Interested In

  • Adding jobs/increased rosters
  • Public salaries

Possible League/Club Priorities

  • Increase the minimum salary
  • Increase the salary cap
  • Expand rosters/practice rosters
  • Increase work hours/access to players
  • Import ratio changes/end Canadian QB discrimination by exclusion

League/Clubs Not Likely Interested In

  • Abolishing the club option year of the standard player contract
  • Public negotiation lists
  • Public salaries

Outside Priorities (Fans and Media)

Increased Compensation

It may be surprising to think that all parties want increased compensation. Of course the players want bigger pay checks. The owners also want to increase compensation in order to attract and retain quality players. The difference between the two groups may be where the increase in compensation should be made and by how much.

The players, with all voting members veterans of at least a year, will likely prefer more emphasis on increasing the salary cap to benefit themselves with only small increases to the minimum salary. Before prioritizing minimum salary increases the players may be more interested in negotiating increases in post-season compensation or benefits. The owners, wanting to attract new talent, may prefer an increase in the salary cap with a large jump in the minimum salary.

This seems logical, however not all players are thinking this way. Angus Reid of the BC Lions says the focus should be on increasing the minimum salary as much as possible with any salary cap increase to allow all players to dedicate themselves to football year round and not increase the discrepancy in pay between players. Reid speaks for himself on this matter, not for the Players’ Association or a group of players, but it is interesting to see this viewpoint be put forth from a player.

The amount of money coming to the players over the course of the agreement will also be a point of negotiation I believe. If we use the common estimate of $34 million per year from the new television agreement, divided by the nine teams each receives $3.7 million per season (ignoring the expansion fee for the Ottawa RedBlacks in these calculations) from the broadcast agreement itself. Under the previous agreement, each team was receiving approximately $2 million per season in total league disbursements. A $15 million per season agreement would see each team provided with $1.875 million per year, so approximately $100,000 to $200,000 in other revenue disbursements. Based on this it could be expected each team could receive $4 million in league disbursements in the first year of this deal 2014 with these disbursements increasing as league revenues (sponsorship, licensing, Grey Cup and sponsorship revenue) increase. This is about double what teams are receiving today.

Commissioner Mark Cohon has stated that the new broadcast deal will place all teams in the black. That won’t happen if the new money is all allocated to new expenses for players like some wish. The question is how much should be allocated to player commitments to be fair. Comments from players regarding the new deal hint that they expect to get perhaps a 50% share of that windfall as equal partners. There is the increased revenue streams for some clubs from new stadiums and the overall growth in popularity of the league that the players see, allowing them to target this one revenue stream and challenging the clubs to use other revenues to remain prosperous.

So the players may be demanding an increase of $1 million to the salary cap, perhaps gradually increased over the life of the agreement. It is hard to say how the league will react to this without knowing the other conditions.

Increasing the average salary has other ramifications. The playoff compensation is set to match the average game cheque amount. In order for this to not result in a drop in pay for more players, it needs to be increased. The matching pension contribution is another area that will be considered for increases. Everything will be under scrutiny, including travel allowances and other benefits. There is only so much money to go around, so there won’t be increases in these areas without impacting the amount of money available in salaries.

Playoff and Grey Cup compensation are not tied to the revenue of the television contract, so there is the opportunity to consider them separately. There is also fewer players receiving this compensation so the league may be fine with increases in this area to match the rise of the regular game cheque.

Increased Rosters

It is not likely the players will be interested in increasing rosters and splitting the pie with more players. The league and teams, however, may want to add roster spots, selling it on the basis of providing a better product. One former player and current commentator is already advocating an increase of 4 spots on the active roster. If we assume an increase in the minimum salary to $50,000 and 4 roster spots, that is a minimum of $200,000 in new salaries, or $3,700 per the existing 53 roster spots.

This will be an interesting point of negotiation to see what the league will offer in return for an increase if the players are against. If they’ve add $200,000 or some other figure to the salary cap to accommodate the new salaries, the players know this money is available even if rosters aren’t increased.

Player Access

With an increase is salaries, including the minimum salary, the league may want more access to players both during the season and during the off-season. If it is agreed the minimum salary rises to a level to allow all players to be year-round football players, voluntary off-season access may be expected to increase. At the same time, if players are being paid at a level of full time players, then the expectation for access greater than 4.5 hours per day may be there.

Ratio changes

On the radar since the last agreement, the league may want to open the roster ratio discussion with the Players’ Association. The league’s discourse on the Canadian QB topic has been limited due to the roster ratio which falls under the Collective Bargaining Agreement. The CFLPA has not had an interest in negotiating changes to the ratio outside of the CBA renewal process. This will be the first opportunity for it to be discussed in the broad context of the whole agreement.

The CFLPA membership will be hesitant to adjust the ratio over fear of what its impact on jobs will be. There have been all kinds of suggestions on how to change the ratio. Adding a designated Canadian QB spot or a more complex rule granting additional benefits (be they salary cap or roster bonuses) will not be looked at in my opinion. I believe the only solution proposed will be the change to a 21 import, 21 non-import roster ratio, eliminating the status exemption for the quarterback position. This will not guarantee spots to Canadian QBs across the league, but it will ensure a Canadian QB with the skills necessary will receive a fair opportunity. However, such a change and keeping the same roster size eliminates an import position from the current 19 + 3 quarterbacks. It will be seen whether the players are interested in such a change, which essentially eliminates an import spot or whether something else will be proposed.


Some priorities for the fans and media will not be on the radar for either party in the negotiations. These include abolishing the club option year of the standard player contract, creating public negotiation lists and publicizing salaries.

There is a belief that the option year contract is antiquated and needs to be done away with. I don’t think the league is going to have a change of heart on this policy that provides their teams with continuity of players. The Players’ Association also won’t hold this in a high priority since it mostly is demanded by new players who are not part of the membership. However, the recent court challenge over the improper execution of the option year for Chris Williams may make it a issue with the CFLPA membership.

Public negotiations lists does nothing for either the league or players. In fact, it is not even a bargained item. Negotiations lists will remain private because their contents are too volatile to present publicly. Replacing negotiation lists with an annual import draft is also non-sensical due to the number of import players graduating each year, their intentions being unclear and their careers in the CFL often starting years after graduating and even after being out of football.

Public salaries are also not likely to be on either parties negotiating lists. The current allowance for private salary surveys satisfies all needs and there is no reason for either party to demand they be public for no benefit to either organization.

The media would also like the CFL to reign more control over a player’s off-season activities, like Chad Owens foray into MMA indicated. It is not likely this will be added to the CBA, but be left to individual teams to negotiate on contracts.

A Guess

Guessing wildly at what each party might start negotiations with, you can decide what the outcome might be.

Players’ Proposal

  • 3 year proposal with two optional 1 year extensions available to the players association
  • immediate increase in salary cap by $400,000 to $4.8 million
  • current contracts are automatically provided a 4% increase on each of their remaining years
  • increase in salary cap by $250,000 in years 2 and 3
  • increase in salary cap by $100,000 in option years 4 and 5
  • immediate increase in the minimum salary by $10,000
  • increase in minimum salary by $2,500 in years 2 and 3
  • increase in minimum salary by $1,000 in option years 4 and 5
  • increase semi-final participation and playoff bye share to $4,400 per player increasing by $100 per year for the term of the agreement
  • increase final participation share to $4,600 per player increasing by $100 per year for the term of the agreement
  • increase Grey Cup runner-up share to $10,000 and Grey Cup winner share to $20,000
ItemYear 1Year 2Year 3Year 4Year 5Total
Salary Cap (for 9 teams)$3.6 million$2.25 million$2.25 million$900,000$900,000$9.9 million
Semi-Final/Bye (for 46 players)$276,000$27,600$27,600$27,600$27,600$386,400
Finals (for 46 players)$184,000$18,400$18,400$18,400$18,400$257,600
Grey Cup (for 46 players)$138,000$138,000
Total$4.198 million$2.296 million$2.296 million$946,000$946,000$10.682 million

Owners’ Proposal

  • 5 year proposal
  • annual increase to the salary cap by $200,000
  • expand active roster by 2 players from 42 to 44 (maintain 4 player reserve list)
  • adjust roster requirements to 22 non-imports, 22 import players (eliminate quarterback clause)
  • permanently expand practice rosters to 10 players, no more than 6 import players. Practice roster expansion of additional 5 players, all of which may be imports.
  • immediate increase in the minimum salary by $10,000 to $55,000
  • annual increase in the minimum salary of $2,000 for the remaining 4 years of agreement
  • increase semi-final participation and playoff bye share to $4,000 per player increasing by $100 per year for the term of the agreement
  • increase final participation share to $4,200 per player increasing by $100 per year for the term of the agreement
  • increase Grey Cup runner-up share to $9,000 and Grey Cup winner share to $18,000
  • increase the player workday from 4.5 hours to 5 hours.
ItemYear 1Year 2Year 3Year 4Year 5Total
Salary Cap (for 9 teams)$1.8 million$1.8 million$1.8 million$1.8 million$1.8 million$9.0 million
Semi-Final/Bye (for 48 players)$172,800$28,800$28,800$28,800$28,800$288,000
Finals (for 48 players)$115,200$19,200$19,200$19,200$19,200$192,000
Grey Cup (for 48 players)$144,000$144,000
Total$2.232 million$1.848 million$1.848 million$1.848 million$1.848 million$9.624 million


  • I repeat, these are guesses. I am not a labour negotiator, lawyer, or other “in-the-know” person. I am very likely to be way off.
  • These are opening positions, which in negotiations are not your final offer.
  • I haven’t delved into benefits and other smaller components of the CBA, just the major components.
  • Choose a shorter contract length with options to allow the CFLPA to renegotiate if things continue to get rosier and other revenue (ticket, sponsorship and ancillary revenue) rises faster than anticipated.
  • A large, immediate jump in the salary cap with a corresponding 4% increase in active contract amounts. This allows all players to reap the benefit of the salary cap increase instead of it going to only players who are becoming free agents. It also prevents all players from asking for contract renegotiations and extensions in the first year of the agreement.
  • Smaller salary cap increases in years 2 and 3 and modest increases in option years 4 and 5. This front loads a large part of the salary cap increase the players want.
  • Increase the minimum salary by $10,000 in the first year (to $55,000) and $2,500 in years 2 and 3 (to $60,000) followed by standard index increases of $1,000 per year (to $62,000).
  • Increase the player shares for playoff games by $1,000 per player to approximately match the new league average pay cheque. Increase the Grey Cup pay cheque by $2,000 per player for the runner up and $4,000 for the winners.
  • No changes to roster sizes, or import classifications and limits.
  • No changes to work day.
  • I considered, but couldn’t see a scenario where players would demand rookie players receive training camp/pre-season compensation, even though it is outside the salary cap. Since no rookie players vote on the CBA, I see this a difficult item for the players to add.
  • The current per diem of $115 is higher than the NHL’s 2012-13 per diem of $100 (Article 19), so it is competitive and I don’t see it changing.
  • A longer contract length that matches the length of the television contract that begins in 2014.
  • An annual increase to the salary cap of $200,000, or $1 million over the length of the contract.
  • An increase to the active roster of 2 players.
  • An abolishment of quarterback classifications, but with the roster increase, no loss of import jobs. An increase of 2 non-import positions per team, or 18 non-import players (plus the added roster of the Ottawa franchise).
  • Increase the practice roster size from 9 to 10 (no more than 6 imports)
  • Increase the minimum salary by $10,000 in the first year (to $55,000) and $2,000 in the remaining years (to $63,000).
  • Increase the player shares for playoff games by $600 per player. Increase the Grey Cup pay cheque by $1,000 per player for the runner up and $2,000 for the winners.
  • Increase the work-day from 4.5 hours to 5 hours, allowing greater access to players for greater pay.


This will be an interesting negotiation, of which we won’t hear the details if history is an indication, but we will see the final outcome. We can expect an increase in the salary cap, will it come front loaded or spread over the length of the agreement? Will the players want a bump to existing contracts to provide for players who have active contracts over this change in CBA? I expect the minimum salary to increase by $10,000 to $15,000. Will it come all at once and will it be more? Will the league ask for and get roster size changes or increased access to players? Will the players want changes to the practice roster? Will the players settle for less?

Other factors may come into play, such as the club option year and certified agents which has seen the league and CFLPA in court this year over the Chris Williams situation. Will the players use their leverage in this negotiation to try to eliminate the club option? How will other items like performance enhancing drug testing, benefits, and training camp/pre-season pay factor into the negotiations? Everything can be increased and give and take everywhere, but there is only so much money to spread around, and spreading it everywhere leaves it thin. It will be an interesting process and I hope the league and players are able to come to an agreement without threats or labour stoppage actions.


On the Forthcoming CBA Negotiations was published on September 2, 2013 2:05 PM by dbo.

3,018 words.

This article is categorized under League and tagged with cba, compensation, finances and roster.

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