All CFL salaries are paid in Canadian dollars, which fluctuates in value on the foreign currency exchange.
The CFL has a $5.45 million salary cap for the 2023 season and a roster size of 56 players allowing the average mean (average) salary to be calculated by the formula (sum of elements) / (number of elements). Without detailed player salary information, it is impossible to calculate the salary median (middle) or mode (most frequent) which would provide more meaningful representations of the salary sample along with the mean. The average salary of all starting players would be much higher than the average of all players so the mathematical average is much different than what the "average" player's contract states.
Player salaries by position, age, years of experience or team are not known to the public. The CFL does not have a pay scale by position or experience, though it has introduced a scale for draft picks. Individual player salaries are not available for the league or specific teams. An exploration into salary disclosure and the reasons behind the lack of public salary information was conducted by Dan Barnes in 2019.
While it is normally characterized as part of the league's desire for secrecy and information control that has resulted in the CFL not publishing salaries (which is out of line with the majority of professional sports), I believe this to be a false dichotomy. In this writer's opinion, the publication of salary information is a CBA issue as there needs to be agreement from both sides to make salaries public (there is a case to be made that the CFLPA could do it unilaterally, but they would certainly need approval from a majority of their members, and having those conditions in the CBA resolves issues over yearly fluctuations in membership). Such an item has little value either offered or received in negotiations, so the status quo remains. It seem unlikely that CBA negotiations would even bring such an issue to the table when so many other issues bring actual value to the parties involved.
It can be stated the CFL player mean income is over two times the Canadian national median income for males in the 25-34 age range (latest interactive tool). While they pale in comparison to some professional athletes, CFL players are paid more than the general population in their age group on average, most players would be in the top 10% income earners in Canada while the highest paid players are in the top federal and provincial income tax brackets and the top 1% (over $244,800 in 2018) income earners in Canada.
The minimum player salary as dictated by the Collective Bargaining Agreement is $65,000 in 2020 and 2021 for American and National players and $54,000 for Global players. See Section 9.01 of the CBA for full details. The 2019 CBA introduces a rookie salary structure for Nationals first contract consisting of 2 years plus a team option. A Max. Min salary (interpret as you will) is defined as $65,000 for the first two years of the contract, with a maximum housing allowance or signing/roster bonus of $7,500 per season and maximum 50% + 1 bonus based on snaps of $7,500 per season for a maximum earnings of $80,000 for first and second round picks in their first two seasons, with the third season base salary not exceeding the second year base salary by more that 10%. Third and fourth round picks have similar restrictions, except the housing allowance or signing/roster bonus is capped at $5,000 per season for a maximum earnings of $75,000. Fifth round picks and higher along with undrafted Nationals have the same restrictions except the optional housing allowance or signing/roster bonus for the first two years of the contract are capped at $2,500 limiting earnings to a maximum of $70,000 per season. There are no restrictions on the amount of contracts or bonuses for American players signing their first CFL contract. See Section 9.02 of the CBA for more details.
Base salary plus pre-season compensation is paid over a five-month span, with playoff bonuses topping off compensation for an additional month of play for teams that qualify. Player salaries do not include earnings outside of football or endorsement and appearance fees.
A player's salary is divided and paid equally over the 18 games of the regular season (the game cheque). Once a standard player contract is signed, the player is entitled to the contract salary, no matter the roster he appears on (active, reserve, injured) except the suspended or disabled lists, until he is released. Starting in 2020, all Standard Player Contracts will contain both an Active Roster salary and a Practice Roster salary (Two Way Contract). See the CFL Roster Makeup chart for details on the CFL roster makeup.
Players are also compensated with a per diem when travelling, free and discounted tickets, playoff and Grey Cup compensation and pension contributions. Full obligations to players can be found in the Collective Agreement.
Per 2014 Article 11 of the CBA, players who qualified as a veteran of one year received $525/week, a veteran of two years $625/week and a veteran of three years or more $725/week for a minimum of three weeks of training camp/pre-season compensation. A pre-season subsistence allowance may also be provided to players.
Individual player salaries are not made public though you may be able to find media estimates in reports of player signings. Player salaries or averages by position are not known to the public. However, some light is shed in this 2011 Prime Time Sports interview (MP3, 13:43, 6.4MB), with then Toronto Argonaut coach and general manager Jim Barker in which he discusses the Canadian draft, player salary ranges by position, dealing with agents and more. This information ages quickly and the timeframe of this interview is to be considered regarding the statements made.
CFL team Salary Expenditure Cap floor and ceiling values are quoted in Canadian dollars, which fluctuates in value on the foreign currency exchange.
The CFL's player salary cap is defined as part of the Salary Management System framework. For the 2023 season, the CFL Maximum Salary Expenditure Cap (SEC) is $5.45 million per team. A schedule for the annual increases to the cap is laid out in the CBA. Further increases can be triggered by increased league revenue over a defined baseline. See the CBA for full details.
This cap applies to players' salaries and bonuses, excluding pre and post season compensation, per diems, pension payments and players on the 6-game injured list. The SEC is the maximum amount teams may pay in player compensation. Exceeding the cap results in fines progressing with the overage and the potential loss of draft picks. The framework also sets out the number of players allowed under contract, roster sizes, and practice roster make-up.
Players placed on the 6-game injured list have their salaries during the time they are on the list excluded from salary cap calculations. For example, a player who is placed on the 6-game injured list for one term during the season will have one third (6/18 = 1/3) of his game salary excluded from salary cap calculations. Salary exclusions are applied only on the amount paid during while on the injured list and do not apply to previously paid lump sum bonuses or deferred salary. A player removed from the 6-game injured list in advance of 6 games has all his salary while he was on the 6-game injured list count against the cap; in other words it was like he was on the 1-game injured list during this period. There is no exclusion of player salaries from the salary cap who are on the 1-game injured list.
The SMS defines a ceiling for salaries, but also defines a floor in Article 14.09 Minimum Player Compensation of the CBA. The minimim Member clubs must pay in player salaries each year is the maximum amount less $600,000.
The SMS system includes player contracts only, coach salaries are not included. The SEC calculations include all applicable payments in a calendar year, from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31. To understand exactly what is included against the cap and what is not, we can examine Article 14.09, paragraph 3 under Salary Management System of the 2014 CBA, which outlines the compensation which will not be included in the SEC amount.
In the event that the C.F.L. and the Member Clubs implement a salary expenditure cap for player compensation, it shall not include compensation paid to players and compensation paid for player benefits with respect to pre-season compensation, pension plan, travel allowance, play-off compensation, Grey Cup compensation, compensation paid to players named to the Six Game Injury List, other than players duly removed from the six game injury list in accordance with Section 14.02 of this article, compensation paid to players for the reasonable fair market value of services other than practicing and playing professional football; compensation paid to players on the practice roster in excess of 10 Players per Member Club, compensation paid to Players on the Practice Roster for housing or housing allowance and compensation paid to players in the form of gifts, free services, travel and items or services of value provided by Member Clubs to players provided that such payments to an individual player shall not exceed $2,000.00 in the aggregate in a single year and such payments to all players by each Member Club shall not exceed $92,000.00 in a single year.
The current SMS was introduced in late 2006 with a $4.05 million cap for the 2007 season. This increased to $4.2 million for the 2008 season, $4.25 million for the 2010 season, $4.3 million for 2011, $4.35 million for the 2012 season, $5.0 million for 2014, $5.05 million for the 2015 season, $5.1 million for 2016 and $5.15 million in 2017.
Per Article 30.02 of the 2006 CBA players were entitled a minimum of 56% of the defined league gross revenue. Their salaries at the time of negotiation exceeded this amount. If this percentage were to fall below 56% the league would be required to pay the CFLPA the difference. These payments would not have counted against the salary cap, which was introduced after the 2006 CBA was ratified. This requirement was negotiated away in the 2010 CBA in exchange for immediate and scheduled cap increases.
The CFL Practice Agreement (see Appendix I of the CBA) allows the team and player to agree to a weekly salary (not tied to games). The Section 17.02 of the 2019 CBA sets minimum practice roster agreement compensation at $750/week ($15,750 over twenty-one weeks of regular season) plus housing or housing allowance. Housing or housing allowance is not counted against the salary cap, but practice roster salaries are.
Starting in 2020, all Standard Player Contracts will include both an Active Roster salary and Practice Roster salary (known as a two-way contract). For the contract to be registered, both salaries must be specified and agreed to by the signatories. In the event the team wants to remove the player from the Active Roster and place the player on the Practice Roster, the agreed to Practice Roster salary will be used and signing a separate Practice Roster agreement will not be required. To our knowledge, this does not exclude teams from signing players to Practice Roster agreements only during the season.
Per Article 14.09 of the 2019 CBA (page 50, paragraph 3 under Salary Management System), the 10 player practice roster salaries are included in the SMS but salaries of players during expanded practice rosters are not included (in excess of 10 players). Practice roster rules are defined under Article 17 of the CBA.
Teams must provide reasonable living accommodations for all players who do not reside in the location where training camp is held as noted in Article 6.01.08 of the 2010 CBA. The same article specifies that non-veteran players still on the roster (including injured lists and disabled list) at the end of training camp are entitled to a one-time $300 payment (as a roster bonus/housing allowance, I assume).
Teams had the option to pay the league minimum or higher (the amount on the standard player contract the player signed to attend training camp), however, by doing so for a practice roster player, the player was entitled to all the benefits of a regular player except post-season compensation as laid out in Section 17.02 of the CBA. It is speculated most full season practice roster players that transfered between the practice and active rosters as injury replacements are under a standard player contract, while players receiving an evaluation for periods up to 4 weeks were under the minimum practice roster agreement. Development players were also likely to receive the minimum practice roster salary.
Active roster players are not obligated by the CBA to receive any housing allowance after training camp nor is housing provided by the club except what is negotiated in an individual players contract. Therefore, it is not uncommon for players to share accommodations, either as a group of players sharing an apartment or other residence or boarding with a veteran player, although the practices in each CFL city will vary. It is possible that teams will arrange for new players to board with team boosters (see Michael Clemons — Pinball: The Making of a Canadian Hero), employees or alumni, but this will vary by city, year and player. It is likely the practices differ from team-to-team, city-to-city and year-to-year based on the local economic situation and salary growth under the parameters allowed by the CBA.
Prior to practice roster salary floor being codified in the 2014 CBA, most historical media reports stated practice roster pay was in the $500 per week range (2005, 2007, 2009, 2009), though $600 was also stated (2009). In Hamilton in 2011, Drew Edwards said practice roster players make $500 week, plus team provided shared housing and some meals. It is safe to say these are only accurate in a historical sense as $500/week has been quoted ( sorry, Google News archive search link no longer works) since the early 1990's.
In 2018, the CFL board of governors reinstated the ability of players entering the final year of their contract the ability to workout and sign with NFL teams during a specific window during the offseason, effective with contracts signed after August 20, 2018. Unlike prior arrangements, this seems to apply to any contract, not just option year contracts first-CFL contract players are required to sign. It is assumed, like with previous agreements, if a player signs with an NFL team, his CFL rights are retained by his team for the final year of his contract. This change was not retroactive and does not apply to contracts signed before the August 20, 2018 implementation.
Effective with the ratification of the 2014 CBA, all first CFL contract players must sign a standard player contract of one year, plus one additional year at the team's option, which effectively makes it a two year contract. This is contained in paragraph 15 of the standard player contract, which provides the member club an option to renew the contract on the same terms for another year at a minimum of 100% of the amount of the contract plus 100% of the amount of bonus payments specified in the contract, excluding any signing bonus. After fulfilling their option to renew a contract in this way, the member club will not have another option to renew the contract in this way. This option is available to member clubs for an additional year on any length of contract. There is no limit to the length of a contract. Starting in 2014, veteran players signing a CFL contract that is not their first are not required to have a team's option year added to the contract, therefore they may sign a single year contract. Teams must inform the player in writing before the expiry of the contract their intent to exercise their option to renew the contract. Players who do not have their option year picked up must be placed on waivers.
Prior to 2014, all CFL contracts included an additional year team option (minimum contract was for 2 years), regardless of the player's veteran status.
In 2019, the free agency period starts Feb. 12th, 12:00 pm noon EST. The unwritten guideline to determine the date appears to be the second Tuesday in February. This is the continuation of a moving free agency deadline that started in 2012. The CFL changed the start of free agency in 2014 to Feb. 11th with the agreement of the CFLPA to avoid it falling on the Feb. long weekend across much of Canada. In 2012, the league dictated the contracts would expire at 12:00 pm (noon) EST Feb. 15th. Prior to 2012, all CFL contracts expired on Feb. 16th, 12:01 AM EST after their term length has been achieved.
For the five year term of the 2019 CBA, playoff and Grey Cup compensation is as follows:
|First Place Standing (Bye)||$3,400|
|Division Championship Participation||$3,600|
|Grey Cup Runner-up||$8,000|
|Grey Cup Winner||$16,000|
This was last increased in 2012 by $100 for First Place Standing, Semi-Final Participation and Division Championship Participation over the 2011 amounts.
See Article 12 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement for full details.
The CBA provides playoff compensation to all active roster and injured list players, but not practice roster players. This payment comes from revenue from the playoff and Grey Cup games and a minimum of $469,200 is paid to 46-man rosters of 3 teams (2 semi-finalists, 1 bye) for each of the division semi-finals ($938,400 total), $331,200 to 2 teams for each of the division finals ($662,400 total) and $1.104 million for the Grey Cup. Practice roster players continue to receive the weekly pay stated in their practice roster agreement paid by their club. Practices for sharing playoff compensation will vary from year-to-year and team-to-team.
The 2006 CBA provided for Semi-Final participation/First Place Standing compensation starting at $3,000/player, increasing by $100/year for the last three years of the agreement. Final participation compensation started at $3,200/player, increasing to $3,500/player through the life of the agreement. Grey Cup runner-up compensation started at $7,000 in the first year of the agreement, increasing by $500/year for the next two years. Similarly, Grey Cup winner compensation started at $14,000 and increased by $1,000/year the next two years.
The 2002 CBA provided for a minimum of $2,800/player for Semi-Final participation/First Place Standing and $3,000/player for Final participation through the life of the agreement. However, players were entitled to 51% of the games net proceeds less the minimum compensation. See Article 12 of the 2002 CBA for the full details of the complicated expense formula. This was negotiated away in the 2006 CBA, perhaps because 51% of the games net proceeds did not exceed the minimum compensation owed to the players.
The 2002 CBA provided for $6,000/player for the Grey Cup losing team and $12,000/player for the winning Grey Cup team. There was no agreement to share the game's net proceeds.
The travel allowance for CFL players is defined in Article 25 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. For the term of the 2014 CBA the daily travel allowance is $115 for each day travelling for a pre-season, regular season, playoff or Grey Cup game.
The allowance is reduced by $30 for travelling days where the team provides a meal and by $50 on departure or return days where the departure time occurs after or before 12:00 noon respectively. See the CBA for the full details of the exceptions.
For comparison, this was higher than the base NHL per diem (Article 19 of the NHL-NHLPA 2013 CBA [pg 128]) established in 2013.
Introduced in 2019, the CFL has a football operations employee and salary cap. The cap for 2019 and 2020 was $2.588 million and limits coaches to 11 and other football operations staff to 14, excluding doctors and athletic therapists. Fines are in place for teams that exceed the cap and the loss of draft picks occur after exceeding the cap by $100,000. Personal fines are also possible, though in the first year, teams were self-reporting and only team fines were a possible punishment. Initial reports stated a coach limit of 11, football operations staff limit of 17, and total expenditures capped at $2.738 million. The cap was enacted to control the fastest expense growth area across the league, which outpaces revenue growth.
CFL coach salaries are not public. The coaching salary budgets of teams has increased substantially in the last 10 years, with coaching staff sizes increasing (from average of 5.7 in 2003 to 9.5 assistants in 2015), salaries increasing and more coaches in year-round positions.
Assistant coach salaries differ depending on the role. Offensive and defensive coordinators earn more than positional coaches. The salary offered will vary depending on experience and position. CFL assistant coaches can have long careers but live a nomadic existence that coaching requires. While there are many stories from the CFL of coaches working long hours and never leaving the stadium during the season, for some, the league is preferred for the work-life balance.
Head coaches earning more than players mirrors business practices where salaries of managers, directors, vice-presidents, etc. will exceed that of workers. Such is the real world.
CFL referees and other on-field officials are not full-time employees. However, they still devote a large time commitment to officiating. In addition to officiating CFL games, officials attend a training camp each year, participate in team training camp practices and scrimmages, and are evaluated each week. They may also work other levels of football. Current compensation for on-field officials is not public. Compensation, benefits and work conditions are negotiated by the Canadian Professional Football Officials Association and the first uniform contract was established in 2005 after the association was formed in 1996. Their latest contract was signed on the eve of the 2015 season. No details of current compensation rates are known, stating 10 year old figures as accurate today would be wrong.
It would be very expensive to pay officials full time salaries for 1-day of work per week during a six month season, and it would do nothing to increase the quality of officiating or attract new officials. A perspective on officials salaries was provided in the CFLdb article "On Officiating".
Fans choose to be partisans, and never practice making an unbiased call despite their loyalties. A fan will argue all interpretations against a call/non-call in a neutral game because they can't survive their rival benefiting from the proper call. Then the next week they will throw out the precedent they argued for when their team is involved in the same situation. Fans bring no consistency because they always want the call in their favour and are happy to profess a "league/officials/officiating is biased against us" paranoia because they are the underdog/small town, favourite/big city or not the league darlings. They are quick to criticize the officials, a profession they have never tried, let alone reached the highest level, but would react angrily if someone without experience in their job criticized their performance (especially with no basis except "You are doing it wrong"). Fans can start by reading the rulebook before revealing their ignorance of the game.
In 2006, CFL Officials' compensation ranged from $550 and $850 per game (depending on experience and position) plus travel costs. In 2006, if an official officiated 18 games during the season (typically they officiate 16 regular season games per season), he would have grossed between $10,000 to $15,000 over six months, perhaps not enough to make up for the earnings lost for time taken off from their full time jobs or professions. Although not paid as full time employees, CFL officials are professionals who make judgment calls many times per game and their performance is continuously evaluated. Most of their criticism received is over these judgment calls, which can not be called into question by instant replay or other means. Former players who have viewed the process believe officials need to be praised more than criticized.
As per Article 15 of the CBA, players of certain veteran status must be paid their full salary, pension, playoff and Grey Cup earnings if they are released after a certain point in the season.
|Qualified as a Veteran of||Entitled to 100% salary after|
|Six years or more||9th Regular Season game|
|Five years||10th Regular Season game|
|Four years||11th Regular Season game|
Full salary would apply to game salary only, future timed bonus payments would not be included since they are most likely worded as a roster bonus (player receives bonus if he is on the roster/under contract at a specific time). Other bonus payments for starts, games played, etc. would have to be met to be received.
Players qualified as a veteran of one or more year who are released after the 14th game of the Regular Season are entitled to all medical benefits they were receiving prior to termination up to the day before training camp the next year.
A player is not considered released for these calculations until notice has been served and the waiver period has expired as defined in Article 14, Section 7 of the agreement.
Besides these requirements, CFL contracts are not guaranteed in the case of a player being released or beyond the current season in the case of a football-related injury. Effective the 2019 CBA, medical coverage will reportedly increase to three years by the end of the agreement.
The only obligation to CFL member clubs for moving expenses comes from Article 27 of the CBA for the transfer of player contracts between clubs (trades, claimed off waivers). The assignee club is required at a minimum to reimburse economy airfare if air travel is required and up to $1,000 in moving expenses for any player that reports, regardless if the player appears on the roster for any games. Players who appear on the roster for a minimum of two games receive $1,000. If the transfer occurs between the start of training camp and the Grey Cup, the amount increases to $2,000.
If a player is on the roster for a minimum of five games or the last game the assignee club plays in a season, the assignee club shall reimburse economy airfare for the player's wife to the assignee club's city and moving expenses up to a maximum amount defined in the schedules of the article. The amounts range from $3,000 to $7,000 dependent on the distance between the clubs in question. See Article 27 of the CBA for full details.
While clubs are not obligated to pay moving expenses of new international players, it is possible signing bonuses in a contract could be made for this purpose. However, signing bonuses for non-veteran players would be small or rare. Most players will travel light to Canada, not bring all their possessions, and only consider moving possessions if they commit to staying in Canada year round.
Please direct all questions of these types to the CFLPA or a registered player contract advisor. As per the CFLPA Services page (now removed), the association provides legal representation on CBA and contract matters and contract advice to members:
Your Association can help you with your individual contract negotiation. If you are negotiating your contract with the Club, you may contact Legal Counsel for the Association and they will provide you with pertinent salary information and Club information to assist you in the negotiation of your contract.
I am unable to answer these types of questions as I am not an expert in the CBA or the law, nor do I have insider information on the compensation and workings of member clubs. Please seek the advice of the CFLPA or a registered contract advisor.