The CFL Canadian Amateur draft is an eight-round entry draft for Nationals into the CFL. The draft is held in early May each year. Draft selection order is determined by the finish order (waiver priority order) of the previous year and draft selections are allowed to be traded among teams. Currently, with nine teams and in a normal year, 72 players are selected in the draft. The full rules of the amateur and supplemental drafts are found in Section 6 of the CFL By-laws. (International players are not eligible for the draft, and rights to new International players is handled by the negotiation list).
In 2016, the Amateur draft was expanded to eight rounds. In 2013, the draft increased to seven rounds and the Ottawa franchise, set to launch for the 2014 season, was allowed selections of redshirted NCAA players in the last position of the first four rounds. Ottawa participated in the draft fully in 2014 with the first selection in each round as laid out in the agreement to stock the expansion team. From 1997 to 2012 the draft consisted of six rounds, with 2002 the exception, with a one-pick bonus round granted to the Ottawa Renegades. Previously, the draft operated with seven to ten rounds back to the 1970's.
Draft eligibility of players who have had a CADP violation or have tested positive for a banned substance under the CFL drug policy was clarified in 2016. Non-draft eligible players also face restrictions on signing a CFL contract after positive drug tests. New eligibility rules were announced in Sept. 2013 effective for the 2014 draft year. The changes made clarified the eligibility year for CIS (now U Sports) players and eliminated the "red-shirt junior" draft of NCAA and NAIA players, making them eligible for the draft only after their senior season of college eligibility.
A U Sports (formerly CIS) player is eligible for the Canadian draft three years after completing their first year of U Sports eligibility while NCAA and NAIA players are eligible following their senior season of college eligibility. Prospective draftees must submit paperwork to the league showing they meet the criteria for National status. Players who meet this criteria must pass through one Canadian Amateur draft or supplemental draft before they can be signed as a free agent as a non-drafted player. Players who do not attend university are not eligible for the draft but can be signed as free agents and will be considered National players with the requisite documentation. Those who attend university need not play university football to be drafted, as Wayne Drinkwalter (1989 Draft), John Zajdel (1990 Supplemental Draft), and Llevi Noel (2016 Draft) were drafted after playing in the Junior Football ranks.
Prior to 2014, to be eligible for the Canadian draft, a player needed to be a non-import with at least one year of university football and in their fourth year of university or have turned 25-years old in the year prior to the draft. Duane Forde explained the nuances of the old system in a 2011 article.
For players who do not submit the necessary paperwork indicating National status prior to the deadline to be eligible for the Canadian Amateur draft, a supplemental draft can be held. Multiple supplemental drafts can be held in a single year, arranged after proper paperwork is received and verified for each player as with Brandon Tett, selected in a July 7, 2015 supplemental draft by Calgary. (See all Supplemental Draft selections on the CFL Draft page). Players who do submit the necessary paperwork after 60 days of the draft being held do not go into a supplemental draft but become eligible for the next year's amateur draft.
The supplemental draft provides teams an opportunity to select a player in the draft in exchange for forfeiting a pick in the next year's amateur draft. The selection order is done in reverse waiver priority order. Teams selecting a player must indicate a round from next year's amateur draft they will forfeit for this pick. Teams with a higher priority can then select the same player by matching or beating the round bid. For example, the Grey Cup champion may bid a third-round pick, all other teams could beat this pick by also bidding a third-round pick. The team with the highest bid gets the player and forfeits the pick bid from next year's amateur draft.
According to the CFL, 29 players have been selected in supplemental drafts from 1957 to 2015. CFLdb has record of 40 known players and an additional two unknown players selected (in 1996), totalling 42 players (and 43 forfeited picks) in supplemental drafts from 1976 to 2023. While an intricate process, the CFL is not alone in the use of a supplemental draft.
University players should ensure they have filed their National status (proof of Canadian citizenship) paperwork with the league in time to be verified by the league prior to the deadline, which is normally three weeks before the draft is held, to ensure they are considered eligible for the CFL Amateur Draft.
Thanks to Winnipeg Blue Bomber fans who asked the question on supplemental drafts, researched it, had the tenacity to step through the misinformation on this subject and provided the sources for the answer.
Using the 46-man roster multiplied by the current nine teams in 2019, there were 414 roster spots in the CFL. With the ten player practice rosters, the nine team total is pushed to 504 spots and if injury lists are counted, there are over 600 players on CFL rosters on an annual basis. From 2015 to 2018, the number of unique players that appeared on CFL team active rosters, reserve or injured lists through the 18 game season and playoffs ranged from 626 to 680.
In 2019, teams dress 45 players for games, an increase of one player with the addition of a global player roster spot in 2019. Teams scratch or place one player on a reserve list from the 46-player active roster to reach the game roster.
Some details of the roster requirements introduced in the 2019 CBA can be found in the summary in the roster cuts article. Starting in 2020, the 45-player roster consists of two quarterbacks, minimum of 21 Nationals, minimum of two Global and maximum of 20 American players. A 10-man practice roster requires a minimum of 2 Nationals. Teams have the option to increase the practice roster to 12 with the addition of up to 2 Global players. The 2019 CBA also introduced 2-way contracts, meaning contract details for both regular and practice roster positions when the contract is signed, eliminating the appearance of practice roster contract ultimatums after a player was cut after the pre-season, but offered a practice roster spot.
The below refers to the 2014 CBA, and all aspects may not apply to the current 2019 CBA.
Each team's roster must include a minimum of 21 National players. Nationals are defined as a person who was a Canadian citizen when he signed his first contract, classified as a non-import before May 31, 2014, or has lived in Canada for five years before turning 18. This equates to a minimum of 189 National players on the nine CFL 44-man rosters. There is no requirement to have any International players on a team's roster.
Players not meeting the definition of a National player are classified as International players. There are 20 International roster spots available on CFL rosters. The National and International classification terms were introduced with the 2014 CBA and replaced the previously used terms non-import/import along with different classification criteria, which has changed a number of times since implemented. The change in the classification definition has resulted in new, different loopholes for teams searching for National players.
As defined in the CFL By-laws, modified by the Section 14.02 of the CBA, teams are limited to a maximum 85 players under contract during the off-season from the day following the Grey Cup to April 30th. On May 1st, roster sizes are reduced to a maximum 75 standard player contracts. Training camp roster sizes are set at a minimum 68 and maximum 75 players plus any non-counting players which are defined as current year's draft picks, previous year draft picks which have never attended a professional training camp, any junior player not under contract, a National QB attending camp at the QB position, underclass national quarterbacks ineligible to sign a contract or play in a pre-season game as part of the QB Internship program and two additional undrafted National players meeting one of the following conditions:
Starting in 2012, teams are allowed 12 roster moves during training camp. With no mention of this rule that I have seen since, it is possible this restriction has been rescinded or changed since 2012. Previously, the number of player moves was unlimited.
Roster cut-down to the standard 46-man roster is slated for 21 days after the start of training camp each year, which in 2020 was to occur on June 6th at 10 PM EDT.
Previously there were two cut down days, the first to 65 players after the first pre-season game. Starting in 2017, we believe, that requirement has been removed, and there is a single cutdown to 46 players, excluding injured, suspended and disabled lists, which, as always, don't count against the active roster. As part of the final cutdown, teams could offer practice roster contracts to released players starting the day after cutdown day to stock the maximum 10-player practice roster allowed at the start of the season.
The game roster or active roster in the CFL is 45-players in size. The active roster players dress for games and must conform to the roster requirement classifications for Amercian, Nationals and Global players.
The reserve list consists of one (1) player and has no International/National/Global classification restrictions. The reserve list and active roster make up the 46-man roster. Teams must set their 46-man roster 24 hours before games, and then select their 45-man active roster from these 46 players one hour prior to game time, or conversely, place a player on the reserve list for the game, leaving 45 players on the active roster. Starting in 2020, the CBA allows a team to field a roster of 44 players, consisting of 2 quarterbacks, 2 Global players, 21 National players leaving 19 spots for Americans. Previously, a 44 player roster was achieved by dressing only 2 out of 3 quarterbacks. See Section 23 of the CBA for complete details.
The different rosters are to provide a level playing field for teams. Different rosters and lists allow teams to manage their players under contract and field the best team possible. Injured players can be moved to the reserve list (a game time decision) or transferred to the 1-game or 6-game injured lists to free up roster spots for game days. Teams don't lose the rights to players they maintain on a roster and players continue to get paid their salaries.
Both the 1-game and 6-game injured lists are unlimited in size. The 1-game injured list allows an added player to removed or re-added after every game. Players on the 1-game injured lists have their salaries count against the salary cap defined in the SMS.
Players added to the 6-game injured list have their salaries excluded from the salary cap for the duration they are on the list. Teams may remove two players who has been on the 6-game injured list for seven games or more without penalty. Teams may remove an unlimited number of players from the 6-game injured list before their 6-game period is completed. If they do so, the player's salary while on the injured list retroactively counts against the salary cap. See Article 14.02 (pages 43-44) of the CBA for full details. Prior to 2014, a 9-game injured list was used and teams were limited to removing 2 players per season from the list early, but this was changed to a 6-game list in the 2014 CBA.
The disabled list is a list for teams to place players who are unfit to play for reasons other than a football injury. This may included non-football injury or illness or other circumstances. The suspended list is for players who violate their contract with their club. The player may be placed on the suspended list until they conform to the terms of their contract. This includes situations as failing to report to camp and other violations. League suspensions (on-field or performance enhancing drug violations) also result in players being played on the team's suspended list for the duration of the suspension.
The retired list is for players who retire while still under active contract with a club. Players on the retired list are subject to restrictions as to when they can return to active duty.
Prior to 2020, when the roster consisted of three quarterbacks, teams had the option of dressing one less than the roster limit (most recently 45 players) by dressing only two quarterbacks. With the reduction of quarterback spots to two in 2020, with the open spot taken by an additional Global player, this option is no longer available to teams.
The practice of not dressing a third quarterback was observed as recently as 2018 by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats), but was used going back to the introduction of three quarterbacks in the 1980's.
In the CFL each team has a negotiation list, or neg list, consisting of 35 players they have exclusive rights to negotiate a contract within the league (being placed on a neg list does not prevent a player from signing with a team in another league, only a signed contract does that). Starting with the 2014-2015 offseason, neg list sizes increased to 45 players for the period mid-December to May 15th. The regulations surrounding negotiation lists are defined in Section 3 of the CFL By-laws. As the CFL conducts its College Draft for National (primarily Canadians) players only, the negotiation lists serve as a way of acquiring player rights for International players (though non-drafted National players can be placed on neg lists as well). Players who qualify as CFL veterans (have appeared on a game roster, reserve list or injury list for seven games) are not allowed to be placed on a neg list. Veteran CFL players are free agents and able to negotiate with any team when their contract has expired or they have been released and cleared waivers.
Starting in February 2018, each CFL team will be required to release the names of 10 players on its neg lists each February and December. The first group of 10 players per team were released Feb. 20, 2018. This follows an experiment by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, where on March 31st, 2017 they began a practice of releasing information on select neg list players as exclusive content to Ti-Cats All Access members (a no-cost membership at ticats.ca).
Being on a CFL negotiation list does not limit or restrict a player in any way outside of the CFL, it is a method of managing the negotiation rights to players just as a draft does. Players may negotiate with teams in other leagues as provided by that league's rules. Players under contract to teams in other leagues may be on a CFL team neg list, but will not receive a CFL team contract offer until they are no longer under contract and free to accept employment in the CFL. If a player has no interest in playing in the CFL, they may never know they are on a CFL negotiation list.
Teams place players on their neg lists on a first come, first serve basis. It is estimated 75% of players do not know they are on a CFL team's neg list. The lists change frequently and additions/deletions are published by the league to the teams daily. Teams must follow rules to negotiate in good faith. Players can notify the league of the negotiation window and if a contract offer is not received within 10 days, the player is removed from the team's neg list. If a fair contract offer is received, but rejected, the player is removed from the list one year from the offer date.
Just like a draft limits competition for new players, the neg list does the same. However, rather than hold an International draft annually the negotiation list system provides much greater flexibility in adding and removing players as availability information changes over time. The system seems to be well liked by CFL general managers and there does not seem to be any desire to change it or make it more open. The sheer number of players in the US along with determining their suitability and intentions makes the negotiation list system more appropriate than an annual draft.
The CFL's negotiation lists are private, with transactions shared amongst teams by the league office except for the publication of 10 players/team each year in February and December. From time to time media reports will name additions and deletions to negotiations lists, but complete lists and daily transactions are held confidentially among the CFL head office and member clubs. An increase of neg list players published has occurred in the past few years, and as seen above, the league has seen an opportunity to use fan curiosity to circulate select players on neg lists to the public.
Starting in 2023, full revamped roster rules, negotiated in the 2022 CBA agreement, were enacted.
Previously, the designated American rule (briefly the designated International rule and formerly the designated import rule) required four designated American players to only enter the game on special teams or to replace another American on offence or defence. This rule was specified in Article 23 of the CBA with the CFLPA as an amendment of the CFL By-laws and by Rule 4, Section 5, Article 6 of the Official CFL Rulebook. The increase to four designated American players took place with the increase of rosters negotiated in the 2014 CBA.
The presence of the designated American rule created the restriction for a maximum of 16 American starters, one quarterback and a minimum 7 National (across offensive and defensive teams). There was no explicit legislation stating the number of Nationals that must be on the field, only as a result of the other restrictions the minimum requirement of National starters is created. These starters could occur on offence or defence to a coaches discretion, describing this as a rule which requires a specific number of National players on the field at any time is technically incorrect. A full explanation of roster restrictions of this time period can be found in the article Understanding Roster Restrictions.
Prior to the formation of the CFL, Canadian Rugby Unions restricted the number of imports on a team to five starting in 1936. In addition, players were required to reside in Canada for one year to participate in the Grey Cup. While the rule is sometimes described as being developed to protect Canadian jobs, it was in fact implemented to develop the sport in Canada since there were no football "jobs" to have in Canada. While many factors result in todays restrictions, it is recognizing having Canadians on the rosters and starting positions is important to the continued development of football in Canada.
In the mid-1950's import restrictions were still controlled by the CRU and teams were allowed 10 imports on the roster with eight import players allowed to dress for games.
By 1964 game roster sizes were set at 30 players—17 non-imports and 13 imports with an additional non-import and import allowed on a non-active roster. Prior to 1964 the practice of naturalized non-imports, players who became Canadian citizens by five years of residence in Canada, was unlimited. In 1964, the definition of non-import was changed to a Canadian citizen who gained that status by five-year residence or birth in this country, provided he has lived here for 13 of his first 21 years. However, the rule was not retroactive and did not apply to players under current contract, who had already played in the league or were on negotiation lists at the time of its adoption. In 1965, a restriction was adopted of a maximum of three naturalized Canadians against the roster limits of 18 non-imports and 14 imports for a game roster size of 32 players. However, the restriction on naturalized imports was challenged in court. It would take a decade before grandfathered naturalized Canadians had no presence on CFL rosters. In 1968, one import position was named the designated import. The designated import was allowed to replace another import in the game, but the man he replaced would not be allowed to return to the game. In 1970 the CFL amended the rule to allow designated imports who were quarterbacks to enter and leave the game freely in substitution of the quarterback. This change allowed CFL teams to carry dedicated backup quarterbacks. Previously, a team's backup quarterback was another positional player, normally a defensive back.
The number of imports was increased to 15 and the roster size to 33 in 1972. It was later increased to 34 players, 19 non-imports and 15 imports and continued the designated import rule. In 1979, Jamie Bone, a Canadian College quarterback out of the University of Western Ontario successfully won a Ontario Human Rights Commission hearing. The judge ruled that Bone had been discriminated against on the basis of his nationality by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and awarded him $10,000 and a 30-day tryout which he declined. The judge did not strike down the designated import rule however, and it lived on.
In 1986 the old designated import rule was eliminated by the league and game rosters were set at 35 (19 non-imports, 13 imports and three quarterbacks). In 1987 a quarterback position was dropped reducing the roster to 34.
The designated import rule known until 2022 was introduced in 1988. Roster sizes were set at 20 non-imports, 14 imports and 2 quarterbacks. One import was a designated import and was restricted to participating in special team plays. 1990 saw rosters expand to 37 players consisting of 20 non-imports, 14 imports and three quarterbacks. In 2002 rosters were increased to 40 players, 19 non-imports, 18 imports and 3 quarterbacks with two designated imports. The designated import rule had been adjusted, allowing unlimited special teams play, but also providing for a designated import to replace another import player on offence or defence. In this way, starting positions for non-imports were protected since no more than 16 imports plus the quarterback could hold the 24 offensive or defensive starting positions.
In 2006 rosters increased again to 42 players, 20 non-imports, 19 imports and 3 quarterbacks. The number of designated imports increased to three, meaning a minimum of seven non-import starting positions were required. It should be noted that teams during this time did start more than the minimum of non-imports required, indicating greater Canadian talent than is often recognized.
The CFL's 46-man active rosters (which include 1-player reserve lists), injured lists and practice rosters can be found by team on the CFL team websites. The CFL Transaction page have the latest transactions, roster moves and activity from around the league.
Teams must declare their 46-player roster and depth chart 24 hours before game time and 45-player roster and 1-player reserve list (scratch one player) 1 hour prior to game time.
Historical rosters (going back to 1930) can be found on CFLdb Statistics linked from each team's season page courtesy of the CFL.
Free agency begins in the CFL at 12:00 noon ET on February 14th, 2023 for all players whose contract term is set to expire. The list of players who potentially could become free agents at the next contract expiry date is published by early December or following the completion of the season each year.
Starting in 2020, the 2019 CBA establishes a week long negotiating window for other clubs to submit contract offers before free agency begins. In 2023, this should occur from noon Feb. 5 EST to noon Feb. 12 EST followed by a 48-hour period for the clubs of pending free agents to make offers with knowledge of any other contract offers a player has received. In the two hours before free agency begins, players may accept any offer received from any club, or reject all offers and become a free agent, which automatically rescinds any outstanding offers.
Contracts have expired mid-February for quite a number of years now. Previously, contracts expired mid-March and prior to that April 1st (those dates last seen in the 1980's in CFLdb's collective recollection).
Practice rosters provide CFL teams with additional reserve players to practice with the club but do not dress for games. The practice roster provides players familiar with a team's system that can be added to the regular roster in case of injury, situation or performance. Starting in 2019, all contracts in the CFL are two-way, meaning they specify an active (game) roster salary as well as a Practice roster salary. Players who are offered and accept a practice roster position come under the jurisdiction of the practice roster salary and terms of the player contract.
Practice roster sizes are set at a maximum of 12 players, consisting of a minimum of 1 National player and a maximum of 9 American players and 2 Global players. A minimum of 1 National player is required, and if the practice roster consists of 7 players, a minimum of 2 National players are required. If 11 spots are used, 1 player must be a Global player and if 12 spots are used, 2 players must be classified as Global players. In 2020 and 2021 an additional Global player is allowed on the practice roster, bring the total allowed to 13. Practice roster expansion occurs for 30 days coinciding with the period after the NFL roster cut down period increases the roster by five (5) players to a maximum of 17 in the fall. Starting in 2015 teams have the ability to choose when their 30 day expansion period begins within the league window, which in 2015 started Sept. 5 and ended Nov. 8.
Practice roster contracts allow a player to be signed by another club to a regular player contract, meaning the player must take an active (46-man) roster spot. The club that currently holds the practice roster contract has the same option to place the player on the 46-man roster to avoid losing the player. Players on the practice roster are not allowed to sign a contract with another team until they are released from their contract or the contract expires.
There are no league restrictions to how long (how many seasons) a player may stay on a practice roster. It is purely a player's decision to accept a practice roster spot when offered by a team.
Prior to 2013 Canadian Football League teams were allowed to carry a practice roster of seven (7) players. At least one practice roster spot was required to be a non-import player. If all seven spots were used, then at least two practice roster spots were required to be non-import players as defined in Article 17.01 of the CBA. During a 30-day period starting 30 days after the NFL cut-down day, teams were allowed to expand their practice rosters to 12 players. NFL cut-down period is late August/early September, meaning CFL practice rosters during these years expanded to 12 players from late September/early October for 30 days. Prior and following this 30-day period practice rosters were limited to seven players..
In 2012, the Players Association rejected a proposal by the league to expand practice rosters from 7 players to 10 players (adding 1 non-import and 2 import players). The league revisited the practice roster size for the 2013 season, asking the Players' Association for an increase of two players to a total practice roster size of nine players per team.
Prior to the introduction of practice rosters in 1986, the CFL employed 14 and 21-day tryouts, and earlier 5 or 7 day tryouts apparently. This allowed teams to add players who could practice with the club for 14 or 21-days. They could not participate in games during this period without being added to the active roster. At the end of the trial period, if the team did not add the player to the active roster, the player had to clear waivers before he could be signed to another 14 or 21-day tryout, if I recall correctly.
Voluntary Off-season Workouts were introduced with the 2010 CBA. The rules governing these workouts are:
Complete information on Voluntary Off-Season Workouts can be found in Section 6.04 of the CBA.