Eric Tillman's thoughts on the CAP

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The new financial guidelines may prove to be a win-win scenario for both CFL owners and the commissioner.

Tom Wright is a man who likes to smile. Today he must be beaming!

When the embattled CFL commissioner arrived in picturesque Scottsdale, Arizona earlier this week he was facing the potential of a second attempted coup in less than nine months. His well-documented critics, BC's David Braley and Montreal's Bob Wetenhall, two of the league's most powerful owners were both livid about his recent decision to relieve highly-respected Ed Chalupka from his duties as senior vice-president of football operations -- adding additional fuel to their strong desires to see the end of Wright's tumultuous tenure. Other owners/governors, who had been supportive of Wright in the past, even acknowledged privately to Sportsnet that they, too, were not pleased with the Chalupka situation and the manner in which it was handled.

Known as "The Valley of the Sun", storm clouds were gathering as the CFL Board of Govenors arrived in Arizona.

But, as we all know now, the end result of those meetings was anything but fatal for the likeable commish. In fact, when he and and Calgary minority owner Ted Hellard addressed the national media on Wednesday, it was to introduce landmark legislation. A complex, multi-faceted salary management system which has the potential to address what has been a long-time public relations debacle for the CFL, something which may very well serve as Wright's legacy if he relinquishes his role on or before the end of his current contract, which expires December 31, 2006. And, should Wright stay, act as a potential springboard for future successes.

Few if any longtime CFL observers saw this as a plausible outcome. After all, the strong personalities and divergent opinions on how best to operate the league, has made the CFL Board of Govenors a forum on "non-consensus" for years and years. To reach an agreement (the vote was 7-2 in favour of) on something so complex and emotional is, well, astounding.

Much of the credit goes to Argos president Keith Pelley, who was aggressive in lobbying behind the scenes over the past couple of weeks, and to Hellard, who according to insiders, made a masterful presentation on behalf of the salary management system committee he chaired. The new $3.8 million mandate, speaks volumes as to how many discrepancies there were in the past to the supposed $2.6 million system. Some called it a "ceiling" while others called it a "floor", but the bottom line is the CFL average in 2005 was closer to $3.7 million per team. According to insiders, the Grey Cup champion Eskimos even exceeded the $4 million mark.

Small market teams howled they couldn't compete under the system. In places such as Saskatchewan and Winnipeg, two of the CFL's most ardent fan bases, the reality of fans "losing hope" and eventually passion resonated throughout the Arizona boardroom.

The end result was landmark legislation, that while difficult to implement, is a going to be a public relations bonanza and has the potential to create a "cost certainty" the CFL has not seen in years and years.

While many will view this Wright victory as a loss for Braley and Wetenhall, I tend to view it in a different light. n impressive accomplishment for Wright, yes, but for the other two gentlemen, who have saved football in their respective communities, may finally get the credit they deserve for doing so much for their respective franchises as well as the collective good of the Canadian Football League. If the Lions and Als continue to be successful on what is viewed as a more "level playing field", which I expect they will, the fans across the country will finally realize that good ownership goes far beyond deep pockets. After all, folks, remember there is a reason Don Matthews and Wally Buono are the two winningest coaches in league history. By hiring the aforementioned and others such as Bob Ackles, Larry Smith, Jim Popp, etc., they have done far more than just spend money ... they have spent it wisely!

In the end, as in all good stories, perhaps the final result will be a win-win scenario ... for the commissioner and his critics.

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The CFL free agency period has suddenly become more intriguing.

The first impact of the $3.8-million salary cap will be felt when teams are allowed to start signing free agents on Feb. 16.

But there are several unanswered questions.

Will the salary cap keep marquee free agents from receiving the lucrative contracts that have become the norm the last few years?

Will teams use loopholes this winter to sign big names because there are no penalties this season?

Will fringe players be stuck in a nasty spot?

"If somebody has decided to wait until the free agency (period) it may cost them," said Edmonton Eskimo COO Rick LeLacheur. "It may cost them money or it may cost them a job because all of a sudden teams don't have room (under the cap) for them."

The $3.8-million figure is almost identical to the average team payroll in 2005, meaning some teams were definitely over the limit. Some suggest there were payrolls as high as $4.3 million.

There are a few prominent players that could reach free agent status next month, including Eskimo receiver Jason Tucker.

But not surprisingly, Tucker's agent isn't concerned about his client receiving lower offers because the cap is suddenly part of the league.

"Teams are going to keep money to sign impact players and Jason Tucker is an impact player," said Joe Coletta in a telephone interview from Chicago.

"I don't think it will hurt him."

Tucker led the CFL in receiving yards in 2005 and had more touchdowns than Edmonton's three other starting receivers - Ed Hervey, Mookie Mitchell and Trevor Gaylor - combined.

Those statistics mean every team in the CFL would love to add Tucker to their roster, which could lead to creative accounting this winter.

Former B.C. and Ottawa general manager Eric Tillman believes the new salary management system is landmark legislation that will greatly help the league in the future, but has already identified some possible loopholes.

"You could give a player a sizeable signing bonus of $100,000 this year," said Tillman, "and then give him a lower base salary in 2007 and 2008."

In that scenario, a team would not be fined for a ridiculously high signing bonus this season and would gain cap room when the penalties become a reality in 2007.

EXTRA POINTS: Regardless of how clubs handle finances in the free agent market, teams aren't required to release player salaries to fans or the media under the new rules of the salary management system. Although salaries are known in other leagues, the teams only have to submit salary figures to the CFL head office.

LATE HITS: The SMS also features a new future considerations clause that some believe relates to the Jason Maas trade to the Hamilton Tiger Cats last month. Starting this season, future considerations in any trade can only be cash and/or draft picks, not a player.

As usual, Eric writes well and makes excellent points. And while some may laugh at a professional league that has a salary cap which is low compared with the North American major league sports, no one is laughing that this professional league is a league which wants what is good for all its members and fans, and a league which delivers excellent entertainment value for the money that has a long and storied history and traditon. And a league, unlike even the NHL, that cares deeply about all of Canada not just the markets that can compete with American markets in sports. And this, I say, is a priceless jewel for the CFL that makes this league so special to so many Canadians from the Pacific to the Atlantic.

Tillman was just on sportsnet and said...if tom wright leaves or doesnt get a contract extension, then word is the new commish would be.....ARGOS Prez Keith Pelley