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Alouettes LB Henoc Muamba could wind up as CFL salary-cap casualty
Less than five months ago, Henoc Muamba was the focus of a bidding war in the Canadian Football League — the Alouettes ultimately winning the race and signing the non-import middle linebacker.
On Tuesday, Muamba should learn whether his future remains in Montreal.
It has nothing to do with his level of play. Instead, Muamba is owed a $60,000 bonus — a significant amount in the CFL, where teams will operate under a $5.1-million salary cap in 2016. Also, there appears to be considerable interest throughout the league in Muamba’s services.
Als general manager and head coach Jim Popp said other CFL teams made the initial inquiries. Those overtures led Popp to call other clubs to gauge their interest. Indeed, two sources last week told the Montreal Gazette that Muamba was actively being shopped. It’s believed Popp won’t jettison the player for anything less than a first-round draft choice.
“There’s a lot of stuff flying around. I don’t know who’s creating it and starting it, but there’s not a whole lot to this,? Popp said on Monday. “There’s a couple of teams that have interest in him. People were inquiring about him. From our end, if a handful of teams are interested, let’s see how many other teams are. We talked to all of them to feel the temperature. Nothing’s going on.
“As of right now, there’s not anything.?
Muamba, a Winnipeg Blue Bombers first-round draft choice in 2011, signed a two-year contract with the Als on Sept. 30. His 2015 contract, pro-rated at that point in the season, was believed to be for more than $225,000.
Muamba is scheduled to earn $230,000 in 2016 and he’s owed another $23,000 bonus in April. If he passes his physical at training camp, he is due another $23,000. That’s a total of $106,000 alone in bonus payments. The average CFL salary is approximately $80,000.
Off-season bonus payments are nothing new in the CFL, a bargaining tool that agents target so their clients are guaranteed something from their contracts, which aren’t guaranteed. Indeed, some players who don’t work throughout the winter months need the money to pay their bills.
Should Muamba receive Tuesday’s payment, it doesn’t guarantee he’ll spend the season with the Als, but it most certainly increases the odds. “The likelihood, once you start making those payments, you’re going to keep those people,? Popp said.
Jonathon Hardaway, Muamba’s agent, refused to comment on Monday but probably feels and the player are in a no-lose situation. If Muamba is traded, he makes the same salary. And should the Als release him, Muamba is free to explore potential NFL opportunities or Hardaway can begin negotiating with other CFL teams.
Muamba spent three seasons with the Blue Bombers, recording 171 tackles, four sacks and one interception. He then signed with the Indianapolis Colts in 2014, dressing for 13 games.
As Hardaway was negotiating with virtually every CFL team last fall — the Als, Hamilton and Edmonton were the most serious pursuers. Muamba also worked out for the New York Giants and Green Bay. The offers he received from Montreal and the Tiger-Cats were virtually identical, but Hamilton was stacked at linebacker and Muamba was concerned he would be used sparingly.
The Als, conversely, were in dire straits after the losses of Bear Woods and Kyler Elsworth to injury. Indeed, Montreal was forced to start rookie Nic Shortill, a 2015 draft choice, for a late September game at Saskatchewan.
It’s believed Hardaway has no intention to restructure the remaining year of Muamba’s contract or extend the deal.
The Als went to a 3-4 defence last season, meaning they could dress, and had a need for, more linebackers. And there’s no doubt Montreal is stacked at the position with, Muamba, Woods, Elsworth, Shortill, Winston Venable, Chip Cox, Kyries Hebert and Nicolas Boulay all returning.
While shopping Muamba makes the most sense, because he’s probably the Als’ most marketable commodity at the position, it’s doubtful the team can retain both he and the oft-injured Woods. That’s a lot of money invested in the same position.
Popp reiterated on Monday there will be some players released. Others, meanwhile, will be told they must accept restructured contracts for less money.
“At some point, decisions have to be made on people. We have to adjust,? Popp said. “We’re going to have salary reductions for some players. People will be cut. It happens every year and it’ll take place somewhere.?