Collective bargaining is more give-and-take than win-win, more brawling than waltzing, more brutality than elegance.
But every now and then, adversaries not only find common ground, they grab shovels and dig deeper until something even more mutually beneficial is unearthed. The Canadian Football League and the CFL Players Association believe that happened in the spring of 2019; smack dab in the middle of often contentious CBA negotiations.
On Sunday, for the first time ever, a free-agency negotiating window will be flung wide open, a full nine days before the signing period begins on Feb. 11. While the window is open, pending free agents can negotiate with all CFL teams, any team can make a binding contract offer to a pending free agent, and all offers must be filed with the league and CFLPA. Once the negotiating window closes Feb. 9, teams are able to negotiate exclusively with their own free agents for 48 hours. Those teams will have been apprised of all offers made to their pending free agents by other CFL teams.
Once that 48-hour period expires, pending free agents will have exactly two hours — from 10 a.m. to noon ET on Feb. 11 — to accept any offer on the table, including one from their own team. If a player chooses not to accept any offer, he becomes a free agent at 12:01 p.m. ET. All previous offers made to that free agent are rescinded and the normal free agency process unfolds as before.
“The primary motivation to do this is that it’s elegant and has advantages to the player,? said commissioner Randy Ambrosie. “Kudos to the PA for their efforts to bring this together with us. It also has an advantage to the incumbent team".
“In some respects this is the classic win-win. This is where everybody gets something good. This is one of the elements of the CBA that both the players and the league can feel proud of.?
All major sports leagues in North American employ a version of the negotiating window, and there are a couple of obvious benefits to this new CFL system. Tampering, which has unduly influenced previous free agency periods, should become a moot issue. And both player and team gains an accurate sense of what the market thinks he’s worth, which could lead to increased roster continuity. Ambrosie, who travels far and wide seeking input from CFL fans, believes their desires were addressed in this new process.
“They want to cheer for their heroes. They want to cheer for the players they have come to know, like, trust and respect. The more things we can do to give the players what they want and need, which is to be fairly valued as an athlete, and to give teams a chance to keep their players in the city where they have built fan rapport, I think both of those things got addressed in this. I do think this is one of the sections of the CBA we should be most proud of. And we should frankly look forward to doing more of this.?
CFLPA executive director Brian Ramsay remembers how it came about.
“This was right in the middle of bargaining. There was some thoughtful discussion from both sides … In a salary cap world you need to have the ability for movement but you also don’t want synthetic movement created because of the system. Our hope for this change is it allows the players to explore and get their full market value.
“There are players who want to test the market and move and rightfully so they have the ability to do that. There are also a lot of players who would like northing more than to stay in the city and build a life there with their families, the fan base and the team. If there is an opportunity for the player to do that without taking away their ability to test the free market if they so choose, that is a positive for everybody.?
Both the league and CFLPA will monitor the efficacy of the new system, and both sides are willing to consider tweaks if necessary during the term of the CBA, which runs through 2021.
“It’s one that we’ve talked about watching closely, to see how it works,? said Ramsay. “As you’ve seen over the last couple of years, the collective agreement is a living document. We can and we have addressed things that were priorities for both sides.?