Salary Cap Thoughts and Recommendations

With Toronto making another signing that will cause social media to once again start with the “Do they have a salary cap?” narrative I thought I’d give some thoughts on the current Salary Management System and the “Cap” as we know it.

Salary Info

The league does this to itself. It’s not 1985 anymore, the public likes talking about this stuff. All salary and salary cap information should be available and/or published. At the bare minimum if the CFL doesn’t want to spend the resources tracking it, at least allow independent nerds like ourselves put together the information available on to independent websites or discuss it while having the facts and not speculation.

Imagine being able to see where Toronto sits in relation to the cap? Imagine if we actually saw that Hamilton had 500K of available cap space and they weren’t spending it? Imagine taking the blame off of Lapolice when we could see what Ottawa was actually spending? This information would go a long way to providing the fans and public additional transparency. With sports betting being the talk of the town, cap information is indeed relevant when looking at teams’ chances of winning the Grey Cup and can also set fans expectations on what their team (and others) will be doing with free agency. This issue is one that likely needs to be collectively bargained and I can’t imagine with all of the issues that the league seems to has that this will be at the forefront.

Hard Cap or Soft Cap?

For years we’ve all thrown our darts at the usual suspects that “Break the cap” – but is it really a hard cap? In the NFL the league can flat out deny a contract that doesn’t fit the salary cap system, but in the NBA the league allows teams to overspend (as long as it falls within the rules) and pay a luxury tax. Does the CFL even have the ability to reject a contract if it puts the team over the cap?

The CFL’s system doesn’t seem to have much teeth to deter a team from overspending, so is it more of a hard cap or a soft cap?

For example: Toronto (with MLSE as their owner) can choose to go over the cap by hundreds of thousands and pay the applicable tax/fine, as well as loss of draft picks. Isn’t that their choice? How is that cheating? That option is available to all teams if they so choose. If the league wants to ensure a level playing field why don’t they just have a cap with some buffer for injury replacements, etc but at some point just put a hard cap on it and refuse to register a contract? Why do we blame the teams and call them cheaters when they make a choice to pay the associated tax/fine that goes with it? Also the idea that a team can sign as many players as they want and the cap doesn’t matter until the end of the season is absolutely absurd. It rewards failure of the GM to actually put a quality team together on the first attempt, and punishes the player who thought he was signing a contract in good faith.

If you put these two items together, sharing all relevant salary info including real time tracking as to where each team sits, as well as making a firm decision on what the actual purpose of the SMS is (to keep all teams under a certain amount, or to simply tax those that choose to go over) we can accomplish many things, including transparency which also betters the image of the league, potentially deterring teams that have little conscience when it comes to the salary cap, and gives the fans a clear indication as to where their team’s direction is headed.

It's just another thing in the long list of wishes I have for the CFL to get in a better place with its players, fans, media, etc.

Get this league in line with every other one - and start making this information public.


I would not object to the league making all salaries public, although the evidence from other sports is that salary disclosure drives salaries up (which means higher ticket prices, among other implications). But why is it this is raised as an issue because the Argos signed a few players, and not in connection with the spending sprees the non-playoff teams (especially Ottawa) engaged in last week? Toronto signed far fewer players than Ottawa, yet I haven't heard one person suggest the Redblacks are acting as if the salary cap doesn't apply to them. The Argos sign someone no one has ever heard of, merely as training camp fodder, and fans bring up the salary cap.

Lots of people on social media making comments about Winnipeg, Ottawa, Toronto, etc.

But what does it matter? The system itself doesn't promote staying under the cap anyways. Instead of saying "they're cheating" we should just say "I wish my team would do that too".

A receiver that's had 1 good season just signed for 300k. I'm not sure that's a concern anymore. However with a hard cap that's actually enforced it can't drive anything up.

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I’d be ok if they somehow could show the cap spending in total for each team periodically during the season. Maybe even broken down by active, IL & PR if that’s appropriate. I can understand as a private business not wanting to disclose too much detail for other teams to see. Is it a competitive advantage for a team to not disclose this kind of information? I really don’t know.

Why would a private business care when there's actually a cap?

We know that teams are spending about 5.2 million so I can't believe it has anything to do with disclosure.

Not to mention if they go over it would be reported by how much, so it's disclosed anyways.

If you think about it, it might actually HELP player retention in the long run.

Player "A" is a two-year CFL veteran signing a big contract (say, $300K for a receiver). He ends up not exactly playing to what his contract demands, and sue to the size of his contract, is un-tradable; and ends up getting cut before Labour Day (and, therefore, the team is off the hook for his remaining salary).

POOF!!! The team just wasted $150K and got nothing in return for their investment.

IMHO, there should be an absolute hard cap coming out of training camp after the final cut-down day. ALL teams will have to be under that hard cap, or there are immediate penalties (up to and including the League subtracting players from the game-day roster). I'm not saying the hard cap at the start of the season should be as high as the "regular" cap (all GMs keep a budget for injury/incompetence replacement) but this way they will all start out on a common playing field (unless it's BMO Field - that place sucks).

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Sorry but I’m having difficulty understanding the logic. He’s signs a two year for $300k. Assuming $150k for each season, getting cut by labour day is less than $150k. The remains $$ would be used on another player brought in or a PR contract going to active.
Doesn’t your scenario fit every player signed. Any one can be a bust. What am I missing? What don’t I understand? (my wife would say “most things”)

Proper salary management with guaranteed money would absolutely solve some of these problems.
In his example if 25% of salary was guaranteed, then $37,500 of "dead cap space" would apply. Now it's worth deciding if it's worth cutting the player.

But the owners will never go for that, cause it means they're accountable to their actions.

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I'm talking about Lawler's $300K one-season contract. The man could be out HALF his pay if/when he gets cut before Game 9 (not saying he will, it's just an example). While the team can then spend that "extra" $150K elsewhere, I believe they would be more inclined to keep a player on a lower contract rather than NEEDING to cut him (leaving the option for a trade on the table, and possibly get SOME production out of him) in order to free-up cap space.

I know I'm not exactly explaining myself properly, I have a lot of thoughts on this subject.

I guess what you're saying is the "buy now figure it out later" technique wouldn't be able to be used as much. Since the cap would count at all times. Not just the end of the season.
That combined with some sort of guaranteed money would bring this league into the current century.

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The league needs to figure out a way , in the next couple of years, to get that Cap up to 6 million a team with a minimum salary of 80K or so and a more realistic QB cap ( although that seems to have happened naturally).
If the XFL and USFL have any kind of success we will, in the long run, have trouble getting top American talent.
Some sort of guaranteed money system would be great but every year the Cap stays around 5 million then that is less money to spend every year and guaranteed money will not be a thing the owners will he willing to do.


Not challenging the idea at all, but how does any of that matter if the entire system is cloak and dagger, no idea what teams are spending, etc.
For all we know Ottawa spent 4.2 million last year.

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I agree that there should be some guaranteed $$ for the players. If not the we’ll see one year contracts forever to the detriment of the league. Management would be forced to to really choose wisely and not just sign anybody & everybody. Penalties should be severe for breaking cap rules. Not sure what but it should hurt even MLSE to the point that it’s not worth doing it.

No, you shouldn't be able to break it. Period.
If the contract submitted to the league puts you over the cap then it doesn't get approved.
Otherwise it's not a hard cap. It's a luxury tax, which means as fans we can't really complain.

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$4.2M Start-of season cap.
$4.7M cap at Game 9.
$5.2M end-of-season cap.

These are just examples. I don't bet on games (aside from a beer between friends), so sports gambling is foreign to me. I CAN, however, understand how salary transparency will help "even the odds" for legitimate gambling. In fact, I'm surprised that the various conglomerates aren't publicly pushing for this very thing. The NHL, MLB, NBA, and NFL all have transparent (or readily available) salary and cap information. I don't know about other sports and leagues in the world.

Another thing to think about, is making trades. We have seen it uncounted times throughout the years of a team trading a high-salary player for a jock strap (not even a cup) and a late-round draft pick in obvious salary dumps. Again, guaranteed contracts of some sort will help alleviate this, but trades, IMHO, should be of equal value between teams. That way, a guy with $150K left on his contract WILL be traded for as many other guys as needed to "even" the salaries. That could be 2-3 players at League Minimum, a starter and a backup/draft pick/etc. Now that I've gotten myself to thinking...

Is there a published "ratio" of draft value per round?
For example: The top 4 pics in the first round are "worth" $100K, picks 5-9 are $85K, Second round $75K, etc down to League Minimum.
Therefore that team trading a player with $150K left on his contract will receive as much "worth" in return. Say a first-rounder and a backup player for the remainder of the season will come to 15% or so of the traded player's salary. Anything extra on either side should be "cash" considerations.

It can't drive up if it's capped. A cap is a cap.

The problem is that it's very difficult to enforce a salary cap in the CFL for the simple reason that the league needs owners more than the woners need the league. A CFL franchise is not profitable enough (often it loses money) so there is no long lineup of people to buy one. Therefore you can't really punish an owner who violates. What are you going to do? Fine MLSE? They're already overspending, they may just write a cheque for the fine, or they may not feel like even paying the fine. What will you do, revoke the franchise? Who will own it then?

The NFL is different. Owners will play ball because their franchise is a license to print money and will abide by the rules to keep the profit flowing, and certainly will not risk having their franchise revoked.

Obviously, to enforce ANY sort of salary cap or revenue sharing, transparency (published salaries and payrolls) is needed. The current system is a farce - an 'independent' auditor to tell us that everything is okay but paid by the league to do so is a complete and total conflict of interest. Of course they will offer an audit that is favorable to the league. They want the business again next year and for years to come. However, transparency or no transparency, you can't really stop an owner who wants to overspend from doing so. What are you going to do, kick the Riders or the Stamps out of the league?

They used to remove draft picks back in the 90s. That was a joke too. There was one year where only BC and Sask had first round picks. The other 6 teams had their picks taken away for exceeding the cap. It was embarrassing as hell.

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Exactly. The owners want it all their way.

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My point is as it sits there's nothing to enforce. It's a tax, not a fine. Regardless of what they call it.
If all teams are in agreement that for the good of the league we need a hard cap then as I said it gets stopped before the contract is signed and not after the season is over.

It's likely the players that don't want a hard cap, because it drives salaries down.

Adarius Bowman and Chris Matthews fit the scenario you describe. From a big free agent signing to done in six games

Starts with a proper broadcast rights deal. The move to an independent Chairman of the BOD hopefully will be a good first step.

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