Clock is ticking on 2022 CFL season




<p>BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p>
<p>Kicker Lirim Hajrullahu practices with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 2015. Hajrullahu has been waived by the NFL’s Carolina Panthers.</p>
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BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Kicker Lirim Hajrullahu practices with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 2015. Hajrullahu has been waived by the NFL’s Carolina Panthers.

For weeks, there have been reports on the progress being made between the Canadian Football League and the CFL Player’s Association in their efforts to work out a new collective bargaining agreement. And while the news was exclusively positive, for anyone who has covered the league the last few years and seen the way prior CBA talks have played out, it was – or at least should have been – read with a healthy dose of skepticism.

For the last month, I have been including those outside reports in this column, while also warning readers that the tougher parts of negotiations were still to come – involving the kind of matters that could quickly derail any prior work that was being characterized as rosy. Well, last week the other shoe finally dropped, the consequence of which led to an immediate halt in negotiations, with both sides walking away frustrated and no closer to reaching a deal.

Gone is “interest-based” negotiating, which had led, we’re told, to agreement on several issues. Predictably, the biggest road blocks that remain involve the salary cap and what to do with the Canadian ratio – two items that will drastically affect the look and financial health of the CFL for years to come.

What followed was just the latest example of petty negotiation tactics that have come to define the fractured relationship between the players and league that employs them.

The CFLPA sent out a memo to its membership last Thursday outlining several issues they had with the CFL’s first proposal. Among the most damning points were a 10-year agreement that wouldn’t see a rise in the salary cap and a full elimination of the Canadian ratio and veteran American ratio, as well as a reduction of Canadians on the roster.

The CFL, in what I can only imagine was inspired by panic brought on by the CFLPA memo going public, issued a statement renewing their commitment to Canadian players, which they called “the lifeblood of the CFL game,” while also acknowledging the importance of American players, too.

As it stands, with a deal still not in place, the CFLPA is advising its membership not to travel to training camp, which is supposed to open on Sunday, a day after the current CBA expires. There’s still a chance a deal could get done, but the clock is ticking and time is running out.

Now, let’s get into the latest edition of CFL Rundown, with news, notes and analysis from the week that was in the three-down loop.

1) Staying with CBA negotiations, there are a couple things to clarify here. First, the bogus offer the CFL presented to the players. The league has no plan to eliminate Canadian starters or drastically reduce the number of homegrown talent on the roster. And while explanations are being floated out there – from the proposal being part of a standard negotiating practice, to a misunderstanding on the player’s part – I tend to view it much differently from those options. I believe it was a conscious effort by the CFL to pin Canadians against Americans, as Americans would only benefit from these drastic and empty suggestions. Problem is, creating a divide might actually work, as Americans have long resented the advantages given to Canadians.

2) Rookie camps begin Wednesday, but the CFLPA is instructing veteran quarterbacks not to attend any of these voluntary sessions, which they usually would. That is, all but one team: the Chris-Jones run Edmonton Elks. The exemption for the Elks is based on a concern by the CFLPA “over a pattern of retribution toward players by team management.”

3) I’ve liked a lot of what new Elks president Victor Cui has done to reignite excitement in Edmonton, including his friendly banter in videos with Jones. But if he remains silent on this issue, where his players fear they’ll be punished for supporting their membership in a work dispute, it’ll be a significant hit to his credibility.

4) Despite the CFLPA is instructing players not to travel until a new CBA is confirmed, many players have already arrived in their respective CFL city. But those I’ve talked to say they won’t be attending camp unless instructed by the CFLPA. In the event there is a work stoppage, all nine CFL clubs have committed to housing and feeding players until a new CBA in finalized or up until the end of training camp, whichever comes first. What they haven’t said they’ll do is cover the costs of a flight home.

5) The CFLPA issued a strike vote to its membership earlier this month, which resulted in an overwhelming approval rate of 95 per cent. If things do lead to a strike, TSN’s Dave Naylor is reporting that six teams will be in position to do so on Sunday, while the other three –including the Calgary Stampeders, Edmonton and Montreal Alouettes – won’t be able to strike until a few days later, owing to provincial labour laws.

6) Clearly, this is messy. But not at all surprising. Both sides feel like they’ve given more than they’ve taken the past couple of years. Multiple reports have said the CFL will present a new deal Wednesday morning, with the two sides expected to resume talks from there. Let’s hope this past week was the worst of it. Even a brief work stoppage would significantly hurt both sides. A cancelled season might kill the entire thing.

7) Another interesting tidbit in the CFL’s initial proposal was the push for a return to padded practices. Full-contact padded practices were eliminated partway through the 2017 season, which has led to a 35 per cent decrease in on-field injuries, according to data from the CFLPA. This is something that coaches have been wanting back pretty much since the decision was made to wipe them out. Their frustration is owing to the belief that without padded practices, player development, particularly on the offensive and defensive lines, has taken a serious hit. For reference, the NFL still has padded practices, but they’ve been severely reduced and tightly restricted.



<p>THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES/Jeff McIntosh</p>
<p>Defensive end Charleston Hughes has signed as a free-agent with the Saskatchewan Roughriders.</p>
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THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES/Jeff McIntosh

Defensive end Charleston Hughes has signed as a free-agent with the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

8) Charleston Hughes has found a CFL home for this season, with the free-agent defensive end signing with the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Hughes was with Saskatchewan in 2018 and 2019, where he led the CFL in sacks in both seasons, registering 15 and 16 sacks, respectively. Unable to reach an agreement with the Roughriders in 2021, Hughes signed a two-year deal with Toronto. But after a rough season, one that included just two sacks in nine games, he was released. It will be interesting to see if the 38-year-old can regain his old form, or even close to it.

9) Jeff Reinebold won’t be moving on as the special teams co-ordinator in Montreal after just four months with the Alouettes. News broke this week that Reinhold is dealing with some personal matters and will be replaced by linebackers coach Byron Archambault. Here’s hoping all is OK with Reinebold, whose energy as a person and talent as a coach has undoubtedly made the CFL a better place.

10) Former CFLer, kicker Lirim Hajrullahu, has been waived by the NFL’s Carolina Panthers to make room for the team’s recent draft class. Hajrullahu, 32, has been jumping around the NFL since 2020 and he’ll do his best to stick there. One has to wonder, though, how much longer he’ll want to toil away down south, even with the potential of a significant payout. He’d definitely be a wanted man in the CFL.

Jeff.Hamilton@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @jeffkhamilton

Jeff Hamilton

Jeff Hamilton
Multimedia producer

After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.

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