With contract talks at a standstill and the collective bargaining agreement expiring at the end of this month, the CFL this morning finally went public with the details of what they are offering the CFL players association.
In a letter to CFL players that was made available by the league to reporters this morning, CFL commissioner Mark Cohon said the league is proposing increasing the salary cap immediately from $4.4 million to $4.8 million and then phasing in increases of $50,000 a year for the next five years until the cap is $5.05 million in Year 6 of an agreement.
Cohon said the cap increase this year would represent a 12 percent jump and the average CFL salary would rise from $82,904 to $92,917 immediately. The league has also proposed an immediate raise of the CFL’s minimum salary from $45,000 to $50,000, with further increases until it reached $55,000 by the final year of the agreement.
Cohon also described in his letter to players concessions on player safety issues that would reduce the amount of contact during practices and expand the active roster.
And Cohon dangled a carrot for players to sign immediately, offering veterans a $3,000 signing bonus and rookies a $1,000 signing bonus if they agree to a new deal prior to June 2.
"The CFL offer strikes an appropriate balance of, on the one hand, providing significant compensation increases and health & safety improvements to the Players while, on the other hand, creating an environment in which the League and its teams can continue to build for a strong and stable future," Cohon wrote to players. "It provides a fair share to the Players, and helps us to effectively manage our businesses with a view to a strong future - for everyone."
Cohon also described the most recent offer from the CFLPA, which would see the salary cap rise to $6.24 million this season, as unrealistic.
"We advised the CFLPA in no uncertain terms that their proposal was not realistic, and would not form the basis for any financial settlement. In fact, it would threaten the very existence of the CFL. We have obviously rejected the CFLPA proposal today in negotiations, and we have told your Executive Committee that we are prepared to meet in bargaining at any time once they are prepared to discuss a fair and reasonable settlement that makes sense for both the Players and the League."
The CFL’s release of Cohon’s letter to the players to the media is an abrupt about-face for Cohon, who has insisted for months he would not negotiate in public and even threatened big fines for any teams who did speak publicly about negotiations.
The CFL had been scheduled to meet with the CFLPA in Toronto today to continue negotiations. It wasn’t immediately clear whether those discussions even took place.
The league also abruptly cancelled a conference call for reporters with the management of the Ottawa Redblacks to discuss the upcoming season that was set for early this afternoon.
Cohon told the Free Press in an interview this afternoon that the league remains committed to getting back to the bargaining table with the players.
But while the league is willing to offer the players concessions in a new deal -- the average salary would rise 12 percent immediately in the league's last proposal -- Cohon says he’s not willing to get a deal at any price.
"Every other organization in every other sports league has been about taking away from the players. What we’re offering the players is more. And we want to communicate that directly to the players. Essentially we got to a point in the negotiations where I would say they were trying to take us back to the days when we needed telethons to survive.
"And we just can’t do that. We’ve been trying to build for the future and we need to protect and grow our game and that’s exactly why we are where we are today."
Cohon was asked if the league would consider using replacement players in the event the players go out on strike. He said his understanding is the use of replacement players would be illegal in Quebec and the league isn’t contemplating that option right now.
"Legally in Quebec you can’t use replacement players and I don’t event want to have that dialogue," said Cohon. "We owe it to our fans to get our players on the field and playing football."
Meanwhile, the CFLPA held a news conference of its own in Toronto this afternoon at which negotiators said they felt "ambushed" by the league’s move this morning to walk away from the table and go public with their case.
CFLPA president Scott Flory said the league violated an agreement between the two parties that they would give each other 24-hours notice in advance of taking their case to the public. "We feel a little bit ambushed by what happened today," said Flory.
Flory said the union’s last proposal submitted to the league this week would see the salary cap rise immediately to $6.24 million and then be tied to TV, sponsorship and game revenues in the future.
Union lawyer Ed Molstad said rising league revenues have created a widening gulf between what teams bring in and what they pay out. He cited by example the Saskatchewan Roughriders, who Molstad claimed took in $34 million in revenues in 2012 against a league salary cap of just $4.4 million.
"Players in the CFL are not overpaid in terms of professional athlete standards," said Molstad. "If anything, the CFL should be embarassed by how much (players) are paid."
Molstad said the union would consider reporting for training camp on June 1 without a contract, but only if they first have a commitment from the CFL that the league will tie a salary cap to revenue as a condition of any deal.