Arbitrator rules for Tiger-Cats over Chris Williams: now, will he return to the team?

Chris Williams' arbitration battle with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats over whether the team offered him a CBA-mandated two-year deal when he signed his three-year contract appears to have wrapped up, with the team account tweeting Tuesday that the independent arbitrator brought in to resolve the situation has ruled in their favour. That doesn't necessarily mean Williams will play for them this year, though. Before we get to that, here are the relevant tweets from @Ticats, including a statement from head coach and general manager Kent Austin:

That's quite a strong statement from Austin, especially considering his history with contracts. As a player, he demanded to be traded while still under contract to Saskatchewan in 1994, something that annoyed Roughrider fans so much they smashed an Austin Mini in the parking lot when he returned to Regina, and as a head coach, he left Saskatchewan 52 days after winning the 2007 Grey Cup to take the offensive coordinator job at Ole Miss, then left the head coach position at Cornell this year to take his current dual role in Hamilton. Still, it is obviously easier for coaches to get out of contracts than players (for the record, then-Roughriders' GM Eric Tillman granted Ole Miss permission to talk to Austin in 2007), and Austin's perspective here is understandable.

Williams has become one of the top receiver-returners in the league, and had a similar season to 2012 Most Outstanding Player Chad Owens last year: Owens was slightly more productive in both aspects and committed less highlight-reel blunders, but Williams is much younger (25 versus 31), and even being comparable to Owens makes him one of the league's top players. Austin would understandably prefer having someone with Williams' talent on his team (and he'd likely prefer not having to keep talking about why Williams isn't there), so the strength of his statement is somewhat understandable. However, this doesn't guarantee that Williams will suit up for the Tiger-Cats this season.

What this arbitration result means is that Williams can't play football for another professional team this year in the CFL or the NFL (and presumably not in any of the other lesser-known American professional leagues). That's obviously not the outcome he wanted, as he was hoping to go to the NFL and substantially boost his salary. NFL rookie minimum salaries this year are anticipated to be $405,000, while Williams is expected to be making less than $50,000 this year, or just over one-tenth as much as he could get if he made and stuck on a NFL active roster. That CFL salary may not be worth playing for in his mind, given his feud with the team and the risk of injury football carries, especially if he feels he's already done enough to perk the NFL's interest.

Thus, it's quite conceivable Williams could sit out this year and then go to the NFL next season. Hamilton also can't offer him more money to come back, as a renegotiated contract would require him to commit to the CFL for another year. That's something he obviously doesn't want to do. Austin and the Tiger-Cats have won in the arbitration hearing, but now they'll need to practice some diplomacy if they want Williams to wear black and gold this season. He's not back in their colours just yet.