CFL, CFLPA, Chris Williams and the Ticats come to a settlement: why’d it take so long?

55 Yard Line

After almost six months of drama, the Chris Williams situation has come to a logical conclusion that could have been reached at the start. Back in April, Williams complained about the Ticats violating the collective bargaining agreement by not offering him a minimum-length contract, which led to an arbitrator ruling in June that the team had indeed violated the CBA but that the violation wasn't significant enough to void Williams' contract, the CFLPA appealing that decision on his behalf in early August, an Ontario judge overruling the arbitrator in late August but the league and team refusing to release Williams, and now, a settlement between the sides that allows Williams to sign with an NFL team immediately, but keeps his CFL rights with the Tiger-Cats for 2013 and 2014. From the joint CFL/CFLPA statement on the matter:

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats, the CFL, the CFLPA and Chris Williams have reached a settlement of all outstanding matters.

Effective immediately, Williams is free to attempt to sign with an NFL team.

Should Williams decide that he wants to play in the CFL for the 2013 and 2014 seasons, he has entered into an agreement to play for Hamilton.

Really, the primary question here is why something like this couldn't have been worked out sooner. The issue here was never Williams trying to jump to another CFL team, but rather his desire to go to the NFL. Given the talent he's shown (he played at close to the level of reigning Most Outstanding Player Chad Owens last season, broke the league record for return touchdowns in a single season halfway through last year and put up plenty of highlights), it seems quite plausible he might get a NFL shot. If he'd been offered a two-year contract initially, he might have taken that and this never would have been an issue. Even with the Tiger-Cats signing him to a three-year deal, there are ways around that; consider how the Toronto Argonauts released star defensive tackle Armond Armstead after just one season last winter, allowing him to go to the NFL's New England Patriots (he's currently out with an infection, but could contribute later this year).

Look, American players who have legitimate NFL shots are always going to take them. Making less than $50,000 in the CFL (as Williams was, and as most players on rookie deals are) can't compete with making at least $400,000 with a shot at substantially more in the NFL and playing on a big stage closer to friends and family. Heck, that's why holding out this entire year was a reasonable option for Williams if he believed he had a solid NFL shot lined up: why risk injury over $50,000 when you could make $400,000 or more the next year? The NFL doesn't always work out for those guys, though, and that can lead to them coming back north and making major contributions in the CFL (hello, Solomon Elimimian, Emmanuel Arceneaux, Andy Fantuz, Ricky Foley et al.) The CFL could use more agreements like the one reached in the Williams case, stating that a player's free to explore NFL options, but if he returns to the CFL, it has to be with a particular team. That produces happier players without causing CFL teams to lose talent to rivals. The resolution of the Williams situation seems like a win-win solution, and one that could be applied in plenty of other cases. The only real question is why the sides had to spend six months and plenty of money fighting about it instead of just agreeing to this off the bat.

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