Josh Gordon case shows the Ricky Williams Rule doesn’t force the CFL to follow NFL discipline

The Josh Gordon situation may not amount to anything if the Cleveland Browns don't change their stance and let the suspended receiver come north, but it still provides an interesting look at what the Ricky Williams Rule actually is. That rule has generally been thought to prevent any player suspended by the NFL from coming north, but as Florio notedearlier Thursday, the Toronto Argonauts added receiver LaVon Brazill Wednesday without an issue. Brazill is also suspended by the NFL for the 2014 season (also for a substance-abuse policy violation), but he's not under contract, as the Indianapolis Colts released him outright after the suspension. CFL spokesperson Jamie Dykstra confirmed to 55-Yard Line Thursday that the CFL's rules only prevent teams from picking up under-contract players suspended by the NFL, saying "A player under contract and suspended cannot sign with a CFL team. Brazill could sign because he was a free agent." Thus, the current rules don't really seem to be about NFL suspensions at all.

Instead, the rule appears to mostly be about the CFL and the NFL honouring each others' contracts, which is a much older (and more important) issue. The Ricky Williams situation goes back to a time when CFL and NFL rights were considered separate, including CFL players having NFL option windows (but remaining with their CFL team if the NFL didn't bite), and Williams was granted permission by the Miami Dolphins to come play north of the border, apparently without being released; the team was able to insist on guarantees that he'd return to them if he came back to the NFL. Different CFL and NFL rights don't seem to really exist now, as the Chris Williams situation showed.

Honouring the other league's contracts is important, and no CFL team should ever try to sign an NFL player without that team's permission (as that would lead to a run on CFL talent), but perhaps different rights for each league should be brought back. That would make it easier for CFL teams to let players try the NFL, and for NFL teams to let players go to Canada without permanently losing them. Without separate rights, though, the Ricky Williams Rule seems rather moot.

The clarity about the Ricky Williams Rule may be the most valuable element that's come out of this situation, though. That rule always seemed unnecessarily moralizing, as Williams' tenure in Toronto was largely good for the Argonauts and the CFL, and it could have been particularly problematic in an era where NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is handing out suspensions like candy. (Except for acts of domestic violence, but that's another issue.) The CFL's not going to pick up every talented problem case out there (see the continued unemployment of Yonus Davis), but the decision on whether a player is worth the trouble is case- and team-specific rather than determined by the NFL, and that's as it should be.

The CFL has no obligation to move in lockstep with the NFL on player discipline, and that's a good thing, given that the NFL suspends players for forever for marijuana (which, despite the outrage, may be better for players than the current painkiller regimes) or even for missing tests while in the CFL, but hands down two-game suspensions for more serious charges. (Although that may be changing in reaction to public pressure.) Gordon has had his off-field issues, including a DWI charge this summer, and those may make him unattractive to CFL teams, but his NFL suspension for pot is not one the CFL should feel obliged to uphold. However, his current contract should (and will) be respected by the CFL, as breaking that agreement would lead to all sorts of issues. If the Browns do change their mind and release Gordon, though, the CFL could give him a shot, and that's as it should be.