Redblacks' RB Jonathan Williams just found out he became a free agent months ago

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Redblacks' RB Jonathan Williams just found out he became a free agent months ago
Redblacks' RB Jonathan Williams just found out he became a free agent months ago

If ever there was an only-in-the-CFL moment, it would be former Ottawa Redblacks' running back Jonathan Williams apparently finding out three months after the fact that the team didn't intend to bring him back this year. Williams' name was on the league's free agency tracker, and there was no news of him signing a new deal with Ottawa or joining another club around the start of free agency on May 10. Thus, most CFL fans figured his time in the league was over. However, Williams himself apparently didn't get the news until Monday, as shown from his tweets:

It's easy to laugh at this from the outside, but this is a highly unfortunate way for Williams to find out he doesn't have a CFL job any more. Keep in mind that the former East Carolina Pirate was an important piece for Ottawa at times last year, with his 229 rushing and receiving yards proving crucial to their second (and last) win of the year over Winnipeg in October, which earned him a league-wide first star nod from us as well as the CFL's offensive player of the week selection. Yes, injuries plagued Williams, and yes, there are always plenty of import running backs out there, so the Redblacks' decision to move on may have some merit. Still, given that the guy was a key part of half their victories in 2014, you'd think the team would at least do him the courtesy of telling him he wasn't in their future plans. (Methods of communication here may be part of what went wrong here; a phone call or even an e-mail is better than only mailing something, especially given that many CFL players return to the U.S. for the winter and may not still be at the address the team has on file for them. It's possible the Redblacks thought they'd informed him even if they really hadn't.)

The timing here is also unfortunate. Williams is finding this out after most teams (both in the CFL and in other pro football leagues) have already signed a new crop of players, limiting his options. Granted, you'd think he would know his contract status, but that's not necessarily the case; keep in mind what we've seen before with controversial team options. Perhaps the Redblacks gave Williams the impression he was signing for two years instead of a year with a team option (if that's what his contract actually was; from the outside, we don't know). Keep in mind that those CFL free agent lists are an odd, convoluted process generated by the league with high team involvement and players occasionally left off, too, as Arash Madani reported about Solomon Elimimian earlier this offseason.

Also, early public free agent lists (however imperfect the current ones are) are a relatively new development. Keep in mind that as recently as December 2010, only two of the CFL's then-eight teams planned to release a full list of their pending free agents. Public pressure caused the league to eventually put out a league-wide list that December, and that model's generally been followed since, but the CFL and its teams have often been big on secrecy, as we've seen with everything from undisclosed salaries to closed practices. None of that should necessarily apply to Williams, as he could have found out he was a free agent just by looking at the CFL's list, but perhaps he wasn't aware the league posted one given how relatively recent that development is.

There are a few key takeaways from this to avoid such awkwardness in the future. First, teams need to be forthright and clear with their players. If the Redblacks had simply told Williams they were planning to go in a different direction back in February, this would have been avoided. On the players' side, though, they should pay close attention to how long they're actually signing up for, if there are team options involved, and what information teams have released publicly about them.

The CFL's often-complicated contracts and overall lack of transparency (especially when it comes to player salaries) also make a strong case as to why players should consider hiring an experienced CFL agent. Being your own agent can work, but it can carry perils too if you're not on top of your contract terms or your free agency status, as the Williams situation shows. This may be an only-in-the-CFL story, and there's some humour in it, but it doesn't make the league, the Redblacks or Williams look good. The CFL, its teams and its players should all work to avoid something like this happening again.

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