Ryan Dinwiddie is expecting to participate in his first-ever CFL exhibition game as a head coach Friday night.
The Toronto Argonauts are scheduled to visit the Ottawa Redblacks on Friday night in one of two games to kick off the CFL exhibition campaign. The Grey Cup-champion Winnipeg Blue Bombers are to host the Edmonton Elks in the other.
Dinwiddie is entering his second season as Toronto's head coach. After not playing in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the CFL staged a shortened 14-game campaign last year that didn't include exhibition contests.
Toronto finished atop the East Division with a 9-5 record in 2021 before losing 27-19 to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the conference final.
However, there's a chance neither exhibition contest will be played.
The CFL and CFL Players' Association continued talks Thursday on a new collective bargaining agreement. On Tuesday, commissioner Randy Ambrosie unveiled the league's final offer and said it would only be good until midnight ET on Thursday.
"It (CFL labour uncertainty) is not really coming into play," Dinwiddie told reporters during a video conference Thursday. "We're planning on going and the players are as well.
"I think it will get worked out. It's not certain that it will but I feel it will."
On Monday, the CFLPA membership rejected a tentative seven-year agreement between the league and union. At the crux of the players' concern was the deal calling for Canadian starters to increase from seven to eight, including one nationalized Canadian — an American who has spent either four years in the CFL or at least three with the same team. In addition, three other nationalized Canadians would be able to play up to 49 per cent of all snaps on either side of the ball.
The following day, Ambrosie said the league tabled a final amended proposal that would remain on the table until midnight ET on Thursday. He added the new contract included a $1-million ratification bonus pool for players (which wasn't in the original offer) and reduced the number of nationalized Canadians to one while also cutting back on the number of Canadian starters to six.
It marked the second time Ambrosie had gone public with a final contract offer to the CFLPA. On May 14, he posted a letter to fans on the league's website detailing the league's proposal to players hours before the former CBA was set to expire.
The following day, players on seven of the CFL's nine teams went on strike and didn't report to training camp. The Edmonton Elks and Calgary Stampeders started their camps on time as those players weren't in a legal strike position, as per provincial labour laws at the time.
Four days later, the CFL and CFLPA reached a tentative agreement that ended just the second work stoppage in league history and first since 1974.
That deal featured increases to the CFL salary cap ($100,000 annually starting next year) and minimum salary (from $65,000 to $75,000 by 2027). It also included a revenue-sharing formula for the union and gave players a chance to have the final year of their contracts guaranteed up to 50 per cent.
The proposal featured a revenue-sharing model and called for a return to padded practices — one hour weekly during the regular season to a maximum of 12. But it also extended medical coverage for retired players to five years from three.
However, it also had the ratio provision and was ultimately voted down by the players despite a recommendation to ratify from their bargaining committee.
Should Friday night's exhibition contest go ahead as scheduled, Dinwiddie said his plan is to use a majority of young players against Ottawa.
"We've got some tough decisions there," he said. "The first game is never really the one for the vets, you always want to get them going the second game.
"There will be some different varieties of coverage, it's a little bit more season-like whereas the first preseason game is pretty vanilla."
Still, veteran starter McLeod Bethel-Thompson will be among the four quarterbacks Dinwiddie will dress for the game. Whether he plays, though, remains to be seen.
"I'm bringing him but we'll see," Dinwiddie said.
Dinwiddie said while exhibition games are an opportunity to evaluate players, he also wants to win the contests.
"You want to go out there and win any time you go out on the football field," he said. "We've got to evaluate at the same time, we understand that … but at the same time we want to try to find a way to win the football game."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 26, 2022.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press