CFL, CFL Players' Association still discussing T.J. Jones contract situation

The Canadian Press

Discussions continue between the CFL and CFL Players' Association towards resolving the ongoing T.J. Jones situation.

Jones agreed to a free-agent contract reportedly worth $200,000 annually with the Toronto Argonauts last month. The 27-year-old Winnipeg native decided to continue his career in Canada after six NFL seasons with the Detroit Lions (2014-18) and New York Giants (2019).

But the collective bargaining agreement reached last year between the CFL and CFL Players' Association limits Canadian rookies to earning no more than $80,000 annually on a three-year contract.

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"The discussions are very active," Brian Ramsey, the union's executive director, said during a conference call Wednesday. "I'm always hesitant to say (something is) imminent but we're engaged with the league in trying to find a solution."

Ramsey added the league and union have exchanged proposals on the matter.

Ironically, if Jones were to have a stellar campaign with Toronto in 2020, he wouldn't qualify for the CFL’s top rookie award because of his time in the NFL. A player becomes disqualified from contention for the honour if he has "dressed for a member club of the National Football League for a regular season, post-season or championship game in the current season or any season prior."

Jones was never drafted by a CFL team because he didn't meet the criteria to be deemed a Canadian, or national, at the time. In past years, many Canadians have been free to sign lucrative CFL contracts after playing in the NFL because no rookie salary language existed.

And there's no minimum standard in the CBA for NFL games played that would clearly define whether a Canadian was a veteran or rookie if he came to the CFL. But Ramsey said that wasn't an oversight in bargaining or due to a lack of trying at the negotiation table.

"I think this was, through the midst of bargaining, something that was discussed but ultimately didn't make it into the collective agreement," he said. "We needed it to (be) otherwise we wouldn't be in the position we are today.

"There were some discussions around that but ultimately when we look at it we're here right now, we're having discussions with the league to find a resolution and we're confident that we'll get somewhere."

The Jones' situation has created a kind of baptism by fire scenario for Solomon Elimimian. The veteran Saskatchewan Roughriders linebacker was elected CFLPA president Friday, then had to address the matter three days later on the union's behalf on social media.

But Elimimian assumes the top job with intimate knowledge of the CBA. He was part of the union's bargaining committee during the last round of contract talks.

"One thing I'm kind of excited about is the level of dialogue and communication between the PA and the league," Elimimian said. "There's never a perfect deal and things might come up but one thing that kind of gives me optimism is when things do come up, like the T.J. Jones thing, we can resolve it in a fair manner.

"I feel like our proposal was one that was fair. It protects the current membership and maintains the integrity of the CBA that we signed."

The selection of Elimimian was indeed noteworthy as he became just the second American to head up the CFLPA. George Reed, a Hall of Fame running back with Saskatchewan, did so twice (1972-81, 1986-93).

"That's a high honour," Elimimian said. "What I do know is guys in that room who voted for me were both American and Canadian and I'd like to think my No. 1 goal, my No. 1 agenda is to look out for all players.

"To let all the members know, our voices matter, our voices are important, American and Canadian."

Elimimian is certainly no stranger to making CFL history. In 2014, he became the first pure defensive player to be named the league's outstanding player while with the B.C. Lions.

The four-time CFL all-star also claimed the top defensive player honour that year, becoming the first person to win three different individual honours. Elimimian, 33, was also the league's top rookie in 2010.

But the Jones situation isn't the only contentious one facing the CFLPA. The union has filed a grievance against the Calgary Stampeders for their refusal to let linebacker Nate Holley out of CFL deal to pursue NFL opportunities despite doing so earlier for veteran defensive back Tre Roberson, who signed with the Chicago Bears.

"I was there in bargaining and I know what came up and I know what was agreed to so I'm interested to see where this goes," Elimimian said. "From our standpoint, a kid like Holley should be let out of his contract.

"Sometimes when you deal with the legal side of things, things get caught up in a way where it wasn't intended to."

Added Ramsey: "We don't believe the collective agreement is being maintained in that instance and we do believe, as we filed a grievance for Nate Holley, that he should be released as what was agreed to."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 4, 2020.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press

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