TORONTO — Suddenly, the CFL and CFL Players' Association have more to discuss than T.J. Jones's contract situation.
The 27-year-old Winnipeg native agreed to a deal reportedly worth $200,000 annually with the Toronto Argonauts on Feb. 14. The receiver joined the CFL club following six seasons in the NFL 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. Both the league and union have been discussing a potential resolution to Jones's plight, but nothing concrete has been decided as of yet.
Now, with the COVID-19 outbreak forcing the NHL, NBA, MLS and Major League Baseball to halt play, the CFL and its players have much more to talk about. Commissioner Randy Ambrosie said Thursday the league and union are currently discussing potential contingency plans for all 2020 matters, including the national draft (April 30) and opening of training camps (May 17).
Last week, the CFL cancelled all of its remaining combines, including its national combine March 26-28 in Toronto. A late start to training camp could push back the start of the regular season, which is scheduled to begin June 11.
Ambrosie acknowledged Jones's contract situation remains a priority, but it's become one of many right now.
"The most pressing thing we have today is to deal with this crisis," he said. "And in everything remind ourselves that we not only have a role to play as a football league but as citizens and how to be good, positive contributors."
The irony of the situation is 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 outstanding rookie 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."
Furthermore, Jones was never drafted by a CFL team because at the time he didn't meet the criteria to be deemed a Canadian, or national.
Another interesting twist is according to the CBA, a rookie qualifies as a CFL veteran if he’s on a roster, injured or disabled list of a member club or clubs for seven or more games in his first CFL season. If the player is released after that time, he faces no restrictions — financial or contract length — in signing with another team.
Jones’s father, Andre, played in the CFL as a defensive lineman with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. The elder Jones died in 2011 of a brain aneurysm. He was just 42.
T.J. Jones attended high school in Gainesville, Ga. He then spent his collegiate career at Notre Dame, like his father, before being selected in the sixth round, No. 189 overall, by Detroit in the 2014 NFL draft.
Jones appeared in 45 career NFL regular-season games, registering 67 catches for 852 yards (12.7-yard average) with five TDs.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 19, 2020.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press